Prom tickets are for sale, yearbooks are circling the campus, and the students have traded their long pants and tennis shoes for jean shorts and sandals. It’s officially the end of the school year, and I’m counting down the days until I board a plane to Florida.
As a longterm expat, and international school teacher, I look forward to summer for so many reasons. Obviously it’s a chance to get in some much-needed friend time, family time, and pool time, but it’s also a chance to stock up on products that are hard to find (or just ridiculously expensive) on this side of the world.
When I first moved to Asia in 2009, I was clueless about what to pack. And even though I arrived to Seoul with three overstuffed suitcases, I never seemed to have what I needed. Granted, Seoul and Shanghai are both very international cities, but there are still things that are extremely difficult to find. And as a 5’7 blonde woman with size 9 feet, the struggle is real.
In order to help my fellow ladies heading over to this side of the world, I’ve put together a list of my personal must-haves:
1. Framed Photographs
This one is important for anyone moving anywhere in the world. True, it’s easy to print photos from USB’s, but this is just one more thing to figure out. Being able to settle into your new apartment with photos already framed makes such a difference.
2. Cosmetic Products
Regardless of what some of my ex-boyfriends may tell you, I am pretty low-maintenance. However, I do have certain makeup and face care brands I’m loyal to, and they are impossible to find abroad. So every time I’m home I order a year’s supply of Glo Mineral’s pressed base and bronzer, and hit up Walmart and Amazon.com for my favorite face wash and skin creams.
3. Haircare Products
I have personally adopted the ombre hair movement, and thank God every day that roots are “in.” However, in order to keep my bleached ends healthy and not brassy, I bring back a few bottles of purple shampoo and conditioner formulated for blonde hair. I have yet to find these types of products anywhere in Asia, and if they are available in some Western hair salons, I don’t want to know what the bill would be.
Bigger (and wider) sizes are coming more available on this side of the world, but it is still a struggle to find comfortable, moderately priced shoes. I particularly load up on boots, as I have larger calves and don’t want to deal with the embarrassment that comes with trying to cram them into something made for women with legs the size of my arms.
Again, Asian women are built differently than most Western ladies, so if you have some curves, I would suggest coming with several pairs of bluejeans and pants. I personally haven’t had any trouble in Shanghai, but I did in Seoul, and I have struggled buying clothes in general in various parts of Asia.
5. Medication and Vitamins
In many of Asia’s larger cities, it is very easy to find prescription medicine; however, it is important to check before you make the move. I know in Seoul it is extremely difficult to get antidepressants, and if you have a particular brand of birth control you favor, make sure to see if it is available in your future home. Over-the-counter medicine is obviously available everywhere, but again, your favorite brand may not be present. I suggest bringing a large bottle of pain medication like Ibuprofen, a pack of DayQuil, a pack of NyQuil, and a big bottle of allergy medication. Also bring along any vitamins you take on a regular basis.
Asian women seem to prefer pads over tampons, so it isn’t common to see packs of tampons for sale anywhere on this continent. If you’re a tampon gal, add that to your must-pack list. Or invest in a menstrual cup and be done with it.
It seems that most people in Asia don’t wear deodorant. If you do, you may want to bring a few containers. I personally pack two sticks of Tom’s tea tree oil variety and it lasts me the whole year.
7. Bras and Underwear
Again, more clothes. I know, it’s ridiculous. When I moved to Shanghai, I came with four suitcases, and three of them were filled with nothing but clothing and shoes. But as I’ve said before, if you’re a curvy girl, or if you have your favorite brands, you may be out of luck when you get to this part of the world. Now I wasn’t blessed with the largest of breasts or the roundest of butts, but heavily padded bras and extra-small panties are not a good look for me.
8. Adapters and converters
First, know that all Mac products can be plugged directly into the sockets here. Surprisingly, my Chi hair straightener does too; but if you want to bring any other electronics, you need to check the voltage. Adapters and converters are two different things, so make sure to do a little research. I suggest leaving things like hairdryers at home, as you can buy them for cheap in Asia.
9. Sunblock and self tanner
Asian skincare products are infamous for containing whitening agents–especially the sunscreen. If this isn’t your thing, make sure to bring your own. Sure, there is SPF available minus the chemicals, but it’ll cost you. And self tanner is nonexistent.
If you’re a cook, bring your favorite spices. I’ve been able to find basic ones (salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric), but if you’re serious about flavor, bring your own. On a similar note, I don’t recommend packing too many food products. You can often find good alternatives, or in many countries you can order online. And if not, go local!
If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment. I will be happy to offer advice!