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Shopping in China

What to Buy

Shopping in ChinaMost travelers want to take home some bargains or mementos. With so many options available, shopping can be time consuming, confusing, and exhausting. The following tips may make it easier for you.

Don't buy everything in the first day or two.  Each city has its own specialty.  Some of the best buys are:

  • Beijing:  cloisonné; fresh water pearls
  • Xi'an: replicas of the Terracotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty hand painted china, antique furniture
  • Shanghai: silk carpets, qipaos
  • Hangzhou: Longjing tea, silk
  • Suzhou: silk
  • Guilin: scroll paintings, South China Sea pearls
  • Yunnan: mounted butterflies, Pu'er tea; Dali batik (tie-dyed fabric)
  • Xinjiang: carpets, jade articles, dried fruit
  • Tibet: thangka (tanka: sheep skin wall hangings)
  • Guangzhou: wholesale markets for clothes, shoes, toys, electronic products and more.

Shopping Is Not Obligatory

Don't feel obligated to shop. Our guides offer shopping opportunities as a courtesy (if you opt out of our NO SHOPS policy), but if you're not interested, you will not get any pressure at all from us.

Other tour guides and sellers may be quite enthusiastic, thinking this is what you want, so don't be embarrassed to tell them directly and immediately that you don't want to go shopping. You'll often find several attendants trying to help you make a purchase. This doesn't mean you have to buy; it's OK to say no, or just to look around.

Outside tourist spots or on the road, there might be some vendors who follow you and try to sell you something. If you are not interested, just ignore them and keep going. See Avoiding Tourist Traps.

Be Cautious of Fake Items

Shopping is great in China and you can expect to be able to buy many things at a much better price that at home. Please however be warned that if a bargain price for a world famous brand seems too good to be true... it probably is!

Antique buyers should know that many experts have been disappointed to find that their find of a lifetime is beautiful but fake. Antiques should be officially certified to be exported legally. The penalties are severe. Keep all receipts, certificates and official documents that are received when you purchase any antiques. Antiques are those items over 120 years of age.

Smart Shopping — How to Bargain in China

Bargaining is a national pastime in China so you will find that most retailers except for department stores, large shopping malls will be prepared to bargain. Prepare some small change for buying inexpensive stuff. Vendors are usually reluctant to find change for a 100 yuan note.

qinghefang pedestrian street

There's lots of shopping to do in the capital city (and other places in China), but it's important to be prepared by understanding how find the best prices for the goods you want. Aside from knowing where to go and what to shop for, make sure your bargaining skills are up to snuff, or you may end up paying far more than you should have.

Many things, like designer goods and some electronics are actually more expensive in China than in Western countries, so wait on buying those until you are back home.

Markets to Try

You can, however, find good deals in markets around the city on items like jade, pearls, tailor-made clothing or knock-off designer clothing and accessories. The most popular markets are the Silk Market and Yashow clothing market, but as a result prices start much, much higher than at other markets like the Pearl Market (which sells much more than just pearls) or the Zoo Market.

Speaking of the Zoo Market, if you have a Chinese-speaking friend, this is where you'll get the best deals. You can try it on your own, but it is much trickier as generally shop attendants do not speak English here.

Bargaining Tips

Regardless of the market you go to, here are some tips to help you get the best price on all your goods.

  • Bring your poker face. Rule number one of bargaining: never (ever!) act like you absolutely must have the item. Salesmen love customers that are excited about a product – it means they can price it much higher. Play it cool – if you see something you really want, keep a straight face and act like you'd rather walk away than pay a fortune, and you'll get a much better price.
  • Start low. Really low. Depending on the market, the starting price could be 7 or 8 times what it should be. Keep this in mind when you throw out your first price. You can always go up from there, but you can't go back down.
  • Shop around. See something you like? Walk around and see if other stands have it. That way, if you can't get the price you want, you can always walk away and try a different stand.
  • Observe other people. If someone else is buying the same thing for a reasonable price, tell the seller you want the same price. Sometimes you can avoid the back-and-forth routine altogether!
  • Be firm, but stay polite. Don't underestimate the importance of allowing the seller to save face.  Sometimes, negotiations do not go the way you planned. Especially in larger clothing markets, sellers may act outraged by a low price, but keep your cool. Often if you say something insulting, or even quote a price that is ridiculously low, the seller may decide not to sell to you at all.
  • Come back for more. If you know what you want, and you've gotten a certain price from that stand before, sometimes you can save time by just assertively saying that price from the get-go. They see that you know, and they want to save their time too. You can also get a better deal when you buy multiple things from the same seller.

Import Restrictions

You should check the import restrictions in your home country as some items may attract tax on arrival in your home country, especially if it is mailed or shipped separately.

Q: Am I allowed to bring back purchased electronics to the USA in my luggage?

A: There is no problem in taking electronics back to the USA. Consider excess baggage (if you intend to take a lot) and duty, which would be collected by US Customs on entry. Check your duty free limit, and ensure the electronics are packed well to prevent breakage. See our Customs Regulations page for more information.

In addition, when you make the decision, you need to double check the electronics you buy can also work in the USA (voltage, etc.). See China Power Supply and Adapters for more information.

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