Join now
Log in Join

Need expat info for China?

Join InterNations to meet other expats where you live and read more articles like Going Shopping in China with relevant information for expats.

David Thyne

Living in China, from the USA

"At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me."

Diana Anhaus-Brey

Living in China, from Germany

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

InterNations - a community of trust

Culture, Shopping & Recreation

Going Shopping in China

If you like to shop, China is the right place for you! Shopping is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes and you can find pretty much anything you can think of at very reasonable prices. For the best experience shopping in China, learning to haggle is a must. Read on for tips on where to shop and how to bargain for the best prices.

Silk Markets and Friendship Stores: Where to Shop

Where you choose to do your shopping in China depends on what you’re looking for and what style of shopping you prefer. Especially in the big cities, there are a growing number of luxury department stores and shopping malls. If bargaining and getting a good deal is more up your alley, then check out the many flea markets, street markets, and night markets.

Department stores, shopping malls, and shops are generally open from 10:00–22:00 every day of the week. The opening times for markets vary, with some only open on the weekend, some at night, and some all week long.

Friendship stores are Chinese-run state stores, which were originally opened for foreign tourists doing some shopping in China, but now cater to the wider public. They are a good place to find English books and magazines. They also sell souvenirs and other items, but you can definitely get a better deal elsewhere.

Here are a few of the most popular places to shop in Beijing:

Shanghai also has some not-to-be-missed shopping experiences:

More Than Just Souvenirs: What to Shop for

What should you keep your eyes open for while shopping in China?

It is best to bring your electronics with you to China, or buy them in Hong Kong or Macau, as the import duties on these items is high in the rest of China. In any case, remember to keep your budget and the cost of living in China in mind before going on a shopping spree.

The Ancient Art of Haggling

Your experience of shopping in China would not be complete without some good old-fashioned haggling. Depending on your country of origin, you may be completely unfamiliar with the practice of bargaining to get a reasonable price. You may even feel guilty at the idea of refusing to pay the original price, as that may already seem inexpensive to you. However, haggling is part of the fun of shopping in China and it’s expected of everyone, especially if you don’t want to come off as a clueless laowai. Learning some Chinese can be really helpful in for this situation.

How does haggling work?

First of all, when shopping in China it’s important to know where haggling is allowed and expected and where it is not. In general, whenever you are in a large store or department store where the prices are clearly marked, you should not expect to be able to bargain the price down. Any independently owned stores and markets, on the other hand, are fair game.

When you are shopping in China and see an item you like, the seller will make you an initial offer. Before you actually buy anything, it is a good idea to get a general idea of what an actual, reasonable price (i.e. the local price) is.

You can accomplish this by offering to pay an amount that is much, much lower than the seller’s original asking price, say 20%, or even less. Remember, as soon as you make your first counter-offer, the price will only go up from there! You may bargain back and forth with the seller a few times, getting closer to agreeing on an amount somewhere in the middle. When bargaining while shopping in China, it is important to remain calm and polite and also to not appear too interested in the item you wish to purchase.

The Walk-Away Strategy

If you’re not sure yet what a reasonable price is, try walking away at some point in the negotiations. If the seller calls you back, he or she is willing to knock more off the price. If the seller lets you go, then your counter-offer was too low, and the seller would not have made a profit. Once you learn the walk-away price of a certain item, you can haggle for it with more confidence.

While haggling, pointing out the item’s many flaws (real or invented) can help lower the price. The seller will often have pen and paper or a calculator to help facilitate the bargaining process.

Make sure to never show large denomination bills in your wallet, as then the seller will know you can afford to pay more. Also, to boost your success rate, it is a good idea to not wear very expensive clothing or jewelry when shopping in China.

Haggling can be a bit time consuming and take some getting used to, but in the end, it can be one of the best parts of shopping in China and it’s a great feeling to know you worked hard to get that good deal!


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

InterNations Expat Magazine