When I moved to Hanoi, Vietnam last year I was woefully unprepared for the weather. I’d packed tank tops, short-shorts, maxi skirts, and my nicest shirts, but somehow I spent the entire year complaining that I had nothing to wear. I learned a lot from the experience, so this year I hit some thrift stores for climate-appropriate clothing before my next big move to another sub-tropical country, Taiwan.
Read below to learn what’s best to pack if you plan on moving to a hot, humid, Asian country.
1. Don’t bring skimpy clothes
A lot of Asian cultures value modesty. There are some exceptions to this. I’ve heard Chinese people have no problem showing leg and mini-skirts are popular, but for the most part the rule in Asian countries is don’t show too much cleavage, belly, or leg. Even in China where showing a bit of leg is acceptable, showing cleavage is not, so take care when you’re packing.
For Taiwan I plan on bringing some high-waisted shorts that will hide my belly in a crop top. The shorts are a more modest length, as well, that I’ll feel comfortable wearing around town.
2. Do put thought into your footwear
Asian countries tend to ruin shoes. Bring something comfy, but that you don’t mind throwing away if they get rained on or sweated in. Western feet are bigger than most Asian people’s, so if you don’t bring enough shoes, you’re going to have a very hard time finding your size when you arrive.
I had a tough time deciding what shoes to bring with me on this next move. Packing shoes is tricky because they’re heavy, but I know if I ruin a pair, I’ll have a tough time finding my size (American women’s size 9) while I’m in Taiwan, so I plan on bringing my sneakers, a nice pair of sandals that I can wear to work, flip-flops, and one pair of black dress shoes. I bought the dress shoes and sandals at Famous Footwear for BOGO ½ off.
3. Don’t spend too much money
The same rule for shoes applies for clothing. I sweated in everything that I brought to Vietnam. I ruined sooo many t-shirts with pit-stains. Also a lot of Asian countries don’t have dryers and, at least during the winter in Hanoi, that was an issue because the humidity made it impossible to dry my clothing. I had to throw away dresses and pants because they got moldy and stinky despite multiple washings and dryings. Hot, humid countries destroy clothing alarmingly fast, so DO NOT spend too much money on clothes if you are taking them to a tropical or sub-tropical climate.
I found most of my clothes for my next move at Goodwill or Plato’s Closet. The most money I spent on an item of clothing was $6 for some dark-wash, high-waisted shorts. Don’t bother spending much more than $10 on clothes that will probably have to be pitched by the end of the year.
4. Do bring clothes that hide sweat
As I said, if you’re moving to a place like Vietnam, Laos, Taiwan, South Korea, etc., then you will sweat. I don’t care if you think you don’t sweat or if you think you don’t sweat much, if you move to East or South East Asia, you will SWEAT!
I actually loved the heat and humidity when living in Hanoi, but the fact remains that even on the days where I was enjoying the sauna that I was living in, I was still sweating through all my clothes.
My top tips for buying clothing that hides sweat are the following: wear patterns, wear clothes made of thin polyester or nylon, and avoid dark colors like gray, purple, or navy which have a tendency to show sweat the worst.
5. Don’t believe that you can buy what you need when you arrive
Like I’ve already mentioned, buying clothes on arrival in Asia is hard for a lot of Westerners. Even though Hanoi had Christina Qs, a women’s shoe store that stocked larger sizes, the variety was terrible. I’m a size 9, not that big by U.S. standards, and I had to choose between two or three hideous dress shoes when my own shoes got ruined by the rain and humidity.
Likewise, clothing can be a challenge. I’m 5 foot 9 inches, substantially taller than a lot of Asian women, and most t-shirts were crop tops on me. Dresses didn’t cover my booty. Also I’m about a size 9 in U.S. pants, and buying jeans in Hanoi was a challenge. I even had a tailor comment on my large derriere, which I found funny because my hips are not that big by Western standards.
So even if you think you are small by American or European standards, don’t count on that in Asia, where everyone tends to be very thin and petite, and clothing stores tend to market towards that body size.
6. Do remember professional clothing
If you are planning on moving to Asia, then you probably have a job lined up. One of the most common jobs for Westerners moving overseas is to teach English, so I’ll give you a few tips on what an English teacher is expected to wear.
A lot of teaching jobs don’t allow jeans for men or women. Also flip-flops are usually out of the question.
Unfortunately, guys are expected to wear long pants and button-up shirts even if in the summer time, although some men in teaching jobs geared towards kids can get away with polos. Sorry guys, I know it sucks.
For women, dresses or pants are perfectly acceptable, but keep modesty in mind, particularly remember to cover up low necklines, which are really out of place in a lot of Asian cultures. Since dresses are allowed, I’d encourage packing a few. I plan on bringing about five dresses and only one or two pairs of dress pants to Taiwan. There’s nothing worse than tugging on black dress pants when you’re sweating up a storm, especially when you could be easy-breezing it in a dress.
7. Don’t bring all your brightly colored and patterned clothes
As a general rule, I’ve noticed that people living in Asian cultures tend to wear more subdued colors than we do in America. In the States, I don’t blink twice at a highlighter-colored shirt or a dress with a really loud pattern, but in Asia it sticks out.
When I moved to Hanoi I brought some very loud maxi-skirts that I lived in while I was teaching in the U.S., but I got so many stares in Hanoi, that I had to stop wearing them.
*Not to mention, maxi-skirts and dresses were really impractical for Hanoi because I was often walking through the streets where my hems would get trampled and dragged through muck, so maybe forgo the maxis if you’re moving to Asia.
8. Do remember to pack for winter
I know, I know… Trust me, I was surprised too. I’d been warned that Hanoi would get cold, but in the boiling summertime I just didn’t believe it, and I certainly didn’t pack for it. This is a fair warning that it will occasionally get cold even in the hottest countries. In the mist and humidity of Hanoi, I had to buy a winter coat just to get by. I’m hoping it won’t get that cold this next year in Taiwan, but I will be bringing some clothing to transition between summer and winter. Here’s what I’ll be packing for winter…
First, I’ll bring two pairs of leggings and a pair of black tights so I can tug them on under my summer dresses for instant winter-wear.
Next, I’ll bring two or three cardigans in neutral colors so I can pull them over any outfit.
And lastly I plan on bringing a North Face jacket that I bought in Hanoi for $15. The jacket isn’t thick, so I’ll probably bring a sweatshirt to wear underneath it, but its water-proof exterior will be great for the rainy season as well as keeping out the chilly wind on those surprisingly cold days that I’m sure I’ll face.
9. Don’t forget your workout clothes
I didn’t work out hardly at all in Hanoi because there was no place to run or stretch out in our small apartment or busy streets, but I’m hoping that’ll change this year since I will be in a small town instead of the big city. One thing I did learn from my handful of runs last year was that modesty applies to workout clothes as well. The standard short-shorts and sports bra combo of America just doesn’t work while running laps in Asia, so I bought some black athletic pants and a pink, dry-fit t-shirt which are modest, but the material will still keep me cool.
10. Do remember to pack for temples and pagodas
Temples have a lot of rules when it comes to clothing: don’t wear shorts, your dresses should probably come to your knees, your cleavage and even your shoulders need to be covered up. While you probably won’t be visiting a temple every day during your time abroad in Asia, keep this dress code in mind for special trips. There’s nothing worse than not being able to enter a gorgeous temple on vacation because you wore a tank top and forgot to bring a cover-up.
Let me know if you’ve got any other tips for packing when moving to Asia. What other clothing items do you think are essential?
If you want to see my entire thrift shop haul, including the prices and brands of all the clothing I bought, then check out the video below. Do not expect incredible quality as I filmed on a webcam, haha, yikes. Otherwise, I hope these tips were helpful and your moves go smoothly!