FAQs about Peace Corps in China

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FAQs about Peace Corps
  • How much luggage am I allowed to bring?
  • What is the electric current?
  • How much money should I bring?
  • When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
  • Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
  • Do I need an international driver’s license?
  • What should I bring as gifts for my host family?
  • Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
  • How can my family contact me in an emergency?
  • Can I call home?
  • Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
  • Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
...and more...

For information see Welcomebooks


How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to China?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag. Accompanied baggage in excess of 80 pounds in two bags shall be carried at personal expense.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution. Regulations with regards to prohibited items are constantly changing and you will need to check with the airlin(s) for changes right up to the day you depart for staging. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/ prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.

What is the electric current in China?

China’s residential electric system is 220 volts, 50 hertz. Appliances and electronic equipment manufactured for the U.S. market are usually rated for 100 to 120 volts and 60 Hz. To use this equipment in China, you must have a step-down transformer (a device that lowers the incoming voltage of 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 120 volts). Most computers will run on both 110 and 220. Plug adapters are available in China.

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live modestly by the standards of the people they serve. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries or to purchase items they were unable to bring with them. The easiest way to access funds from the U.S. while in China is through an ATM card tied to a checking or savings account. Although credit cards and traveler’s checks can be used easily in some countries where you may travel for vacation, they are not widely accepted in China other than major hotels in larger cities. It is also good idea to maintain your checking account in the United States and to bring your checkbook.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Once you are sworn in as a Volunteer, after pre-service training, you will earn two days per month of annual leave. Annual leave may not be taken during the first three months or the last three months of service. Additionally, China Volunteers may not take annual leave while school is in session. Volunteers do not get American holidays off, only Chinese holidays. Volunteers will also be conducting summer training for teachers or offering summer courses for three to four weeks.

It is best to make plans for travel and visits from family and friends after you finish pre-service training and have been at your site for several weeks. The university breaks (there are several) vary from year to year, and knowing these dates, as well as those for in-service training, summer projects, and other events, will ease a lot of frustration for you and those who plan to visit you. Changing airline tickets can be costly. Extended stays by visitors at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from the country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with travel or medical assistance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.

What should I bring as gifts for China friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites prior to their arrival in-country. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee's technical, language, and cross-cultural skills prior to assigning sites. Many factors influence the process and Peace Corps staff make the final decision on all site placements. Some Volunteers will have a site mate serving at the same school or along but with other Volunteers at nearby institutions. Some Volunteers serve alone in smaller cities far away from other Volunteers.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

Although many Chinese have cellphones, it is not practical to bring a cellphone from the United States. Many Volunteers choose to purchase one locally. Peace Corps/China does not provide funds for the purchase or maintenance of personal cellphones so those interested in a cellphone should plan on covering those costs.

Will an iphone work in China?

Nearly all volunteers buy cell phones and use them as their primary method of communication with others in China. Many US cell phones do not allow you to change the SIM cards so are not useful in China unless you figure out how to unlock them. If you have a phone in which you can change the SIM card, bring it and just buy a new SIM card. As far as iphones go, China is beginning to open up to them, but they are not the same iphones that are sold in the US and other parts of the world. There are restrictions on WiFi which you may have to research on the internet blogs to find out about. Try contacting Apple directly, they may be most helpful.

What about banking in China?

Do you use a US debit card?

Everyone sets up a Chinese account once they get to their site. Most people bank with Bank of China. However, it is good to know that Bank of America and China Construction Bank have some sort of partnership. So if you bank with B of A, you can withdraw funds from your US account without any fees. Chase and other bank cards can also be used at ATMs in China to withdraw money or even check into some hotels, but contact your bank to see if your cards can be used in China. US bank and credit cards are also helpful for travel outside of China. Within China, credit cards are rarely used for purchasing items. Almost everyone uses cash.

What kind of technology do you have at your work sites?

Do you have document cameras and projectors in the classrooms? Do students use laptops or computer labs?

Some people have media classrooms with projectors and computers. Others have only chalk and a chalkboard. It varies. Some students may have their own computers but nothing is guaranteed. Internet cafes are becoming quite popular around China, so it may be likely that somewhere nearby there will be access to computers for students.

Which is better to keep in touch with home and China contacts - a Yahoo or Gmail account?

For now, gmail is great and widely used by volunteers. The current conflict with China and Google may create problems with that at some point in the futrue, and I believe gmail was blocked for a bit during the summer of 2009. Yahoo is also easy to use and has not been blocked. Hotmail is also accessible in China. Many Chinese use qq to communicate with each other. Some volunteers set up qq accounts. Also, texting is a good way of communicating as many people do not check their email as frequently as we may be accustomed.

How do you communicate with your families and US friends?

Skype is great. Set up a Skype account and ask your friends and family to as well. Also, most volunteers have cell phones. Friends and family can call for about 10 cents a minute on their end and it is free to receive calls. Also, everyone is required to have a land line at their site.

Should I set up a website or is this not a good idea?

Peace Corps asks that you notify them of any website/blog type things that you create as they want to ensure that you do not offend the government or your site hosts. You should think of what you post and how it will be perceived by outside readers. You can create passwords to limit this fear but not totally eradicate it. Also, many blogs and other web 2.0 things are blocked. Many people use proxies in order to access these sites, but it makes it a bit more difficult.

I read in the news China is stopping Facebook.

Facebook, twitter, youtube, blogger, and many other user-generated sites have been blocked since the summer of 2009 if not before. You will learn about proxies or personal vpns once you arrive if you don’t know about them and want to be able to access these types of sites.

What kind of luggage do you recommend - hard side or duffel? I've found light weight bags in both.

Hard suitcase can be easier and harder. Peace Corps reimburses us for train travel when we are traveling on official business. A roller suitcase works most of the time and is less heavy to carry, but can be hard on stairs, etc. A backpack can be useful for traveling within China and in surrounding countries, especially if you are hopping on buses and trains.

Those packing lists include so many heavy items - is it really advisable to pack kitchen items and books?

You can buy most everything you need in China. If you are not in a big city, you can buy things when you go to the PC office in Chengdu or have them sent from home. You also get used to not having everything you did before. If there is one thing you can’t live without, think about packing that. Books are floating around, but not as available as you might like. Ask around to other volunteers and have them sent later if you are really at a shortage. There are also e-readers (like the Kindle), which are more expensive but may be easier to pack. Amazon is also delivering to China now.

When are you free to travel or have visitors?

The first semester is generally from late August/early September to January 1 or early January. Then there is generally PC training. You are then free until March 1. The second semester starts in March and ends in late June. In between your first and second years of service, volunteers participate in a two week teacher training program. Then you are free from mid July until school starts. This being said, PC has various rules about vacation days that you will learn at the end of PST.

What is the laundry situation?

Most volunteers have their own washing machines in their apartments. Very few even have a drier, but most hang their laundry outside to dry. You can buy detergent here; Tide is pretty popular. Something that may be useful, though, is a good stain remover. Dry cleaning is also available in almost all places.

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