Taking a computer from US to Shanghai for short-term work contract
April 8, 2017 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Shanghai for work for 11 days as a contractor, not an employee. I need advice on preparing and transporting my heavy, bulky laptop computer appropriately. I leave the US Tuesday morning.

The company I'm contracted to has asked me to bring my own laptop computer, and they are also providing a smaller laptop for me to bring. There are also several external hard drives, but those will be blank when I go over.

How should I prepare my computer for the trip? I plan on moving all my own data off the machine and scrubbing my browser histories, stored passwords, payment methods etc. (I've kept it pretty locked down in that regard).

Should I just do a system reset? Is that too paranoid? I'm not really concerned about foreign governments snooping as I am with theft and access a thief might get, but I also don't want to take anything that might raise concerns with the Chinese government in case they decide they need to look through my hard drive. My computer is a Taiwanese brand. Is that likely to invite greater scrutiny?

My own computer is heavy and bulky, so it would be more convenient to put it in my checked suitcase, but it seems like the risk of loss, damage or theft would be higher. The company's laptop is much smaller and lighter, so I can easily carry that on the plane. Should I check my own computer, or just deal with the bulk and carry it on?

And should I insure my laptop? I've never purchase insurance for something like that so I don't even know where to start. I won't have any irreplaceable data on the machine, but I can't afford to replace the hardware.

The team I'll be working with is all on gmail as am I. I have 2-factor authentication set up. Will I have any problems with that in China? I use a 2FA app on my phone for the codes, but I'm not sure if all that will work in Shanghai the way it does in the US.
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Travel & Transportation around Shanghai, China (6 answers total)
Best answer: 1. re: Taiwanese brand, no, nobody will care, ppl in China have Acer

2. The Chinese gov't won't look through your hard drive nor will they care what's on it

3. Take whatever precautions you would with traveling anyplace else in the world, your laptop isn't more likely to be stolen in Shanghai, in fact, compared to where you are coming from, might be less likely to be stolen

4. If you put it in checked suitcase, yes, there is the risk of damage bc they can slam those suitcases around when they load them on/off the plane. So make sure it is well padded/protected and/or your suitcase is sturdy. I'd personally just carry it and any other fragile items on the plane, but you will have to do the whole rigamarole of removing it and the other laptop when you go thru security

5. 2FA - don't know, but do some research into which sites are blocked/not blocked by China's firewall in case you need them

It sounds like you have never been to China before, relax, it isn't like in Red Corner. Immigration into China is mostly a stamp and no questions asked assuming your visas are in order.
posted by pravit at 4:56 PM on April 8, 2017

Will you have VPN access in Shanghai? If not I recommend that you buy VPN access or have your company give you VPN access and make sure it works before leaving. Gmail and other Google websites will not work in China. You will also have issues with 2-factor auth, make sure you have access to your back-up codes.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 5:45 PM on April 8, 2017

Gmail won't work without a VPN, and I wouldn't expect the 2FA app to work, either. GMail's 2FA settings page has some other options, including generating one-time 2FA codes that you can print out and bring with you.

I would never put a laptop in checked luggage.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:51 PM on April 8, 2017

I did a lot of work travel in Shanghai in 2014 and 2015. One time I decided to put my big old 2007 17" MacBook Pro in my checked bag on a short trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong and VOILA! Stolen.

Seconding the recommendation to get a VPN that will function in China before you go.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:00 AM on April 9, 2017

The US border can search your laptop for no reason.

I would buy a new hard drive, install it in your laptop, do a fresh install of your OS, install the software you need, and don't use the computer until you're in Shanghai. When you're at the end of your time in Shanghai, do a secure erase of your hard drive, and then do a fresh install of your OS. When you get back to the states you can put your old hard drive back in your computer.
posted by gregr at 10:31 AM on April 9, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The punchline is that when I mentioned bringing my computer to the Shanghai team they told me not to.

In case future readers might be interested: so far I've discovered Outlook.com and Yahoo.com email works fine (with occasional blackouts), and I can still access google services via my U.S. smartphone.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:32 PM on April 12, 2017

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