My Guide to Going to the Optician and Buying Glasses in China

Updated on January 4, 2019
Robert Webster profile image

Robert is a teacher and lives in China. He offers advice on how to get prescription eyeglasses in China.

My History Buying Eyeglasses

I remember my first trip to the optician as a youngster. In childlike fashion (I assume to keep me calm) my grandmother presented the outing as an entrance to a club, an initiation ceremony perhaps, an association that would possibly allow me, like her and the rest of our cohort, to don spectacles. Fortunately, at the tender age of ten or eleven, I didn’t require any enhancement to my vision. Fast forward fourteen years. Now I can’t be without my visual enrichment apparatus whether that be glasses or contact lenses. Granted, my eyes are by no means without hope, I just feel more comfortable being able to see perfectly.

Before we continue, let me tell you a somewhat strange ‘living in China’ story. Cleaning has always been something I take pride in. I like to live within the comfortable knowledge that my home is sparkling and ordered. Now, when one moves to a country well known for its pollution and unsanitary environment having such desires for a clean home become near impossible if one wishes to remain sane. I kid you not, sweeping the floor is a daily task (perhaps twice daily if you let it bother you) that is almost improbable to complete to a satisfying standard.

I hear those of you suggesting sweeping one’s home daily is typical. I can accept that if you have a lot of foot traffic through your home but for me, no. There are just two of us. When I lived at home (Britain) I needn’t clean my apartment more than once a week. Living here, however, is quite a different story.

What’s my point for telling you this? Well, I can avoid being bothered by the never-ending dust in my home if I don’t wear glasses or contact lenses at home. What’s even more ridiculous is I considered not having an eye test (knowing my eyes had worsened) to prevent seeing the daily dust. I do hope you can follow the theory behind my actions. Anyway, I got myself together (eventually) and went to the opticians.

I now return to the main reason for writing today: a quick guide to going to the opticians and buying glasses in China. Below are the five notable aspects of the process. By signalling the necessary steps for having an eye test and buying glasses here, I will note the differences from what is normal back home in Britain. Some aspects you might find just as puzzling as I originally did.

Five Steps

1. The opticians are in the shopping mall. No, really, I mean in the shopping mall. In general, opticians in China do not have their own private store. Instead, one browses glasses and discusses contact lens options in the walkway of the local (one of many) shopping centre. This means, then, there is no privacy when trying the different styles. You are a display for all to gawk. Indeed, being an international resident of China, this doesn’t take long. You might even find locals taking photos of you for simply going about your daily life.

2. The eye test station is also in public. If I could accept the opticians' store open for all to see, I couldn’t comprehend the test also being public. In China, however, this is commonplace. By taking a closer look at the photo above, you’ll notice the machinery for completing the eye test is to the right of the store. Below is a close up of said machinery. This is completely different to back home where one is taken into a private room to have an eye test. What’s more concerning, though, is it is the salesman/woman to complete your eye test. Shockingly, this individual probably has never been to any sort of medical school rather simply trained on how to change the size of letters and switch out lenses.

3. Testing the lenses. This one shocked me. After I had completed the test (at least I thought I had completed the test), the consultant required me to walk around (I mean – walk around the shopping mall area close to the opticians). Fine, you might think. However, I had to walk around wearing those entertaining optician’s glasses with the interchangeable lenses. She instructed me to look at the floor, look to the sky, look all around. All this in the view of others going about their shopping.

4. Prices are clear. All around the open-plan store you can find display boards just like the one below. As you can see, the price includes the frame, lenses and a case. All the glasses are divided into different sections of the store based on their total price. The only time you’ll be required to pay more than this is if you have an astigmatism or some other non-standard requirement. Luckily for me I’m just short sighted. This is quite the opposite from back home. Unless you receive government benefits, the prices of glasses will set you back a few hundred pounds.

5. The waiting time is extremely short. One you have suffered the embarrassment of checking your lenses with a short walk around the shopping mall, you’ll pay the bill and be given a receipt. All that is left to do is to wait around 30 minutes. You read that right. You only need to wait 30 minutes to collect your glasses. This means, then, the entire process of purchasing new glasses can be finished easily within the hour (or there about). I was stunned at how soon my glasses would be ready compared to back home. Indeed, in Britain, you need at least two visits to the opticians, divided by a seven-day wait while your glasses are prepared.

The advantages of having one’s eyes tested in China compared to Britain are twofold. First, the prices are extremely clear with no confusion about the price of the glasses compared to the lenses. What’s more, the price is extremely low. My last pair of glasses cost me in excess of GBP 150 whereas my news specs from China cost just RMB 399 – a saving of more than GBP 100. Second, you needn’t wait the usual 7 working days as is the norm at home, instead you take a walk around the shopping mall, with your glasses waiting your return in around 30 minutes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers


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      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        19 months ago from Brazil

        Wow, I can't believe how quick that was. Okay, a little quirky with the openness of it all but what a way to buy glasses.

        I am in Brazil and I haven't been to an eye doctor because it would be expensive and a joke.

        Although you don't think the person doing the test was qualified, are your new glasses okay? They seem so efficient.

        I can relate to the issues with cleaning, I am in the tropics and live next to sand dunes. You have pollution, and we have sand and bugs!


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