By: Contributor On: May 19, 2021 In: Moving, Study Abroad, Travel Comments: 0

Your long-awaited college abroad experience is almost here. You worked hard to graduate high school and enroll in an international university that will launch your career. Now you’re about to embark on your first overseas move. If you want to know how to prepare for your move, check out our complete guide to packing for college abroad.

Learn About Your Living Space

The best college abroad packing list starts with learning about where you’ll be living while overseas. After all, you won’t know what to pack if you aren’t sure if you’ll have a dorm room or an apartment.

Some students get by with only bringing bedroom and bathroom supplies while others will need to stock a kitchen with essentials like plates and silverware. It all depends on your selected housing arrangement. 

Most universities offer international students a range of study abroad housing options from traditional on-campus dorms to off-campus apartments and host family accommodations.

You’ll likely know where you’ll live before you ever step on a plane. Pay attention to sign-up deadlines to get the best chance for your preferred living arrangement at your new college.

Check Your Documentation

One of the most important things you’ll need to pack for your international move is your travel documentation.

The list of documents needed to study abroad will vary slightly, depending on where you’re traveling to, but common documents include your passport and VISA, student ID or state/driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate.

It’s good practice to make copies of all your important documents.

The night before your flight, double check that all your documents are in order. Put everything you need in one folder so you don’t have to panic while reaching for your ID in line at the airport.

According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 241 million passengers booked an international flight in 2019. Scrambling for paperwork will keep you in line behind hundreds of people, so spend a few minutes organizing your paperwork to get ahead of the crowds.

Pack Everyday Items First

Remember to include everyday items on your packing list for college abroad.

Extra underwear, socks, and pajamas might slip your mind in the days before your trip. Write them on your packing list even if it feels redundant. 

Or, better yet, start your packing three weeks ahead of schedule by packing these items first. Since they’re extra items you can stow away first. You’ll save tons of time by doing a little bit every day instead of at the last minute.

Research the Weather  

Before you begin packing for college abroad, research the local weather. Students studying in colder climates will require heavier clothes while those closer to the equator can save space by packing lighter layers.

Plan to bring things that match your region’s typical weather during the time of year you’ll be studying there.

It’s also important to consider the local culture when packing for college abroad.

Some cultures are more conservative than others when it comes to clothing. If everyone is wearing jeans and button-downs and you show up to class wearing spaghetti straps and short shorts you’ll likely feel uncomfortable. Not to mention, you might inadvertently offend your fellow students and professors.

Avoid being culturally insensitive by researching your destination country beforehand and pack accordingly.

Gather Your Essentials

Common items students often forget when packing for college abroad are essentials like toiletries and phone chargers.

When writing your packing list, be sure to make note of all your preferred toiletries, any electronic chargers you’ll need (and their corresponding adapters) and any medications you take (over-the-counter or prescription). 

While you’ll likely be able to find many of these items in your destination country, you might have trouble finding the exact brand. Substituting one shampoo for anther likely won’t make much of a difference, but if you’re particular about the motion sickness medication you use, pack it.

Prepare Your In-Flight Entertainment

Here’s another one that may slip your mind the night before your flight. Many students are so caught-up in last minute packing and planning for their time abroad that they forget to prepare for the actual flight.

Download your favorite movies, music, and podcasts; charge your electronic devices; and bring a backup pair of headphones just in case your current set breaks.

It’s also a good idea to pack comfort items like a travel pillow, an eye mask, and snacks. Research what’s allowed in your carry-on bag and if there are restrictions regarding food so you don’t have to throw anything away to board your flight.

Remember Your School Supplies

When packing for your college abroad experience, don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase for school supplies including:

  • Binders
  • Folders
  • Notebooks
  • Paper
  • Pens

You’ll might also need study supplies like sticky notes and flashcards or highlighters.

List what you’d normally use for schoolwork and include it in your packing list. The average student spends $976.78 on school supplies, so getting started early will give you more time to find room for things in your budget.

If suitcase space becomes an issue, you can always buy these supplies once you land. Your college is likely to have a student store right on campus. But it’s a good idea to bring at least one notebook and pen with you on the plane in case you need to write down any important information like addresses and telephone numbers.

Consider International Shipping

Sometimes, it’s just not possible to pack everything you need for a whole semester or year abroad in one suitcase. If space becomes an issue, look into international shipping for large belongings or heavy bags.

Boxes with rugs, kitchen supplies, and even household decor can all be sent from home after you arrive on campus.

Make a separate packing list for overfill items and have family back home send them out once you’re settled.

Switch Your Currency

It’s always smart to pack some local currency.

Prior to your flight, visit your bank and exchange some American dollars for your destination country’s equivalent. (While you’re there, it’s also a good idea to ensure you’ll be able to use any debt or credit cards you have abroad, without incurring large fees.)

By having some cash on hand, you can easily make purchases at the airport once you land. Or stock up on any supplies you need for your new living arrangements without stressing about finding a bank immediately upon arrival.

Upgrade Your Backpack

Many students prefer not to use a traditional book bag, but bringing one on your study abroad experience could make things much more manageable.

For instance, you might move to a city where everyone walks instead of driving. Or you might live in an apartment a bus ride away from campus. A backpack will allow you to easily (and comfortably) carry your school supplies as well as money, documents, and whatever you’ll need after class.

You’ll never have to dash back to your room and switch bags if your backpack is big enough to hold whatever your day requires. Plus, it will double as your carry-on bag and reduce how many suitcases you need.

Last Thoughts on Packing for College Abroad

You don’t have to worry about your first international move if you are well-prepared. Make lists with everything you’ll pack or ship and start the process early. You’ll have enough time to gather all your essentials, prepare your documentation, and exchange some currency so your college experience begins without any issues.


About Ginger Abbot: Ginger Abbot writes on a variety of educational topics, including international study and career planning. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.

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