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Date of publishing: 2016.09.21     Published by Attila M.

Study abroad packing list

Packing principles

Packing principles for studying abroad

The rule of thumb is that you should pack what you can't buy or isn't worth buying abroad and you have the actual physical space to pack it (without adding another luggage). In the following points we collected the most important principles and tips to pack your luggage and make the most of studying abroad.

1. Luggage weight and dimension limits are not completely harmonized betweem airlines. We provided some reference points in the table below, but in order to avoid unexpected luggage fees, ALWAYS check the luggage allowance rules of your airline provider!

Luggage type Luggage weight Luggage dimensions
check-in-luggage 23 KG / 50 LBS Length + Width + Height = 158 cm
62 linear inches
hand luggage (carry-on) 10 KG / 22 LBS 55 x 35 x 20 cm
21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches
backpack or cross-body bag 8 KG / 17 LBS 45 x 35 x 20 cm
18 x 14 x 8 inches

IATA (International Air Transport Association) luggage recommendations

In total that is between 39-50kg / 86-110lbs. That should do it. If you packed more than that, chances are you overpacked. Overpacking may cost you dearly at the airport (overweight luggage fee or added luggage) and carrying all that luggage through cities with zero escalator is not fun at all. Not to mention that you will not wear or use half of what you packed.

Take out the items that will most certainly wait for you at home. Also please do not pack illegal and suspicious items, ALWAYS check with your airlines' regulation if you are in doubt. You don't want to be stranded and searched for hours at the airport and potentially miss your flight.

2. What to pack in your hand luggage? All your personal documents, electronics and a spare outfit in case your check-in luggage is delayed (or in rare cases lost).

3. How to pack your check-in luggage? In order to save space, bottles and fragile objects (placed in a plastic bag first) can be wrapped in socks, underwears and T-shirts instead of volume boosting packages.

4. Seasons and semesters. If you go for a semester you may need to pack for 1 or 2 seasons, depending on the climate. Those who study abroad for an academic year or more, need to pack for all seasons. If you go for more than a year, most likely you will buy some new clothes abroad anyways (some will go clothes shopping on the first week, but that's not an option for everyone).

Check the expected weather for the whole period of your study abroad program. Yes, they have a cold winter in most of Northern America, Northern Asia and Europe.

5. Distance matters. Your study abroad packing list may be shorter in case you are going to study in a neighbor country. You can go home 'any time' or your parents and friends may drop off some supplies every once in a while.

6. Consumer prices in your host country can be significantly higher or lower than the price range you got used to. If you are going to study abroad in Switzerland or Norway, you might want to pack almost everything you could ever use abroad in order to economize. In some cases paying for an extra luggage could be cheaper than buying toiletries in the host country, so do the math before. On the other hand if your host country is India or The Philippines, you might decide to go with a half empty luggage and buy almost everything abroad (if you are brave enough to leave without your favorite brands).

7. Pack interchangeable clothes to multiply the variety of your outfits. Your jeans or skirts should match any of your shirts and walking shoes or dress shoes. Most of your clothes should be appropriate for layering.

8. The international student lifestyle involves loads of traveling and you do not want to spend your study abroad program with cleaning, drying and folding all your clothes. Also you surely do not want to spend your time complaining about how you lost your favorite and most expensive designer clothes. So by that logic, your study abroad wardrobe should consist of durable and comfortable clothes that do not require special care.

9. A luggage only gets heavier abroad. You may assume that your luggage will be lighter on the way home. Legend says there were international students whose luggage weighed less on the way home, but it is highly unlikely. Unless you visit your home country and drop off part of the originally packed goods, your souvenir and gift filled baggage will weigh more. Let alone all the foreign magazines, books and other items you bought just because you liked them.

10. Brand matters. Some countries do not have certain products or brands you used and trusted before. International students from Western countries often have a hard time finding proper deodorant, toothbrush, tampons and other items in the Far East, Middle East or Africa. Vice versa, international students with non-Western cultural background might find Western shops a bit strange (overstocked stores may cause shopping dilemmas). If you are picky about your toiletry, makeup or sauce brands – bring enough of them from home.

11. The 'just in case' packing method. Forget about it. In case you need a ball dress or a diving suit, you order it from an online shop or you will go to a physical store and get what you need like everyone else in the host country. If you are not being selective you may end up bringing 3 oversized check-in luggage - and all the trouble with that.

12. Save, save, save. If you take your laptop and external hard drive with you, save the most important documents on your desktop, another external drive or use cloud service providers. Better be safe than sorry, you don't want to lose all your family pictures and selfies.

13. Accessories abroad. Just like you should not take the most expensive clothes with you, it is not advised to take any expensive, one of a kind jewelry to your study abroad program. They might be damaged, lost or stolen and that would surely mark your semester abroad.

14. Bring souvenirs to your host family and future local and international friends. Bring them something unique, let it be your national food or drink or any culture speficif item. Pack several small, inexpensive but symbolic souvenirs for up to 10 people. They will appreciate it.

We listed the factors you have to consider when assembling your study abroad packing list. Now let's see what do we find in the luggage of an average international student!

Pack your 'life' and go

Pack your "life" and go

Your study abroad program is around the corner and you have a vague study abroad packing list. You are reaching for the bathroom scale to measure the empty weight of your luggage. You asked everyone about this, watched some packing tutorials, but you still hesitate whether you should pack your entire wardrobe (you know, just in case) or nothing else but a Hawaii T-shirt and sunglasses. Hold your horses just for now.

Our packing list guide is based on the experience of more than hundred international students studying abroad all over the world. Even so, let's be real here: there will always be personal needs and country specific items to take with you. The following study abroad packing guide is not sacrosanct, so if there is something crucial for your survival, feel free to add it to your personal packlist. We are giving you a reasonable guide with several options to include or leave out, so besides the essential items you weigh yourself what is worth taking with you.

Remember to revise this study abroad packing list and guide again, some days before your departure. Also, you may need to do some preparation to get ready for studying abroad.

Guide to round up your study abroad packing list

The categories below help you to have a quick overview of what you need to pack for studying abroad. The colors and abbreviations indicate the importance of each item in descending order. In general it is a good idea to use plastic bags to separate your stuff.

1. MP : Must Pack: the most essential personal items. Your trip can be difficult and often impossible without these (e.g. personal documents).

2. SP : Should Pack: these items are often used while studying abroad, so try to make space for them. Your life abroad can get a whole lot easier if you have these items with you from home. Some of these are consumables, so you can potentially buy them in your host country.

3. CP : Could Pack: pack them if you still have some space left, but for the majority of international students these items are usually the least important or they are easy to buy anywhere while studying abroad. Depending on the type of accommodation abroad (country specific) you may need to extend this list.

Personal documents & electronics

Personal documents

Keep them in your pockets and pack the rest in your backpack (deep inside) or cross-body bag. Before you leave your house, double or triple check where you put your passport, travel tickets, wallet and prescription medicine.

  • passport and additional ID photos
  • health insurance card or proof
  • passport and insurance copies (kept separately)
  • purse/wallet
  • 100 USD worth local currency in cash
  • travel tickets or boarding passes
  • emergency contact list
  • learning agreement (for exchange students)
  • diploma and trancripts (for full-degree students)
  • ISIC / student cards
  • travel itinerary
  • travel dictionary (mini)
  • journal / diary

Electronics

Keep the most expensive items in your backpack or cross-body bag and put the least important electronic gadgets in your hand luggage (check in the power strip).

  • mobile phone and charger
  • laptop and charger (plus case)
  • headphones
  • USB cable
  • outlet adapter
  • universal battery charger
  • camera (adapter and charger)
  • memory cards (phone/camera)
  • flash drive
  • external hard drive
  • MP3 player / iPod
  • e-book reader
  • power strip with converter

must pack

should pack

could pack

Clothing - come what may

Everyday clothing

Pack half of them in your hand luggage and the other half in your check- in luggage (mostly on the bottom as a bedding for fragile items). If eight short sleeve shirts are too much, pack six. If you don't wear T-shirts, don't pack any. You may choose any combination, as long as you pack clothes for one-two weeks (or else you will be tied to the laundry room).

  • 7-14 underwears
  • 7-14 pair of socks
  • 8-10 short and long sleeve shirts
  • 3-5 T-shirts
  • 2 buttons up
  • 2 sweatshirts or sweaters
  • 2 pants, jeans or khakis
  • 2 shorts
  • 2 sleeveless shirts or tanktops
  • belt
  • walking shoes
  • multi-purpose jacket (rain and wind)
  • multi-purpose pants (colder and warmer weather)
  • slippers or flip-flops
  • pajamas

Winter/formal/training clothing

If you are going in the winter you will wear the heaviest clothes to save space. In case you are going in the summer, but you are taking winter clothes for the next semester, then you might need to pack it in your luggage, however some airlines allow you to take 1-2 items in your hand (free of charge). ALWAYS check with your airline provider!

  • winter coat
  • gloves
  • hat
  • scarf
  • boots

Pack them in your hand luggage or wear them. You may need to attend an official event (e.g. holiday, ceremony), have a video job interview or want to look nice on a class presentation.

  • nice shoes
  • suit / nice dress

Pack them in your hand luggage. Even if you never trained before, maybe you will find someone who helps you out. Remember, you go to study abroad to try new things.

  • preferred training outfit
  • running shoes
  • sport bras
  • bathing suit or swimsuit

must pack

should pack

could pack

Toiletries abroad

Toiletries abroad

All metal goes to the check-in luggage. Keep the contact lenses, deodorant, brush and other essential toiletries in a plasitc bag in your backpack or cross-body bag

  • glasses
  • contact lenses and solution (bring extra)
  • deodorant
  • brush or comb
  • nail clippers
  • tweezers
  • razor
  • plastic bottle for toiletries (100ml max volume)
  • shaving foam
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • sunblock/suntan lotion
  • face wipes / hand sanitizer
  • tissues
  • face lotion /moisturizer
  • folding hair dryer

must pack

should pack

could pack

Girls' clothing and toiletries

Girls' clothing and toiletries

Pack them in your check in luggage. These items have to be packed in addition to the clothes of the every day clothing section above. International students rarely wear extreme high heels, because it is neither practical nor necessary. Though if you want to be the one in 15cm (6inches) heels, no one will stop you (but it might be better to buy a cheaper one in your host country).

  • 2-3 bras
  • 2 pair of tights
  • 2 casual dresses
  • 2 going-out outfit
  • 2 skirts
  • flats
  • boots
  • leggings
  • heels (no stilletto)

All metal goes in the check-in luggage and you can pack the rest in your hand luggage or carry-on. Keep it simple, pack them with the rest of the toiletries above.

  • tampons and pads (for 1 month min)
  • makeup bag
  • hair ties and headbands
  • nail file
  • bobby pins

must pack

should pack

could pack

Convenient & safe travel

Convenient & safe travel

Keep these items with you or in your backpack / cross-body bag. You will be able to refill travel size toiletries when you are traveling in your host country. Other items can increase your comfort level or help to pass time.

  • travel size toiletries (soap, toothpaste and shampoo)
  • small snacks for the first few days, bagged soup
  • travel pillow
  • plastic bottle (for refill)
  • travel guide
  • digital luggage scale
  • playing cards
  • lunchbox

Over-the-counter medicine: pack them in your check-in luggage, hopefully you do not need them on your way to your study abroad destination.

  • adhesive bandages
  • allergy medicine
  • cold and flu medicine
  • motion sickness medicine
  • painkillers
  • eye drops
  • certain contraceptives

must pack

should pack

could pack

Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous

Whatever you can - wear it. If you don't need it during traveling put it in the check-in luggage or carry-on (no metal).

  • souvenirs for local and international students
  • earplugs and sleeping mask
  • XL size towel
  • vitamins (check in advance if your brand is available abroad)
  • 1-2 smaller books (for your own entertainment)
  • plastic bags (multipurpose: traveling, dirty clothes, packing)
  • folding umbrella
  • rain coat
  • Swiss Army knife with corkscrew
  • sunglasses
  • wrist watch
  • luggage lock (small padlock)
  • pens, pencil, small notebooks
  • mosquito repellent
  • reminders of home: some pictures, favorite stuffed animals

must pack

should pack

could pack

What not to pack

What not to pack

These things seem like you can't live without them, but they are heavy, sensitive or your roommates will use them more than you do. Save yourself from the trouble and don't pack these in your luggage.

Items you won't need:

  • clothes that you haven't worn in a year
  • textbooks (the host school probably has a library)
  • heavy readings (take your favorite)
  • expensive jewelry
  • extreme high heels
  • ironing set
  • curling iron
  • flat iron

One last thing. You do need some sweet reminders of your home, but if you pack too much of them, eventually you will take another luggage and you delay your acculturation process and increase the chance of facing a more severe culture shock.

Now get that luggage rolling and enjoy your host country!

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Study abroad packing list