Moving to Another Country, Packing, Travel

Ready to go abroad? Here's what to pack!

There’s one word that comes to mind when thinking about packing to move to another country: Daunting.

I know the process isn’t a walk in the park so I’ve thought of what worked for me and what didn’t and out came this guide! I hope it will help ease your stress and anxieties and also weed out things you may or may not need.

What to Pack
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Just a note to remember that unless you will be in a completely isolated environment, there will be stores abroad where you can buy everyday items.

Think about the clothes you wear most often that are comfortable and make you feel great and just pack those. Then pack your essentials and things you can’t live without, some books, pictures, small toiletries, and electronics. THEN if you still have space and weight in your bags to spare, fill it with additional clothes.

I found that after dressing to impress the first two weeks, I ended up rotating the same pieces. As a PhD student, you’ll probably spend 90% of your time in the lab or out in the field collecting data, so it’s best to bring comfortable clothes that can be layered. Also, even though England is known for its rainy weather, I think I only wore my rain boots a few times over 4 years – definitely not worth it! Since this a very heavy item that takes up valuable space in a suitcase, in retrospect I wouldn’t have bothered and saved money instead of paying for overweight baggage.

Carry-on vs. Check-in Luggage:

  • Check luggage limits for the airline you’re flying
  • You’ll have at least 1 carry-on bag and 1 check-in bag, so we’ll highlight which items should always be included in your carry-on and which can be added to your check-in luggage.
  • Make sure your carry-on is sturdy and usable for short trips you might be going on while living abroad
  • Helpful tip: To make going through security a breeze, always have your liquids separated in a clear quart-size zip-lock bag

Essentials – Carry-on bag

These are items that you should ALWAYS have with you in your carry-on bag, especially if you’re going abroad for university. It may be self-explanatory but it doesn’t hurt to lay it all out, right?

  • Passport
    • Visa – this will be inserted into your passport
  • Social security card (if necessary)
  • Bring your letter of acceptance
  • Copies of any paperwork you submitted for your visa or student permit
  • $ or traveler’s check to tide you over for 2 months
  • Credit card with no foreign transaction fees

Things you can’t live without – Carry-on bag

Again, make sure these are in your carry-on!

  • Medications, EpiPen, etc.
    • Try to have a 3-6 month supply of medications you regularly use and need on hand. That way, if an emergency does come up you will have some cushion to fall back on if you can’t immediately contact your doctor or get a prescription
  • Glasses, contacts, contact solution
    • It may be difficult to get your hands on specific brands so pack a few months’ supply. In some countries, it is possible to order contacts online and have them shipped to you directly but check that out before you go

Clothing- Check-in bag

The main thing is probably to bring clothes that can be used for different occasions, because you will have a chance to go shopping.

    • 1 really warm jacket (preferably down, it makes a difference!)
    • 1 waterproof medium weight jacket
    • 1 nice suit top or button-down shirt
    • 1 pair of sneakers/comfortable walking shoes (If you choose nice boat shoes or loafers, these can easily double as professional wear)
    • 1 pair of “fancy” shoes to wear to a nice dinner, party, interview. (This can definitely be a nice pair of flats, like ballet shoes)
    • Bathing suit
    • 3 sweaters
    • 3 pairs of pants/jeans
    • 2 pairs of leggings
    • 2 dresses
    • A few t-shirts
    • A large scarf – very versatile!  You can even use this on the plane as a blanket or pillow, so better yet, make this a carry-on item!
    • One set of workout clothes
    • Socks, undergarments
    • Pajamas

Books/Electronics – Carry-on bag

  • Converters, converters, converters!
    • Make sure you have the right converters and surge protectors for the country you are going to. It can be a pain, expensive and just bothersome to look for these after you arrive
  • Camera
  • Laptop
  • Smartphone (ideally only if it has a SIM card slot because then you can just buy a new SIM card supported in your new country instead of buying a new phone)
  • Chargers
  • E-readers, iPad, Kindle
  • 1 or 2 (at most!) paperback books to keep you company on the journey over
  • Guidebook of the country you are moving to or of places you want to visit while living there

Toiletries – Check-in bag

  • You know those free samples you get every time you go to the dentist or those travel size hair products? These are perfect for traveling, so make sure to bring these along and you can buy regular sized products once you arrive at your destination.

Reminders of home – Check-in bag


  • You’ll be moving to a new country for potentially 4 or more years, so definitely bring something that will make you less homesick.  A scented candle that reminds you of your favorite time of year or home baked cookies, postcards, a small framed picture of friends or family, or a going away gift that you’ve been given – anything that will make you smile when you’re missing home!


I hope this guide has made the packing process less daunting for you!  Feel free to leave a comment if you think I’ve left out anything important!

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