The Ultimate Packing List for Studying Abroad

You’ve done it! With all the paperwork and deadlines out of the way, you can, at last, get to your study abroad packing list! This can be quite a challenge as you’ll be gone for a while and definitely don’t want to realize a 1000 miles away from home that you’ve forgotten one of your beloved essentials. Packing your life and daily needs into a suitcase can seem like a very daunting task. Don’t worry though, you are not the only one out there facing this challenge. We have created the ultimate packing list to help you out for exactly this reason, and put together some study abroad packing tips for all of you out there planning on studying abroad for one or two semesters.

Start planning early

Before we get to the checklists, it needs to be said that you should not, under any circumstances, do your packing last minute. Anyone feeling addressed here? I cannot stress this point enough, as you can really save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress by staying organised and starting to pack early for your study abroad.

To pack like a pro, start laying everything out about a week before your departure to get an overview of what you will be taking along, what you might still need to buy and what is unnecessary to take along. Is there anything you still need to organise or get, like a set of contact lenses, medicines, things you need a prescription for or can only order online or get from a specific shop?

Consider the length of your stay

The length of your stay naturally determines the type of clothing you will be taking along, as well as other seasonal essentials. Certain study abroad essentials, toiletries and the like will be similar, regardless of whether you plan on studying abroad for one or two semesters, but there are still some fine differences you need to keep in mind. You might also consider taking a carry-on in addition to your suitcase for a study period of two semesters, as your coat and other thicker articles of clothing will take up a lot of precious space.

Which season will you be going abroad in?

The season you travel abroad determines many essential objects you will be taking along. Think of insulated beverage bottles for your hot tea, woolly mittens, a scarf, hats and the like for winter- how could you do without? You will also need to take into account the hemisphere you will be travelling to. You are in for a surprise if you arrive in Australia in June or July expecting hot temperatures.

Appropriate clothing

By this, I don’t just mean weather-appropriate clothing! Before you start packing and throwing your favourite shorts and tank tops into the suitcase, be sure to do some research about your destination, especially thinking of the dress code at university or for taking a stroll outside. You will not want to stick out from the crowd by wearing something culturally inappropriate. It might also help to think about what you are planning to visit. If your itinerary includes churches or temples, pack a multipurpose scarf, long trousers and shirts. 

How to pack smartly

The general rule is that you need a lot less abroad than you think. Don’t try stuffing your whole life in a suitcase- be smart about what you take along. Also, be sure to check the luggage restrictions to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the airport. Luggage restrictions vary from airline to airline, so take a look at the airline’s website you are flying with in advance.

10 things NOT to take along for study abroad

  • Hairdryer and hair straightener: It often happens that these tools need a special amount of voltage, which is specific to each country. The voltage provided by plugs is different in Europe for example and most of the time not comparable to the US. To avoid ruining your hair dryer or hair straightener, your safest bet would be to opt for buying one at your destination. If the hair tool you have is dual voltage (check the label!) and your final destination is Europe, you can take it along if you find a fitting adapter.   
  • An unnecessary amount of shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste: Take some along for the first week or so, then stock up once you’ve arrived.
  • Too many snacks: We all know snacks are important, especially if they remind you of home. But packing too many of your beloved Quaker oats, Reese’s and CHEEZ-ITS will take up much-needed luggage space. Nowadays, you are sure to find these in some stores abroad anyway. And don’t let this make you miss out on the local snacks!
  • Heavy books: Don’t take more than two books with you as they will make your suitcase a lot heavier, and you will read them fast and then just have them lying around. Opt for a Kindle, if you have one, or make use of your local library card.
  • Your whole make-up collection: Take out the essentials and things you’ll need for nights out with friends. There’s no need to take your whole collection and every shade of eyeshadow you own.
  • Expensive or precious things: It’s alright to take some jewellery along, but keep to a minimum- better not risk anything.
  • A lot of change: Nowadays, you have ATMs around every second corner or you can pay by card almost everywhere. And even if that’s not the case, it’s not advisable to have too much cash on you.
  • Uncomfortable shoes: You should be able to walk long distances in your shoes. Make sure you have at least one pair of proper walking shoes that are waterproof.
  • Culturally inappropriate clothing: Do your research on this before you start packing for a semester, so you don’t end up having nothing appropriate to wear.
  • A suitcase stuffed to the brim: Don’t forget to leave some space in your suitcase, as you’ll surely want to take home some souvenirs!

Now that we’ve gone through everything you shouldn’t pack, let’s get to what you should take along! So grab a sheet of paper and take note of all your lists and things to buy before studying abroad. If you still need to buy something, write it up, so you don’t forget! Also, feel free to print the lists down below to save yourself some time!

Packing list for studying abroad

If you are planning on studying abroad during the warmer months of the year, you will be able to travel with a bit lighter luggage. Wondering about what to pack when studying abroad in Europe or elsewhere? Or about how to pack for a semester abroad? Then best take a look at the list below, which can be viewed as a complete study abroad packing checklist, though you can naturally adjust it to fit your needs and add things that aren’t on it. Your clothes are going to vary the most, so there are two separate lists to go through. If you are packing for a year abroad, go for a mix of both of them.

Clothes to pack for studying abroad in summer

Unless you are staying in a place like northern Brazil, Morocco or Málaga during your study abroad for the summer semester, it is important to not only think of the warmer months towards the end of your stay but also the first few months of spring which might be chillier in your destination of choice. Search for the temperatures to expect to have a good mix of warmer and summer attire.

  • Light jacket
  • Rain jacket
  • 2-3 sweaters or hoodies
  • Waterproof shoes
  • Sneakers
  • A pair of sandals
  • A pair of nice shoes
  • 12x underwear
  • 10x socks
  • Jeans/ trousers 2-3x
  • Skirt(s)
  • 1-2 dresses
  • 2 shorts
  • Belt
  • 6 t-shirts
  • 3-4 (tank) tops
  • Pyjamas
  • Cosy outfit for at home
  • Sportswear
  • Slippers (if needed), or flip-flops you can use in hostels
  • Sunglasses
  • Cap
  • Swimsuit

Clothes to pack for studying abroad in winter

Trust me, you don’t want to be in a northern European country without a proper pair of warm boots, a thick coat and woolly mittens! It might also happen that the heating in your dorm is not enough to keep you warm, so you’ll want to be prepared with the right clothing! 

  • 1 lighter rain and waterproof jacket
  • 1 warm coat for cold weather
  • 3-4 sweaters, hoodies
  • Waterproof shoes 
  • A pair of boots
  • Sneakers
  • A pair of nice shoes
  • 12x underwear
  • 12x socks (also thicker ones!)
  • 3 jeans/ trousers 
  • Belt
  • Skirt(s)
  • 1-2 dresses
  • 2 tights
  • 2 t-shirt
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • 2-3 undershirts
  • Pyjamas
  • Cosy outfit for at home
  • Sportswear 
  • Hat
  • Mittens
  • Scarf
  • Slippers (if needed), or flip-flops you can use in hostels
  • 1-2 fancy outfits

Toiletries to pack for studying abroad

In some countries, you will not be able to get your go-to products, so stock up on anything you know you cannot find so easily in your new country. The toiletries list should suit everyone’s needs:

  • Shower Gel, shampoo, conditioner (use small, refillable tubes for trips to neighbouring cities!)
  • Toothbrush (and charger if needed), toothpaste, floss
  • Hair ties, bobby pins
  • Hairbrush, comb
  • Soap
  • Feminine products
  • Nail clippers
  • Body lotion
  • Makeup and makeup remover
  • Facial cream and cleanser
  • Lip balm
  • Razor, shaving supplies
  • Plasters (normal, and blister blasters)
  • Tissues, toilet paper
  • Medication or supplements if needed
  • Medicine (against a cough, sore throat, headaches and pain)
  • Deodorant
  • Contact lens box, solution and spare contact lenses
  • Glasses and case
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent spray (if you think you’ll need it in your country)

Electronics to pack for studying abroad

Ah, the joys of country-specific sockets and voltages! I think we all know the moment of dismay when realizing the socket is different to our home country. A higher amount of voltage can also ruin your electrical appliances, so do your research to be prepared and take at least one adapter with you.

  • Phone and charger
  • Kindle and charger
  • Laptop, charger and external USB disk
  • USB-stick
  • Headphones or earphones
  • 1-2 adapters
  • If needed: Tablet and charger
  • Camera and charger
  • Portable power bank

Miscellaneous things to pack for studying abroad

Last but certainly not least, pack your documents, IDs, tickets and other additional things you will need during your stay:

  • Passport, visa, ID and ISIC card (and their copies!)
  • Plane ticket
  • Wallet
  • Backpack
  • Smaller bag/ handbag for going out
  • Tote bags
  • Writing utensils
  • Notebooks and paper for university
  • University invitation letter
  • Jewellery
  • Water bottle
  • Towel
  • Accommodation papers
  • Travel insurance papers
  • Sleep mask
  • Some hangers
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Umbrella
  • Lunchbox, tupperware or thermo food container
  • Small snacks
  • Bed linens (be sure to check if they are offered at your accommodation)
  • Sleeping bag for hostels
  • Diary/ travel journal
  • Small lock for the gym and hostel lockers
  • Ziplock bags
  • Some cash (check what an acceptable amount is for your destination)
  • Earplug (for noisy hostels)
  • If the country you will be studying abroad boasts especially cold temperatures in winter, consider taking a hand warmer along.

5 study abroad packing tips

Here are some quick study abroad packing tips that are sometimes underestimated:

  • Take a calendar, planner or diary! Even if this is not at the top of your study abroad packing checklist, you will be happy to have something to write your ideas, plans, and to-do lists. Handing a diary around and having new friends write something into it will make it one of your best keepsakes to take back home!
  • Compare some options beforehand on where you’ll be getting your SIM card, and whether the country accepts your credit card.
  • Be sure to have some cash in the correct currency when you arrive. You never know whether you might not need a taxi or an emergency snack at the airport!
  • Take a keepsake from home– something that makes you smile and reminds you of your friends or family. Stuffed toys, printed pictures or postcards from friends are a great option here.
  • Clothes you haven’t worn in months: If you haven’t worn them the last few months, you are unlikely to feel good in them abroad.

Check everything one last time and you are off!

Let’s recap the 3 most important points one last time: 

  1. Start packing early.
  2. Keep lists of what to pack and what to organise before your trip.
  3. Maintain an overview of everything and stay organised.

One last word of advice: When you start packing, don’t put everything in your luggage straight away. That way, you will only lose track of what you’ve packed and what you haven’t and will end up rummaging through your suitcase for that one hoodie you absolutely need to take along. Spread your things out across a sofa or the floor to keep an overview. Only on the last day when you pack for real, tick off the boxes on your list.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab yourself something to write with and let’s get packing! 

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