Studying Abroad Packing List, Things you Must Bring and What you can Leave at Home
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Studying abroad is the best thing you’ll ever do. A few years ago I spent one year of my masters degree studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Looking back on it today, it was a much more incredible experience than it felt at the time. I am a completely new person, and everything I want from life is different today than before studying abroad.
So if you’re about to go study abroad, don’t be scared. I can tell you there will be good times and challenging times. Otherwise I can’t tell you what exactly to expect. Your experience will be completely different from mine. However, I can tell you what to bring with you, and what to leave at home.
These are the things you should pack when studying abroad:
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
A converter not an adaptor
Most electronics these days have dual voltage and only require an adapter. However, I would still recommend you bring a voltage converter with you instead of an adapter. There are inexpensive, small converters available and it’s better to just buy one of those instead of accidentally frying your phone. You will probably be living on a budget while studying abroad and won’t be able to afford a new phone. Remember the voltage outside of North America is double in strength, so it could do some serious damage to your electronics.
Trust me on this one. I know most phones these days take incredible pictures, but they don’t even come close to the image quality of even an old point and shoot. This is especially true in lower light situations. And let’s not even talk about the poor digital zoom phones have. One of the things I regret from my studying abroad experience is not having taken enough pictures. I really wish I had more pictures that I could use to remember my stay, and post on this blog.
If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend checking out Panasonic. They have some older models that take incredible pictures and only cost a few hundred dollars. Look up some sample images on Flickr if you don’t believe me.
An electronics organizer
How I wish I had one of these when I studied abroad. I had all my cables and chargers in a plastic bag, where they all got tangled, and my phone cable even broke. An electronics organizer is great to protect and prevent misplacing your cables and chargers.
With clothing, your packing list will be dependent on where you are going. Research your destination in advance so you know what clothes to bring with you, and give yourself plenty of time to buy anything you may not have. Consider watching some walking tours on youtube and take note of what the locals are wearing. It is a good idea to dress similarly to the locals so you don’t stand out in the crowd. Having said that, here are some considerations when it comes to clothing:
Have 2 weeks worth of underwear with you. The reason for this being that you don’t know if you’ll have access to laundry facilities. When I studied abroad, I knew I would stay in a building that had been newly converted into student dorms. What I didn’t know was that the building was still under construction during the time of me moving in, and that there would be no laundry facilities available during my first THREE WEEKS. Since I had my own private bathroom, I was able to wash some small items by hand. However, you never know what the laundry facilities are like, so it’s good to have extras until you figure out a solution.
For those of you going to places with different seasons, also bring different types of underwear. Pack some thermal underwear for winter, and sweat-proof underwear for summer.
Three pairs of shoes
Shoes are bulky and heavy, and take up a lot of space in your suitcase. Regardless of how long you’re studying abroad for, limit yourself to 3 pairs of shoes. Bring a nice, insulated pair of waterproof leather boots, a pair of comfortable sneakers, and one pair of nice weather shoes. Additionally, have a pair of flip-flops if you will be staying in a residence with communal bathrooms and showers.
One-two week’s worth of outfits
When it comes to outfits, almost everyone outside North America dresses more business casual in the day time and less formal in the evenings. When I studied abroad I loved wearing Lululemon Stretch High-Rise Pants in dark colours. They are comfortable like sweats, but they look more formal than sweatpants. However, they can be quite expensive. If you can’t afford them, this option is a great dupe at a fraction of the price.
If you’re a girl, also brings skirts and tights because they’re stretchy and comfortable for long wear and lots of walking. Dresses are another great alternative because they can be worn by themselves on hot days and layered with a cardigan on colder days. If you’re going somewhere with cold winters, also pack a large scarf. When it comes to winter jackets, choose one that hits right above the knees. That’s the perfect length to protect your thighs from wind, but still short enough to allow you to comfortably move in it.
Bring only one winter jacket, but do bring enough clothes for up to 2 weeks. I did this and it was a great decision because it allowed me to only do laundry every 2 weeks. The building where I lived charged the equivalent of 8 USD per wash! In addition, drying was charged by the minute! So only doing laundry every 2 weeks saved me quite a bit of money in the one year I lived there.
A backpack will be essential while travelling, and I absolutely recommend you bring one. Consider getting one with a laptop compartment and using it as your carry on bag for your electronics, documents, and other important items.
In many European countries, students don’t carry backpacks to class. They just bring a tote bag.
In Copenhagen, where I studied, almost everyone had a backpack. But people also rode bicycles to class and it’s a lot easier to do so with a backpack than a tote bag. Before you invest any money in a specific type of bag, watch a walking tour on Youtube to see how the locals are dressed and what bags they carry.
In addition, I recommend a cross body bag with an inner zipped pocket big enough to fit you passport. It will be essential to have while travelling around and during your free time.
Cosmetics and Care Products
Makeup and skincare
If you have a preferred face cream that doesn’t break you out, pack that. I would not bring face cleansers, masks, scrubs, etc. You will find alternatives. Makeup-wise, bring your foundation and a few other small things you can’t live without. Do limit yourself to one eyeshadow palette, one mascara, one eyeliner, etc.
What you may not find at your destination is the type or brand of tampons that you are used to. If you absolutely must have tampons with an applicator, pack enough to last you the entire stay. If you are fine with tampons without an applicator, there’s no need to pack extras.
You may not think about this, but having some basic medications is vital! If you are a North American studying in Europe you may be shocked to find that grocery stores don’t have pharmacies or over-the-counter medications. In many cases, you may not even find band-aids at the grocery store. Whatever you need, you have to go to the pharmacy and ask for it. And if (you’re very unlucky) the pharmacist doesn’t think you need the medication you want, they may not let you buy it, even if you don’t require a prescription for it!
When I studied abroad, I brought lots of extra Advil. I get headaches very easily and regular Advil just works for me. Many European pharmacists are against ibuprofen (contained in Advil) for some reason. Some of them will insist you buy paracetamol instead of ibuprofen, even if you know it doesn’t work for you.
On that note, it is also important to have some bandages with you just in case you accidentally cut yourself at midnight. Additionally, it is also good to have some cold medications in case you wake up with the worst flu of your life and you don’t feel well enough to go out and buy anything.
If you take prescription medications, make sure to do some research well in advance. When I studied abroad in Denmark I heard of a couple Americans who had their prescription medications seized at the airport when they landed because those medications were banned in Denmark. Having a prescription from qualified doctors in the U.S. didn’t allow them to keep their medications. Make sure your medications are allowed in the country you’re going to. Otherwise it will take a long time for you to find other medications that work for you.
If your medications are not banned, bring plenty of them to last you at least 6 months, and multiple copies of your prescription. Have a paper copy, pictures on your phone, and in a cloud account. On that note, I’d like to add that people outside of North America don’t take as many medications, so it may be hard for you to fill your prescription if you’re studying outside of a large city.
Bring your laptop and tablet (if you have one). When I studied abroad in Denmark, everyone brought their laptop to class. Having a laptop was actually required for working on some projects. But in other countries that’s not the case. We once had a guest professor from Italy once who told us she doesn’t allow her students to use any electronics during class. All notes are to be taken by hand. However, you will still need a laptop for online banking and staying in touch with family, even if you don’t use it in class.
Depending on your study program, you may or may not need a calculator. You may also need a USD memory stick for organizing your notes and study materials.
Pack a small and compact pencil case. Bring 3 of your favourite pens, one small planner and one small notebook, as well as a couple pencils, an eraser, and one sharpener. In addition consider bringing 3-5 envelopes. You probably won’t need them but it’s best to have them. I found myself in need of one envelope once and I had no idea where to buy them from. Any other stationery you need, you can find at your destination.
When I studied abroad I brought my passport, birth certificate, undergraduate degree, and all the school paperwork and housing contracts I had signed for my study abroad program. Besides the paper copies, also have pictures of all documents on your phone and in a cloud account.
A small documents organizer will be beneficial to keep all your important papers in one place. Moreover, to prevent bending and damaging your documents have them laminated. If you know you will share accommodation with other people and the security of your documents is a concern to you, you may consider a portable case lock box.
Something from Home
For a study abroad stay of a month or two you really don’t need to bring anything that reminds you of home. You will be too busy during that short stay to become homesick. However, if you’re going for a semester or longer, consider bringing something from home. It could be a tiny teddy bear or a pillow case. You will be glad you did if you start feeling homesick later in your stay.
And these are the things you should NOT pack when studying abroad:
WHAT NOT TO BRING WITH YOU
Do not bring any hair products such as dryers or curlers, especially if you’re studying abroad for longer than a month. You will find cheap alternatives when you arrive to your destination. When I went abroad to Copenhagen a few years ago, I found a small hair dryer for the equivalent of 8 euros, and before leaving I sold it for the equivalent of 4 euros. It really makes no sense to bring one from home.
On that note, DO NOT under any circumstances bring any kitchen gadgets. I had classmates from China who brought their own rice cooker. In their defence, they actually used it for multiple meals every day. However I find that unnecessary because there are plenty of rice cookers to buy in Copenhagen.
DO NOT bring inappropriate or offensive items of clothing or accessories. This depends on the country you’re going to and you will have to do some research. If you’re going to Europe, North America, or Australia/ New Zealand, I’d say almost anything is oaky. However, if you’re going to the Vatican, or small villages in highly religious regions, don’t wear anything explicit (like a t-shirt with an image of two people kissing). And in countries like Myanmar it is inappropriate to show your shoulders, so don’t bring tank tops.
When it comes to footwear, do not bring shoes you didn’t get a chance to break into yet. I brought a pair of brand new flats, thinking I’d break into them during my stay in Copenhagen. Well, they were so uncomfortable, I didn’t wear them once. I got rid of them there, I didn’t even bring them back home with me. What a waste of luggage space!
I would also recommend you leave home all your expensive, designer items. No matter where you’re going, you DO NOT need Jimmy Choo heels when you’re studying abroad.
Large bottles of body lotion or shampoo should stay at home. They are big, heavy, and take up a lot of space in your suitcase. You will most likely find something cheaper at your destination.
Don’t bring more than a few sheets of paper and one notebook with you. Notebooks are incredibly heavy and very inexpensive to buy abroad. Buy them when you need them, as you need them. Also printer paper may be different. North America uses US Letter sized printer paper, while the rest of the world uses A4 sized paper.
For the dorm room, you don’t need to bring anything with you. Bed sheets, towels, even pillows and duvets are very affordable to purchase at your destination. Moreover, pots, pans, and cutlery are heavy and can break during transit. Always buy them at your destination.
This has been my studying abroad packing list. Have you studied abroad? Do you have anything to add?