The Ultimate Packing Guide for International Students Studying in the US
You’ve been accepted to university in the United States (yay!) and now comes the exciting (but sometimes overwhelming) task of preparing for being an international student living on campus at an American university. Of the many things you’ll have to do between acceptance and arrival, you most certainly will have to consider what you need to pack and bring with you versus what to leave at home or buy in the US.
That’s why we’ve created this packing guide, which outlines all the things you’ll need (and the things you won’t) so that you can use it as you get ready to start your next chapter of campus life in the US.
What to Pack, What to Leave at Home, and What to Buy in the US for Campus Life
WHAT TO PACK
These are the things you’ll want to throw in your luggage and bring with you via plane.
All travel-related documents – originals as well as copies
You know you need your passport and visa, but make sure you have any other travel-related documents necessary to get into and study in the US. Additionally, make sure you have hard copies (and perhaps digital copies as well) in the event that something goes missing.
Copies of your medical records, and anything you need for prescriptions
Similarly, you will want to make sure you have easy access to medical records (with physical or digital versions) to ensure if you need care, the medical staff in the US can offer better treatment and diagnoses. Make sure you also have any prescription medicine you take regularly. If you wear glasses, take an extra pair – same goes for contact lenses. Also, don’t forget to bring copies of your immunization records, even if you have already submitted them to your school. This is especially important for any COVID vaccination records.
Clothes and shoes
There are going to be plenty of places to buy clothes and shoes in the US, but you’ll need some things to start. Sometimes, things are more affordable in the US, and you might want to consider which clothing will be easier to purchase upon arrival. You’ll need a variety of clothing for all of the different scenarios you’ll encounter while at university. Most universities have a more casual dress code, but you’ll want to double check with your university to ensure you dress appropriately for classes and events.
- Undergarments (you know!) and socks
- Pajamas and other sleepwear and slippers
- Loungewear for outside of class and hanging out in your dorm or with friends
- Athletic apparel or clothes for working out, if you are into fitness
- Casual attire – jeans, t-shirts, etc. for everyday wear
- 1-2 outfits that are appropriate for a job/internship, interview, or other networking types of events
- A few cocktail/party/event outfits for those fun things that come up during the school year
Of course, you’ll also want to check the local weather/climate to ensure you have items that are appropriate for the temperature – such as swimsuits and sandals, or winter coats and accessories.
Personal electronics, such as a laptop, tablet, and mobile phone
You can always buy a new laptop when you arrive in the US, but you should definitely look into whether you can bring your current mobile phone so you are connected as soon as you arrive. Services like campusSIMS help students sign up for mobile phone service before they get to the US. Check if your phone is compatible here.
A SIM card
If your phone is compatible, then you should consider ordering a FREE SIM card from the campusSIMS website (click here to order) and getting it while you’re in your home country. Then, you can sign up for a mobile phone plan in advance and get your US phone number before you head to the US. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to complete activation and start using the service – and that’s when your billing cycle will start as well, so you’re only paying when you’re ready to use it.
To ensure that any personal electronics and chargers you bring are usable, you’ll want to make sure you have 110 volt adapters for North American plugs.
Though you should leave your most valuable items at home, if you have anything that you would like to keep with you to remind you of home (perhaps some photos, a favorite stuffed animal, etc.) you might consider taking them with you to have if you get homesick.
Having US dollars on-hand can be really helpful, especially in the first few weeks in the US if you encounter any issues with your international debit or credit cards. Most retailers in the US accept credit and debit cards – including international ones – but you might need to let your bank or credit card company know in advance that you’ll be in the US so there’s no issue processing transactions. In the meantime though, having cash ensures you can still pay for things even if you’re working through any permissions with the bank or your credit card company.
Your favorite non-perishable food or snack
If there’s a food item you absolutely need to bring with you from home, make sure it’s non-perishable. We don’t necessarily recommend giving up precious luggage space for food, as you might be able to find a local favorite at a specialty grocery store or restaurant, but if there’s something that might bring you comfort as you’re adjusting to life in the US, it could be a welcome treat.
WHAT TO LEAVE AT HOME OR BUY IN THE US
These are the things that are too bulky or big to include in your luggage or that are much easier purchased in the US, as well as items you just won’t need while on campus.
Things like pillows, sheets, blankets, and comforters/duvets are way too bulky to pack, and much easier to purchase. You’ll want to confirm the size of your dorm bed so that you can buy sheets that fit (most will claim to be size Twin XL). Some students will also buy mattress toppers to increase the comfort of the bed, as dorm room mattresses are known to be a bit uncomfortable.
Towels and toiletries
Additionally, you’ll need items for all of your bath needs, including towels and various toiletries, including toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, soap, deodorant, etc. Make a list of all of the things you use on a regular basis and plan on getting them in the US. If you want to bring travel-sized items for when you first arrive, that will help you manage until you get to a store. We also recommend getting a “shower caddy,” which is a plastic tote that makes it easy to carry your toiletries to and from the shower. Because you will likely be sharing a shower, you may want to also consider getting “shower shoes,” or plastic sandals or flip-flops you can wear while in the shared bathroom.
This includes things like laundry detergent, fabric softener, and an easy-to-tote laundry hamper for when you need to wash your clothes. Most dorm facilities will have a big laundry room that all students share, and you’ll want a hamper that’s easy to carry for when you need to bring your dirty clothes to wash. Other dorm room needs You’ll need some other items for your dorm room, especially given that’s it’s a small space. With limited closet space, you’ll want hangers, a shoe rack, and other organizational items to keep things tidy. You may also want to invest in a “microfridge” which is a combination of a microwave and mini-refrigerator that is permitted by the school. These are usually available for rent ahead of move-in. You’ll also want to buy a TV for your room, as that will be difficult to transport. Consider reaching out to your roommate to get their opinion as to what sort of TV they’d like to purchase if you’re planning on putting it in a shared space.
This includes things like notebooks, pencils/pens, folders, and other items that you’ll need for class. Some of these things are not mandated, and you may prefer to do a lot of your work digitally, but for many exams, your professor might require completion with pen and paper. As for textbooks, you can buy them, but we’d recommend renting them, as that’s less expensive and it’ll be easier for you.
Certain clothing that’s either cheaper in the US or that you won’t need right away
Even though we recommended many clothing items earlier in this guide, there are some you can potentially buy later or upon arrival. This includes some of the more formal attire for various events, as well as the bulkier items like winter coats and accessories that you wouldn’t necessarily need upon arrival in August.
Food / snacks
Not only will you likely have a meal plan or on-campus food options, but there will be many local grocery stores at which you can purchase various snacks, food, and beverage items to have accessible in your dorm room. Plan on making a stop so you have some things for when you are in-between meals or perhaps busy studying in your room.
WHAT NOT TO BUY OR BRING
There are quite a few items that many dorms and campuses do not allow. The below list is not comprehensive, and you’ll want to check in with your school and your specific dorm for a more extensive list as to what’s allowed or not.
- Hot plates
- Alcohol (the drinking age in the US is 21+)
- Printer (the school library will have a printer and ink)
As always, the best resource for knowing what to pack, leave at home, or buy upon arrival, consult your university’s international student office.