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


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.

Power adapters

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.

Sentimental items

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.


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.

Laundry supplies

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.

School supplies

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.


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
  • Candles
  • Microwaves
  • 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.

Credit vs. Debit

No one can grow a money tree for you, but you already have the seeds to plant your own.

The biggest secret of the ultrawealthy is that many of their fancy toys—cars, boats, houses—probably weren’t bought with their own money, at least not at first. With proper money management, anyone can finance their way to the lifestyle they want.

The key to accessing that money (at a low interest-rate) is pretty simple: have good credit. Now, talk of debit vs. credit might sound a little confusing at first, but it’s relatively easy once you understand the basics.

First thing’s first: what’s the difference between a debit and a credit card? Well, both are little pieces of plastic that live inside your wallet and can be used in place of cash but the similarities roughly end there.

Debit cards act like cash. When you swipe your debit card, your own money is transferred instantly from your bank account to the seller. No debt is involved. Debit cards are useful for getting money out of ATMs and they typically don’t have fees added for regular use.

Because debit cards use the money you already have, it’s important not to charge more than you have in the bank. If you do, your card may be declined or you may be charged an overdraft fee, a penalty for using more than you own.

Credit cards are based on a different principle: you’re paying with the bank’s money. This is how the wealthy appear even wealthier. Buying on credit allows you to make purchases now and pay them off when you’re ready. At the end of each month, you can pay either the total amount or minimum amount required on the account to avoid late fees. Credit cards often come with perks, like cash back or freebies (hello Amazon Prime Student!).

An important facet of financial freedom is having a good credit score. A credit score is essentially a measure of trust, and paying your credit card bill on time is one way to build it. Banks, insurance companies, and landlords want to know if you’ve made good financial choices in the past and paid back owed money on time. Does the car dealership trust you to pay back the loan on that Ferrari? Your credit score will give them a good idea.

This fancy little number increases as you build good credit or decreases if you miss out on payments. Having a high credit score opens a lot of doors, from getting a better house loan to landing a job. Debit cards don’t affect your credit score, but using a credit card wisely can help you build it.

Beyond building a credit score, credit cards typically have more built-in security than debit cards. Unauthorized purchases or fraudulent charges on your card are covered by credit card companies and typically reimbursed much faster than debit cards. Credit cards often come with insurance on purchases and may even insure your cell phone. They’re also great for emergencies. Next time you get a flat tire on your new car, you can charge the towing fee to your credit card and pay it off later.

Because credit involves money that is not your own, it’s important to use credit cards responsibly. This means only charging what you can afford to pay back and being mindful of taking on debt. As rapper Kendrick Lamar sings, “Money trees is the perfect place for shade.” In order to grow your tree, however, you must regularly water the roots.

Do your best to pay off your credit card bill as quickly as possible so the interest doesn’t add up over time.

Choosing when to use a debit or credit card is up to you. Many people prefer to use credit cards when traveling to earn rewards and to maintain the extra layer of security against fraud. Credit cards can also be useful for bigger purchases that you can’t pay off in full right away. Debit cards are handy for any situation in which you would normally pay cash or for purchases where you don’t want to receive a bill. Finding a system that matches your comfort level while also building your credit score is the best way to go.

Legendary investor Warren Buffet echoed Lamar’s sentiments when he said, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” In other words, developing responsible money habits like building good credit can have large returns in the long run.
Both debit and credit cards are useful to own, and most people have both. It’s great to get financially savvy early on so that you can plant your own money tree and benefit for years to come.

At Deserve, we’re here to help you invest in your independence and manage your money wisely. Be sure to visit our Credit Education learning platform to get into the nitty gritty of financial independence.

This post is brought to you by Deserve and has been re-published on the CampusSIMS blog with Deserve’s permission. Deserve is a digital-first, mobile-centric, highly configurable credit card solution that uses machine learning and alternative data, Deserve partners with universities, associations, financial institutions, fintechs and modern consumer brands to develop, rapidly deploy and power white label and co-branded credit card programs for any audience. The cloud-based platform also provides millennials and Gen Zs fair access to credit products and the tools to achieve financial independence. They’re award winning EDU card offers great benefits for international students without Social Security numbers and domestic students. Cardholders can receive Amazon Prime Student on Deserve, 1% cashback, no international transaction fees and $0 annual fees. For more information, visit