The basics
THE USA: Essentials - Must read

Essentials: What to pack for the US

Our guide to what you should bring with you when coming to study abroad in the USA, as well as what you can leave behind...

Girl on suitcase

So you’ve been accepted by US university; you've bought your plane ticket and received your visa; and you've found a place to live. Bursting with excitement, you’re now left to complete your final preparation task: packing your bags. Whilst you’ll want to take as many of your favourite things with you as possible when you move overseas, it’s important that you think practically about the restrictions of your luggage and what will be of most use to you once you land.

Let our guide to some basic packing Do’s and Dont’s help you get organised...


Before you start packing...

Check with the airline you're flying with what the luggage limitations and restrictions are. You should weigh your bags at home so you're not carrying too much. Also, take care to ensure you're not bringing any sharp objects or liquids in your hand luggage (liquids in your hand luggage must be in small quantities of 100ml and in see-through bottles). For the US, you must follow the 3-1-1 rule.


Do pack

Clothing basics

The US is an incredibly large country with radically different climates across different states: for example, if you’re studying at the University of Florida you’ll be unlikely to need many thick woollens or winter coats. Students should research the climate in the state they’ll be studying in before arriving, and pack the basics they’ll need to function in that climate. You'll be arriving in the fall so warmer clothes would be better, though again this will depend on where you are studying.

College life is generally quite informal, with students often opting for comfort and practicality over clothes that are purely fashionable apart from when you're attending parties and socials.


Power adaptor/s

Power sockets in the United States require unique power plugs, and you’ll need to buy an adaptor so that you can plug in your electronics. You can always buy an adaptor once you land, but as your first few days are likely to be hectic you’ll no doubt need a fully-charged phone and internet access to get yourself organised, contact home etc. You should make sure you’ll have a charged phone or tablet to access any important documents or if you need to reach your landlord or university office on the spot if you're stuck.



Whether you have access to funds by card or not, you should always have an amount of local currency on hand in case things go wrong, particularly when you just arrive. Some shops and establishments might not accept foreign cards or payment via card at all, whilst some services such as public transport tickets or taxis only take cash. Arriving in a foreign country with no ATM in sight is hardly the way you want your study abroad adventure to start. We would recommend having about $400-$500 in US dollars on you.



It may seem obvious, but you should always make sure you have all your relevant travel and immigration documents in a safe place and ready to produce at a moment’s notice (this can also include previous important correspondance with your university). Keep your passport, immigration forms and university acceptance letter in a plastic pocket or folder within your carry-on luggage whilst you travel, and stored somewhere safe and out of the way once arrived in the US. You should always make both paper photocopies and digital copies of all your documents just in case, and have these accessible while travelling so you can produce these at border control. You'll also need these when you apply for a bank account or a student ID card in your first few weeks. For digital storage and back-ups, you can use a storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive for this.



You never know when you’ll need a minute to yourself to collect your thoughts. Headphones don’t take up much space and whilst you can buy them in America, they will no doubt be integral in making your trip Stateside bearable. Having your own music on hand at any time can be incredibly comforting, especially when you arrive in a new country and need to find your way to your accommodation.  


LEAVE behind

Herbs, spices, snacks

Whilst it might be tempting to bring your favourite snacks and spices from home, these will simply be a temporary treat that will take up space in your luggage. What’s more, the US has incredibly strict immigration requirements and depending on what your snack is, you might not even be allowed to bring it into the country. Getting nostalgic is simply part of the study abroad experience, and having snacks from home on hand won’t do much to help with your homesickness. Depending on where you are studying, you can always find a supplier for these foods and ingredients from home who can deliver to you when you want the taste of something familiar.



When trying to squash your life into a suitcase it’s tempting to try and fit in as many items of sentimental value as you can. Whilst taking a few tokens of your life at home is a good idea, taking photo albums, soft toys or too many trinkets will just end up cluttering your new room and using up precious luggage space. Try to be reasonable with your choice of mementos from home, and remember that once in your room abroad, you’ll need the extra space to make room for new memories.


Linen, towels & toiletries

Most students living on American college have moved from somewhere, whether from within the state, across the country or the other side of the world. Colleges and student accommodation agencies are used to dealing with these students’ needs and will either be able to provide you with linen and towels, or point you in the right direction to purchase them cheaply. Many American colleges also have shops on campus that will sell these things to you at a discounted price for students. 


Academic supplies

Books and stationary are not only heavy, but are unlikely to vary in quality between countries. All the books you’ll need for your studies will definitely be available on campus at the library or bookshop, through a campus-run service or through online retailers like Amazon. As with other living costs, stationary in the US is quite cheap and you’ll easily be able to pick up a stack of notebooks for next to nothing as soon as you arrive. Some universities may also run lending services that will enable you to borrow the books you need and return them at the end of your course, so you might not even need to purchase them! 

Of course if you need to get started early on your reading for the beginning of your course, you'll have to buy some books in advance which can't be helped. Even here you should try to prioritise the most important books (or the longest ones) and just bring these with you.



Now that you’re inspired to pursue your studies in America, why not start browsing courses now?


Read more:

‘The US higher education system... simplified’

‘Tuition fees in the USA’

‘Applying to study in the US’

‘Applying for a US student visa’

‘Student accommodation in the USA'

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About Author

Girl on suitcase

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.


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