Empty suitcases staring at you the night before departure? Don’t panic—here’s everything you could ever need (and not need) to pack!
So you decided to study abroad. For the summer, for a semester, for the whole year, it doesn’t matter. Congratulations! You’ve made a fantastic decision that will change your life and leave you with unforgettable memories. But as excited as you are, it’s the night before departure and… you haven’t packed yet. Your empty suitcases stare at you, waiting, but you have no idea what to pack. Panic might hit you now, but never fear! I've got your ultimate guide to packing for study abroad.
Note: This packing list was written for a year-long program. If you’re going on a semester program or shorter, consider cutting the starred (*) items in half or removing them. Or, consider extending your program for even more adventure!
Before we move on to the fun stuff (clothing!), perhaps the most important things you will pack are the documents. Do NOT leave without these!
- Passport (and copy for each luggage item)
- Plane tickets
- Credit card
- Debit/ATM card
- Local currency (about $300)
- Driver’s license
- Student ID
- Health insurance card
Here comes the fun stuff! And remember, you may have limited access to laundry so bring comfortable clothes that layer easily for various temperatures, do not need ironing, and can be hang-dried. Don’t forget to check your program for any special dress requirements!
- 1 formal outfit*
- 2-3 going-out outfits (bonus if they come from other categories!)*
- 3 casual dresses (various lengths)*
- 2 skirts (various lengths)
- 2-3 shorts (various lengths)*
- 2 jeans (darker wash is best)*
- 1 nicer pair of pants
- 3-5 tank tops (thick and thin straps)*
- 4-6 short sleeve shirts/blouses*
- 3 long sleeve shirts*
- 1-2 sweaters*
- 2 cardigans (light and heavy)*
- 1 lightweight jacket
- 1 raincoat/poncho
- 1 winter coat (dependent on location)
- 3 athletic/tshirts/tanks*
- 2 athletic shorts/pants
- 1 sweatshirt*
- 1-2 pairs of leggings*
- 1 swimsuit
- 2 pajamas
- 14 pairs of underwear
- 10 pairs of socks (1-2 wool pairs if needed)
- 3 bras (2 regular, 1 convertible/strapless)
- 2-3 undershirts/camis
Perhaps the bane to some people’s existence on study abroad trips is picking out shoes to take. Remember: you will likely be walking a significant amount more during your program. Be sure to take only the essential shoes that are both comfortable, durable, and to your style.
- 1 pair of dress shoes (i.e. flats of wedges; some club won’t allow tennis shoes or sandals)
- 1 pair of comfy walking shoes
- 1 pair of sandals*
- 1 pair of boots (great for rain/snow and summer)*
- 1 pair of old flip flops/shower shoes
- 1 pair of athletic shoes/sneakers
You might have to pack light, but that doesn’t mean skipping style! Keep accessories to a minimum and choose ones that rotate well with all of your clothes.
- 1 winter scarf (as needed)
- 1 pair of gloves/mittens (as needed)
- 1 hat (as needed)
- 1-2 fashion scarves*
- 1-2 necklaces*
- 1 belt
- 1 zipped, cross-body purse
- 1 canvas/tote bag*
Unless you have a brand that you CANNOT live without, it’s best to pack sample/travel size toiletries to survive your first few days abroad, then purchase full-size once you settle in. Travel size toiletries are also great to use if you take a weekend trip! And don’t forget the liquid size restrictions.
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Contacts/glasses and solution/case
- Feminine products (1 month supply)
- Over the counter drugs (i.e. Tylenol, Benadryl; CHECK country medicine restrictions)
- Prescriptions (with original prescription package and name)
- Deodorant (antiperspirant is not as popular overseas)
- Makeup (only your favorites)
- Shampoo/conditioner/body soap
- Face wash
- Face wipes
- Mini hand sanitizer
- Travel razor
- Nail clippers (great substitute for scissors)
- Pack of tissues
- Tide to Go pen
- Small laundry detergent
- Small sunscreen (can be expensive or different overseas)
- Bobby pins/hair ties/headbands
Studying abroad now is great—technology gives you instant access to loved ones back home and helps you discover the hottest places abroad! Don’t forget to pack all cases and chargers for your personal electronics!
- Laptop/tablet and charger*
- Smartphone and charger (portable and wall-plug)
- Camera and charger*
- Extra camera memory card*
- 2 power adapters/converters
- Flash drive/portable hard drive (great for backing up important documents, photos, music, movies, etc.)
Check out this section for all the other odd items you don’t want to forget before exploring the world.
- Waterproof watch
- Travel umbrella
- Host family gift/souvenir
- Travel wallet
- Microfiber towel (dries fast and folds up small!)
- Convertible neck pillow
- Travel journal/notebook and pens
The amount of luggage items you choose to bring depends on your personal preferences, program length, and airline restrictions. However, generally speaking, two carry-on items (personal and suitcase) and one larger checked bag is good for a summer/semester program.
If you’re studying abroad for a year, two checked bags is typically enough. It’s always helpful to use a backpack for your personal item, as it works for both classes and weekend trips! And luggage with four wheels will save your life when lugging it all around town before move in.
What You Won’t Need
Checking off the essentials from this list will save your sanity for departure. But save yourself some trouble and leave these items at home.
- Culturally inappropriate clothing – Make sure you know where you’re going and what’s acceptable, particularly in sleeve length and pant/skirt length for women.
- More clothes – Bring only the essentials and ones that you always wear. Skip the “what-if” outfits and remember, you’ll likely end up buying clothes abroad too.
- Books – Opt for an e-reader, smartphone store, or buy them abroad as souvenirs instead.
- Hair styling tools – You may be able to bring these, but many countries have different voltages that will short circuit the device or blow a fuse. Look for dual voltage items if you must, or switch up your hairstyle!
- Expensive items – Real talk: items are likely to get stolen, lost, damaged, or mysteriously “vanish” when you study abroad. Save yourself the wallet pain and heartache, and leave your invaluable items at home.
- Bad attitudes – This is the adventure of a LIFETIME for you! Help your classmates and teachers out and leave the I-don’t-care-about-anything attitudes at home (or better yet, the trash). Make the most of your study abroad experience
Deep breath. You’ve made it and soon enough you’ll be packed up and ready to go. Leave some room in your suitcase for souvenirs and room in your heart for the new memories and enjoy becoming a member of #GenerationStudyAbroad!