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International Student Essentials – Checklist for Moving to the US


Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to a university in the United States. Now you have to decide what to pack for your big adventure. It can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry! This checklist will help you make sure that you bring everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

Airline Regulations

Keep in mind that baggage rules might be different in the United States than they are in your home country. Each airline has its own rules for how many bags you can bring, so check with your airline to be sure you are meeting their requirements.

In general, most airlines allow one carry-on bag, one personal item and one checked bag. A checked bag should weigh less than 22.86 kg. Measure your bag. Usually,  the combined length + width + height should not be more than 62 cm.

Your carry-on bag should be smaller than 22 x 35 x 56 cm, including handles and wheels. While a hard suitcase is more durable, a soft duffel bag might fit more easily into overhead compartments.

A small backpack, laptop bag, or handbag will count as a personal item. It should be smaller than 20 x 35 x 45 cm.

When packing your carry-on bag and personal bag, remember that the United States has special rules about liquids, aerosols, and gels. To meet regulations, these types of items need to be 3 oz or smaller, and packed in a clear zip top bag. Larger liquids, aerosols, and gels can be packed in your checked luggage. Remember to wrap them in plastic to keep them from damaging other items if they explode in transit.

You’ll need to pack with care to make all of your items fit in the baggage allowed to you. Keep in mind that many of your everyday items, like sheets, towels, and food can be purchased at local stores upon your arrival.

Checklist for Moving to the United States

These are the essential items that you need to pack, and a few optional items that might help you feel more at home in the United States.

Passport and flight documents. You will need your passport in order to board the plane and get through Customs in the United States. Bring a copy of your flight documents as well so you have all of your flight numbers handy.

Make a photocopy of these documents and pack them separately from your passport. That way, if your passport is lost or stolen, you can deal with the situation more easily.

Important documents. Keep these documents close by. Do not pack them in your checked luggage. You’re much better off carrying them in a backpack or purse that stays with you. That way, if your luggage gets lost or diverted, you still have the essentials.

  • Student visa
  • Insurance Documents
  • Medical Records
  • Academic documents
  • Contact list
  • Admissions letter
  • Contact information for you college

Money. Most stores, restaurants and even cab drivers in the United States take credit cards and debit cards, but it’s a good idea to have some cash on you just in case. Know that some businesses do not take traveler’s checks so don’t rely on them for your only method of payment.

Medicine. Prescription medicines and copies of your prescriptions should be in your carry-on bag. If you carry non-prescription medication, keep it in the original container so customs agents can see what it is.

Electrical Adaptors. Depending on where you come from, you may not be able to plug in your devices when you get to the United States. Different countries use different electricity standards. Get an adaptor, or several, before you leave so you can charge everything when you arrive.

Entertainment Items. You’re going to spend several hours in airplanes. Make sure you bring along books, music players, games or other entertainment. At very least, bring a headset so you can use the in-flight entertainment system.

Clothes. The United States is a large country with many different climates. Make sure you research the region to which you’ll be traveling. In some cases you might need a heavy coat and boots, while in other places you might need shorts and a swimsuit. Also, don’t forget to pack at least one outfit for formal occasions with shoes to match.

Personal Items. While these items aren’t essential, they can help make you more comfortable during your time in the United States.

  • Hygiene products. You may not be able to find the specific brand of deodorant, shampoo, pad, or other personal hygiene product you like best. So bring along a supply in your checked luggage.
  • Family photos. Photos of friends and family can help you feel more connected to them. Plus, they’re useful for decorating your dorm room.
  • Extra glasses or contacts. If you wear glasses or contacts, it’s smart to bring an extra set along in case you lose or break your everyday pair.
  • Snacks from home. Having some snacks or candy from home can help ease homesickness.
  • Journal. Writing down your experiences can help you remember them and also make you feel good.
  • Camera. You might have a camera built into your cell phone. If not, bring one along, you’ll want to record all of your new experiences.

Remember that you can purchase many things in the United States. Any item that is too big or heavy to be transported easily might be better left at home. But with this checklist, you’ll have all of the essentials.