What to pack for university study in North America

Posted 25 August 2015
What to pack for university

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You have your visa in hand, and you're pumped to start on the incredible adventure of student life at a university in the USA or Canada. This will be your "home" for the next 2-4 years. What will you take to your new home? Read on to see what's realistic for you to pack.

Packing can be exciting, but also a little taxing when you're going away to study abroad.

  • What to pack for university?
  • Will they have my favorite shampoo in that country?
  • Is one jacket enough, or should I carry two?

These are some common (and expected) concerns of international students leaving home for the first time. Worry not. To help you pack wisely, we have compiled a list of what to pack (and what not to pack), as you embark on your adventure of being a University student.

Travelling within the USA

If you have a connecting flight from your country to your final US destination, remember it's good to keep your baggage light and compact! Before you pack, keep in mind:

  • US carriers allow one bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg) to be checked, and one carry-on (there are rarely weight restrictions, but it has to be able to fit in the overhead compartment) and one personal item (purse, laptop, etc.) to be brought onto the airplane.
  • Only 3 fluid ounces (90 mL) of liquid items are allowed onto the airplane, and these should be packed separately in clear plastic bags.
  • US carriers might also charge fees for checked baggage.

Refer to the TSA website for information pertaining to carry-on baggage allowance.

Make a packing list of everything you think you will need, and then cross off things you know you can buy in the USA. Below is a list to get you started.

Wardrobe basics:

  • Underwear and socks (good to have two weeks' worth in case you don't do your laundry each week!)
  • Sneakers
  • Dress shoes, sandles etc.
  • Tank tops, undershirts
  • Short and long-sleeve shirts
  • Sweaters (for mild spring and fall weather)
  • Sweatshirts or hoodies (2-3)
  • Coat/jacket (two is a good number; try to bring one that is water resistant)
  • A formal outfit for special events or interviews
  • Work out clothing (to go the gym!)
  • Your favorite shirt or piece of clothing
  • Jeans, shorts, or other types of pants (2-3 pairs)
  • Swimsuit
  • Belts and accessories
  • Scarf, mittens, gloves, ear-muffs etc. for winter weather
  • Pajamas
  • Flip flops (bring 2 pairs, one for the showers, and one for walking around)
Toiletries and personal hygiene products:
  • Shampoo, soap, face wash
  • Lotion/cream
  • Medicated ointments/ skin creams used on a regular basis
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Shaving cream and razor
  • Deodorant and/or perfume
  • Contact lens solution
Quick tip: Pack in small quantities or travel size for immediate use only. You can always buy additional toiletries at a supermarket when you need more.

Bed linens and towels:

  • Buy bed linens in the USA or Canada since you don't know the exact size or type of bed that it needs to fit.
  • Pack one towel for showering upon arrival; buy additional towels when you're settled in.
Electronic appliances:
  • Everyday electrical appliances such as desk lamps and hair dryers can be purchased cheaply in North America.
Quick tip: Keep in mind that plug points and voltage may vary from what is used in your country, so assess your needs and purchase accordingly when in your residence.

Food and books:

  • Bring your favorite non-perishable foods or snacks that will not be available or hard to find in North America. This is often what international students crave most in the first few months of being away from home.
  • Only bring books that you know cannot be found in America or be ordered online. Books can weigh a lot even if they are compact.
Medicine:
  • Bring sufficient prescription medicine if you take it on a regular basis.
  • Over the counter medications such as aspirin, can be bought in North America to save space, but it is okay to bring a small amount in case you need it for immediate use.
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses if you wear them.
Quick tip: Have a list of all your medications prescribed and signed by a doctor to show legitimacy. Also, make sure what you're bringing with you is considered legal in your destination country. If you're unsure, ask your doctor or check the Transportation Security Administration website.

Important documents to bring (originals or copies, as applicable):

  • Detailed and up-to-date medical and dental records, if possible. Make sure your records reflect recent visits to your local health care professionals for general examinations, blood tests, dental and eye check-ups, x-rays, etc. These will help American and Canadian doctors get a better idea of past diagnoses and accordingly offer treatments.
  • Immunization record, even if it was already turned in to your University, it is good to have a spare copy!
  • Official transcripts from secondary schools, colleges or universities.
Other essentials:
  • Air ticket and passport
  • Wallet with local currency or traveler's checks
  • Your mobile phone
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Chargers and 110 volt adaptors for North American plugs
  • Bilingual dictionary or electronic translators (if you use one)
  • Photos of family and friends to tide you through when you are feeling homesick.
  • A favorite item, such as a stuffed toy, pillow or diary to make you feel more at home!
Quick tips:
  1. Campus wear in North America is casual (eg T-shirt and jeans)
  2. Folding and then rolling clothes is a good space-saving technique, but the weight will stay the same, so don't over-stuff your bags!
  3. Distribute the weight by packing bulkier items like shoes in your hand luggage.
  4. You may even decide to wear your heavier clothes such as a winter coat in-flight!
  5. Do not pack clothing that you will be able to buy in North America at a cheaper cost. Consider buying items that you may need or want, but do not already own, upon arrival (heavy winter coat, summer clothes, etc.).
Finally, if you can't fit items into your luggage, you can always just ship it to your university residence. Welcome to University life!

Want to know what to expect at university in the USA? Find out about Life at University.