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Packing and figuring out what you really need to take with you can be a bit of a daunting task whether you are going abroad for a semester, a year or even four years, so careful consideration is needed when deciding what to take with you! What you take to the US is largely a matter of personal choice. However, keep in mind you may have to carry whatever you bring through local transportation and then to your dorm, so it is in your best interest to keep it light and compact. And don't forget to leave room for the souvenirs you will want to bring home!
It is a good idea to make a list of everything you think you will need in the US. Then, eliminate the items you can buy in the US. Consult the airline website for baggage restrictions as there are often strict limits on both the weight and number of bags.
Generally, US carriers allow one bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg) to be checked, and one carry-on (there are rarely weight restrictions) and one personal item (purse, laptop, etc.) can be brought onto the airplane. Please note, many US carriers are starting to charge fees for checked baggage. If you are having difficulty fitting items in your luggage, ask your international student adviser about shipping bulky and heavy items you do not need immediately upon arrival to your residence.
Folding and then rolling clothes is a good technique for saving space, but the weight will stay the same, so keep this in mind. Larger bulkier items such as shoes can be added to your hand luggage to distribute the weight. Also, try using large re-sealable bags to make clothing more compact.
You should also be aware that only 3.4 fluid ounces (100 mL) of liquid items are allowed onto the airplane. (Most standard travel-sized shampoos and conditioners fit these limits.) You should store these items in clear, re-sealable, plastic bags.
Consult the Transportation Security Administration website for details and further explanation.
We have provided below some suggestions on what you may want to pack. Another resource recommended by students is the website and phone app College Packing List.
Bear in mind you may be travelling to an area with dressing styles and a climate different from what you are used to in the UK. Generally speaking, campus wear is informal (jeans and t-shirts are the norm). Also, carefully investigate the climate of the region in which the university is located at sites such as www.weather.com which lists temperatures and rainfall year round.
If you decide you need to purchase new clothing, with the exchange rate as it is, it may be cheaper to do so in the US, although this is constantly changing. Consider buying items that you may need or want but do not already own upon arrival (heavy winter coat, summer clothes, etc.). You may decide to wear your heavier clothes such as boots and winter coat to save on packing bulkier items.
Bring pictures of your family, home, and country for yourself but also to show to your new friends. US students really decorate their dorm rooms, and you will not want to be the only one with bare walls! To eliminate unnecessary bulk, buy frames and decorative items in the US (although note that not all universities will allow you to hang things with nails in on-campus dorms).
Most everyday electrical appliances can be purchased cheaply in the United States saving on bringing them over with you. Appliances such as desk lamps, fans, hairdryers and chargers can be purchased from a variety of supermarkets such as Wal-Mart or pharmacy/convenience stores or electrical stores like RadioShack. If you do bring your own electronic items do not forget to bring BOTH a UK to US power adapter and a converter. An adapter will simply let you insert in a British plug into an American socket whereas a converter will convert the voltage of the British appliance for safe use and prevent you from blowing a fuse.
Some of your favourite foods (such as Cadbury, Marmite and Ribena) may not be readily available in the US, so if you feel like you are going to have a craving while abroad, take some with you! Smaller sized portions may be useful for packing purposes, but be careful that glass bottles/jars do not smash in your suitcase and ruin your clothes.
If you take prescription medication on a regular basis, bring a sufficient supply. Your prescriptions are likely to be cheaper if renewed via the NHS before leaving. If you depend on eyeglasses, it is a good idea to bring an extra pair, and, if possible, a copy of your eyeglasses prescription.
If you take prescription medication, it is safest to have a list of all of your medications signed by a doctor as proof of legitimacy with you as you travel. In case you have to claim these medications at customs, check the Transportations Security Administration website for details and potential restrictions.
Although you may feel more comfortable using over the counter medications from home for common issues such as headaches, colds, upset stomach or minor injuries, aspirin, ointments and other remedies - these will be readily available in the US. See our US-UK Medical Jargon Buster for different terminology.
Medical and Dental Records: If possible, bring copies of detailed and up-to-date medical and dental records for yourself and any dependents travelling with you. This will not only help US doctors get a better idea of recent or past diagnoses and treatments, but may also help you avoid repeating these tests in the US at a potentially greater expense. It is also beneficial to make sure that these records reflect recent visits to your local health care professionals for general examinations, blood tests, dental and eye check-ups, x-rays, etc.
It may also be worthwhile to bring a copy of your immunisation record with you. They will likely have been requested by your university in advance, but it is helpful to be prepared with a spare copy.
Academic Documents: If you are studying abroad for your full degree, it may be a good idea to bring official transcripts or certificates from secondary schools, colleges or universities. Additionally, bring or email yourself copies of any syllabi, catalogues, bulletins, course descriptions or other relevant materials issued by the secondary school or university you have attended most recently (A-levels, etc.). These records can be very helpful to the admissions office and academic departments if questions arise concerning academic credit or advanced standing in courses at your US university.
Official copies sent directly from the institution or awarding body may be needed, so be sure to investigate how to order these documents from any previous academic programmes.
We recommend you do not pack items you can easily buy in the US.
Only bring those books, manuals or journals that you think may be useful for reference in your field of study and that definitely will not be available in the US. Most universities have their library catalogue on the internet (found on your university’s home page), where you can check the availability of books before departure. Once on campus, you can also contact the university library staff to verify the availability of any essential books.
Also, you can usually obtain books through interlibrary loans. Finally, sites such as www.amazon.com often have the books you will need for sale at a reasonable price that can be sent to your US residence.
Items such as notebooks, pens and paper are a different size in the US. For example, paper in the US is of a slightly wider size (8.5x11 inches) than in countries following the metric system, and pencils must have a certain quality of lead (called #2 in the US) to be read by testing machines frequently used for marking exams. Therefore, it is a good idea to purchase these on arrival in the US.
Though it might be wise to pack one towel for showering upon arrival, these bulky items take up valuable space in your luggage. It is probably best not to bring bed linens as US bed sizes differ from those in the UK. Similarly, the US does not use the duvet and cover common in the UK but rather an all in one bedspread/comforter.
As mentioned above in the clothing section, do not pack clothing that you will be able to buy in the US at a cheaper cost. Heavier winter items can be worn to save on space but are quite bulky.