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Pack These Items When Traveling to the US

advice for students
campus life
By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on April 11, 2022

Are you preparing to travel to the US to study at a university? Here is what you need to know about what you should bring with you.

Two female international students packing their bags with clothes in preparation for their flight

Once you have been accepted at a US university, paid your enrollment fees, and gotten your student visa, you are almost ready to study in the US! Before your journey officially begins, you need to pack the necessities for your new life in the US. But what exactly should you bring with you?  

In this guide, you will learn how to pack a bag for travel and the most important things to bring with you to ensure you can have a smooth transition to your life as a US university student. 

Which Clothing Should You Pack for US Climates?

Since you will be staying in the US for several months, it is important to bring the right clothes that will adjust to the different seasons in the US. As most regions of the US have four seasons, people in the US usually coordinate their outfits according to what they find most comfortable during each season.

Consider packing the following types of clothing for each season:

  • Spring (March to June) — With spring coming just after winter, the start of the season can be a little cold, then becomes much warmer as it gets closer to summer. Pack layers for spring: A combination of warm but light clothing, such as a mix of long pants, long-sleeved shirts, light jackets, and sweaters, can help you cover the shift in seasons.

  • Summer (June to September) — Summers in the US can be extremely hot, depending on the state, climbing to 25°C or more. Consider loose-fitting or flowing clothing with breathability, such as dresses, skirts, shorts, t-shirts, short-sleeved shirts, and sleeveless shirts.

  • Autumn (September to December) — As the season before winter, autumn can get quite chilly, so it is important to consider warm clothes such as coats, scarves, sweaters, beanies or similar hats, and thick pants.

  • Winter (December to March) — Winter in certain US states can be extremely cold, sometimes even dropping into negative degrees Celsius! To keep yourself warm, pack thick sweaters, scarves, durable coats, gloves, and boots.

Remember, you do not have to fill all your luggage with clothes! You will have plenty of opportunities to purchase clothes once you get settled in the US. Bring just enough clothing to get you through a week or two, and you can purchase additional clothes once you arrive. 

In addition to seasonal wear, it can be helpful to bring clothes for different occasions, such as:

  • Athletic attire (going to the gym or playing intramural sports)

  • Casual clothes (going to class or spending time with friends)

  • Formal wear (going to job interviews or out for celebrations)

  • Shoes and slippers 

  • Traditional attire

  • Undergarments 

  • Swimming trunks 

Aside from clothes, you should also plan to pack a few supplies for your program and classes at university. 

Which Supplies Should You Bring for Your Program?

The exact supplies you need to bring will vary: In many cases, your program will provide a list of required equipment and books. Books can be difficult to pack due to their size and weight, and it is likely you will be able to purchase them after you arrive. So, try to bring or ship only the books you need for class that you already own, then buy the rest once you are settled in on campus. 

If you plan to do a lot of reading, you could also consider investing in an e-reader or storing books in PDF format on your laptop.

Consider which electronics you plan to bring, as these are essential to both your academic and personal life in the US. Many of your class assignments will be reports that you need to write on your laptop, and your phone is needed to make sure you can contact others, especially in the event of an emergency. 

Keep in mind that electrical outlets and/or charging stations in your dormitory, residence hall, or apartment might differ from your home country. Consider bringing a universal adapter with you or buying one when you arrive in the US.

Here are some of the essential electronic items you should consider bringing with you: 

  • Mobile phone

  • Laptop

  • Outlet adapters

  • Extra USB cables 

  • Chargers for your phone and laptop

Remember to check if your current mobile phone works with US SIM cards. If it does not, you may need to buy an unlocked phone once you arrive in the US. You can check by contacting your current service provider before you depart. Having a functional phone is important for your day-to-day life, but also keeps you in contact with friends and family back home.

In addition to clothes and supplies, you should also be aware of the immigration documents you are required to bring with you.

Which Immigration Documents Should You Bring?

Your immigration documents are among the most important items to pack for your trip, so take extra care in gathering what you need. These documents are proof of your status as an international student and determine your eligibility for enrollment, jobs, internships, and more. It is best to carry copies of your documents to make sure the original documents are not exposed to possible damage. 

Here is a checklist of essential documents you should bring and make copies of where possible: 

  • Passport

  • Student visa 

  • I­-20 form 

  • Letter of acceptance 

  • SEVIS I­-901 fee receipt

  • If applicable, any customs letters or G-28 documentation included in your acceptance packet

  • Academic transcripts, sealed in an envelope and certified 

  • Academic certificates 

  • English proficiency test scores 

  • Bank statement 

  • Tuition and fees payment receipt

  • Copy of your Statement of Fees

Now that you have an understanding of the essentials to pack for traveling, your next step is to make a plan for packing your luggage and transporting it to the US.

What Goes in Your Carry-On, and What Gets Checked or Shipped?

Your carry-on refers to luggage that is taken on-board with you on your flight to the US. As carry-on luggage is often small, these bags should hold the most essential items you need for your daily life (e.g., wallet, key documents, prescriptions, etc.). 

  • Essentials — This includes any item necessary for your travel and anything you may want to access quickly (e.g., your immigration documents, laptop, electronic device chargers).

  • Medication — Ensure you bring any prescription medications with you so you are covered during your travels and first weeks of your stay. You can also bring a copy of the prescription to refill if you run out. 

  • US dollars — Bring between $250–$500 in US dollars for any immediate expenses. If you have a Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card issued by your home bank that will work in the US, you can also consider bringing it with you until you are able to set up a bank account in the US

  • Travel-size toiletries — If you have any toiletries essential to your personal care regimen, consider bringing these with you. Some products you use daily might not be available in the US, so bring what you need immediately until you are able to find alternatives. (If you are flying on an American airline, make sure your toiletries comply with US TSA regulations for carry-on luggage.)

Checked luggage is stowed in the plane’s cargo hold, which allows for heavier luggage to be stored, and you can only access it after your flight. So, you should pack the majority of items you plan to bring to the US in your checked luggage, as it can hold far more compared to your carry-on bag. This includes the majority of your clothing, toiletries, and books. Consider also bringing a light outfit in your carry-on luggage in case your checked luggage is misplaced during transit, this way you’ll have a change of clothes while you wait to get your luggage back. 

Remember to avoid packing anything fragile, as checked luggage may be handled roughly when it is loaded into and out of the plane. If you do need to bring fragile items, make sure they are packed with as much padding as possible. 

If you have any large-scale equipment that does not fit in your checked luggage, consider shipping it to the US instead. This could include a desktop computer or lab equipment necessary for certain degree programs. Keep in mind that shipping items from your home country to the US can be costly and may take significant time to be delivered. If it’s likely you could purchase similar equipment in the US, leave it home and plan on acquiring what you need once you arrive.  

Shorelight Advisors and Campus Teams Can Help

As an international student, understanding what to pack can be challenging, but you can always reach out to your Shorelight advisor or your university’s campus team for guidance and to get any questions answered. Your advisor and the campus team are well-experienced in working with international students, and can offer valuable advice to help you decide what to bring and how to pack. 

Your advisor is also ready to support you with dedicated services including:

  • Obtaining your student visa

  • Providing detailed housing and dining information 

  • Preparing a checklist of what to pack, how to pack, and which luggage you need to use

  • Connecting you with university pick-up services when you land

  • Leading a student orientation to help you adjust to US culture and university life

  • Organizing group outings with new friends and classmates

Get in touch with your advisor to receive a full list of what to pack for both your daily needs and the program you have enrolled in. Soon, you will be on campus and ready to start your new life in the US!

Shorelight advisors can help you prepare for your travels to the US >