You are about to leave home to begin your first semester as an international student at university. This is an exciting chapter of your life; you will experience new things and be on your own for, possibly, the very first time. There are wonderful adventures awaiting you, challenging courses to be taken, and new friends to be made. But first…what should you pack in your suitcase?

It may seem like a daunting task to pack your life into one or two suitcases, but with about 4.5 million globally mobile college and university students, take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone. We are here to make it easier for you! These are some of the essentials to consider when packing for college.  

Documents & Finances

These are the most important items that you’ll need to take with you. Triple check that you have your passport, visa and plane ticket with you before leaving for the airport! Travelling with your immunization and health records is also a good idea. Take copies of your secondary school records and graduation certificate. Make sure you have the contact number for your university and just in case, make photocopies of all important documents and keep them separate from the originals. (Helpful hint: Scan all your documents and email them to yourself or save them on a virtual drive.)

However you decide to manage your finances at college, make sure you travel with some cash for when you first land; cash in hand is also required for any emergencies you may face.


Laptop, music player, tablet and mobile phone - these are the basic electronics that most students bring with them to college to help them stay in touch with family and complete their college assignments. Just remember, these items have no value if you forget to bring their chargers! It is also a good idea to invest in an external hard drive and make a backup of all your data before travelling. Always pack your electronics in your hand luggage, as they could be damaged in your checked-in baggage. Not all countries use the same voltage or plug points, so be sure to pack a converter and adaptor for all your devices, if necessary.  


As mentioned earlier, pack your immunization and health records. Conduct some online research - find out whether your medications and vitamins are easily available in your new home and whether a prescription is needed for purchase. Take a supply of your medicines with you but make sure you have a doctor’s prescription for what you pack. If you wear contact lenses or glasses, take your prescription and a few extra packs of contacts to avoid having to buy them in a new country before you settle in.

Linens & Clothing

While you may have a favourite blanket, it’s quite unwise to put this on your packing checklist; this goes for sheets and pillowcases as well - they take up a lot of valuable space in your suitcase! A good idea however, is to travel with one towel and a bathrobe for your first week at school.

Pack mostly casual clothing, with a handful of more formal outfits. Research what the weather is like year-round at your university and choose clothing accordingly. Don’t forget to include some traditional outfits! Many universities hold cultural shows where students don their national dress to represent their home countries. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share your traditions and culture with new friends in your home away from home! If you’re heading to a cold climate, don’t bother packing too many winter clothes. Take the essentials and buy more as needed when you get to college - you should be able to find local student discounts and winter clothing deals for when it gets too chilly.


Huge bottles of shampoo and soap are bulky and unnecessary! Instead, take travel-size amounts of your everyday toiletries (in plastic bottles, sealed with tape and placed in zip lock bags to avoid leaking). Remember, there are limitations as to how much liquid can be carried in your hand luggage, so keep that in mind while packing your bags.

A Piece of Home 

Bring photos so you can see the faces of your loved ones and also share your life with new roommates and friends. Save all your favourite pictures to a digital device, but also be sure to bring a few print outs to place around your room. It’s a simple way to make your space feel cosy and so much more like home.

Don’t underestimate the value of a home-cooked meal! Write down your favourite family recipes; the familiar aromas and tastes will always bring a smile to your face.

Packed and Ready to Go...Almost

If you still have room for a few of your favourite (small) things, add them in! Once you are all set, you may still feel like you’re leaving behind so much of what you need and want. It’s alright to feel like you are leaving a piece or yourself behind, but remember that your new life will be so much more than what’s in a suitcase.

So happy packing and good luck in this next journey of your life!

About the Author: Muneeza Kizilbash grew up in the United States and Pakistan and was active in her university’s International Student Council. Now settled in Dubai, she loves to inform, educate and entertain her readers through her writing.