Now that I’ve got several huge moves under my belt – from the US to Nepal, Europe, Colombia, Mexico, and now Canada – I can honestly say I am becoming an expert on what to pack when moving abroad and what to leave at home (wherever that may be for me at the time).
In this post, I’m going to simplify your life by giving you my ultimate packing list for moving abroad! And since what you take with you when moving abroad may vary depending on where you go, I will categorize down below both the packing basics and the country specifics you might need for the most popular destinations.
Here we go!
Bri’s Ultimate Packing List for Moving Abroad
No matter where you go or when there are a handful of must-have items mostly everybody packs for travel. Whether it’s for short trips or year-long study abroad moves, here are (in my view) the packing basics.
Paul and I always say to each other whenever we move somewhere new, “Do you have your passport, visa, wallet, laptop, phone, keys?”
- Visa or required travel documents
- Wallet (cash, credit cards)
- Laptop + Phone (optional for some)
- ..and backpack!
Clothing + Shoes
All clothing packing lists will be different. I am a minimalist packer, so expect this list to cover the basics. The quantity (how much of each you take) depends on your needs.
Below I put “the average” for plans to pack for moving abroad for a year.
- Underwear & socks x 5-10
- Bras x 3 (sports + regular)
- Jeans or pants x 3
- Leggings x 2
- Basic tees x 3-5
- Dresses x 2
- Rompers/jumpsuits x 2
- Long skirt x 1
- Sleeping shirt/shorts (pj’s) x 2
- Denim jacket x 1
- Swimsuits x 2-3 (or 5 just cause)
- Long-sleeves / Sweaters (seasonal/country-specific) x 2
- Coat (seasonal/country-specific) x 1
- Outdoor boots x 1
- Allbirds shoes x 1
- Walking sandals x 1
- Bonus: Journal, jewelry, hats, scarves, kimonos (I’ll always take my journal!)
What do you think about my clothing list? Too little or too much?
When I first moved abroad to France I took an enormous black suitcase, plus a large carry-on, and a personal tote. I left 3 weeks later not even touching half of what I brought! Later, after my second trip to France during which I stayed over a year, I greatly reduced what I believed I needed! After I backpacked Europe for one month with a small backpack, I realized I didn’t need half as much as I once thought I did.
That being said… Do not be tempted to take everything you have!
Read more tips below on how to cut out this bad habit of packing your entire closet when you travel (yes, even for moving abroad occasions, too).
Electronics are huge these days. From working online to watching videos and keeping in touch with family or listening to music, every traveler will carry at least one electronic, if not like 10.
I just recently bought a Kindle in August 2019 and I must say this gadget is a travel game-changer for me! I am so happy with my purchase and have downloaded and read: Becoming, Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, and I just finished Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
There might be some overlap here – but I wanted to make a special column for travel gear because lots of times these items are used for the in-transit period.
Toiletries / Makeup / First Aid
I combine makeup and first aid inside my toiletries bag because I do not wear makeup anymore, and I only ever carry basic first-aid such as Ibuprofen, cold sore treatment, or some natural oils.
- Teeth gear; toothbrush + toothpaste
- Eye gear; glasses + contacts + drops
- Skin gear; any makeup or lotions (I use natural ones)
- Tools: tweezers + nail clippers
- Natural deodorant
- Period kit: eco-friendly menstrual cup, daily liners, back-up tampons
- Medication/antibiotics (if needed)
When I move abroad, I normally don’t pack items I can find anywhere in the world, such as shampoo or body wash. Unless I have a very picky brand (like my deodorant), I will only pack the essentials with me wherever I go.
As you’ll see in a bit, doing this extremely helps simplify the task of packing itself along with saving space for more important items.
What to Pack When Moving Abroad? The “Misc.” Section
The miscellaneous section of packing is usually my favorite. Why?
This is where I pack stuff like family photos, personal keepsakes I can’t leave behind, my journal, my Nepali flags to decorate my new home, and so on and so forth.
When you move abroad, it’s not like you can whisk back home to take these precious items.
As I said, you can pick up a new razor or even a new jacket in whichever country you move to.
But having your favorite gift, or diary, or photo with you when you build up the courage to move to another country (it’s a big deal!) can give you strength when you’re feeling down. It serves as a gentle reminder of what you love.
I personally always take an old picture of my grandma and grandpa. Signed and dated from 2003, I’ll always wrap it up in a plushy piece of clothing to ensure the casing doesn’t get squished in my backpack.
- Photos of family and friends
- Something decorative (for me it's my Nepali flags)
- Jewelry (I always bring my rings)
- Travel accessories/gear
Country-Specific Packing Checklist for Moving Abroad
Let's briefly go over some of the country-specific items you might need when moving to a new country.
I'm going to list all of the ideas I can think of in relation to my own experiences, feel free to comment at the end of this article with other ideas!! I'll add them to the list.
Packing Essentials for Moving to Europe / UK
The UK and Europe have similarities but they differ lots in style, weather, and land diversity.
Europe / UK uses different plugs
If you're moving to Europe or the UK, be sure to pack a travel adapter.
Europe uses two-pronged outlets, whereas Great Britain uses three. In this case, you can either buy specific European or UK travel adapters. But I find it easier just to buy a universal adapter.
Europeans and Brits tend to dress nicer
As for clothes, Europeans dress more business-casual even in the streets. You'll never see someone going to the grocery store in their pajama's like you see in the States. That shit just does not happen (or at least, very rarely).
Dressing up and looking nice is generally expected, but hey, I could be wrong. When I used to take the metro to university in France at 7 am in the morning, I would be bare-faced and dressed in large sweaters while the rest of the girls wore red lipstick and heels.
Pack a sense of humor
Europeans and the British just have a different sense of humor. I have a proud British mum and she never fails to remind me of that. I also found it interesting while living in France that the French were less approachable than what I was used to. Conversations were more fast-paced and distant.
Moving and living in Europe for the first time is exciting, but you'll observe fairly quickly the different ways people interact, how to carry yourself, behave, and so on.
Packing Essentials for Southeast Asia
Asia is so diverse, so where to start?
I have traveled throughout Southeast Asia for a month in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and can say that although these countries are extremely diverse (on their own and from each other), I didn't necessarily need anything that I didn't already have.
Again, travel adapters might be your biggest issue. As you can see here, plugs around the world vary. Sometimes they're different even within the country!
Clothing / Modesty
Pack light clothes. Asia is hot and humid and you'll want those fresh linens and cotton fabrics!
I wore long shorts in each of the above countries and felt just fine. Thailand is way more used to tourists and you will see everyone wearing every type of clothing here.
Cambodia is a much poorer country, and so beware of showing more skin as you stroll around the streets. I often get looked at anyway because I'm blonde and white, but it helps to not be showing off too much leg.
What to Pack for Nepal and India
Packing for Nepal and India can be challenging. At times the country is scorching hot, at times it is cold. Depending on where you travel you will need to adjust what you pack!
If you are traveling in Kathmandu, Nepal (where we lived for a year), know that in the downtown area you can wear more modern-day clothing. In fact, most Nepali teens are wearing "Western" style clothing.
I do encourage you to buy a Kurthi or shawl and wear that around either for fun or to integrate more into the culture. Locals might also give you better bargaining prices if they think you live there too!
Depending on the season - Pack for warm temperatures during the day and cooler temperatures in the morning and at night for travel within Nepal and India.
Packing Essentials for Moving to South America
I moved to Bogota, Colombia for three months in 2017 and I was extremely surprised at the temperature.
I lived high up in the capital of Bogota and found it way cooler than I expected (even during summer months!). However, you'll want to pack light linens when traveling to sultry cities on the coast like Cartagena.
South America style is a lot different from Asia or Europe. Locals in Colombia dressed more comfortable and casual with businessmen and women dressing like in the US or Europe. I never felt like I stood out based on my clothing, compared to when I traveled in South Asia.
If moving to South America, pack for fall-winter temperatures but bring a couple of tees and shorts for hotter days.
Of course, the clothes you bring depend on where you move to. You shouldn't have a problem exposing more skin in these countries, especially in bigger cities. Just be careful when touring the smaller towns in Latin America. Also, the plugs in South America are like plugs in Europe.
What to Pack When Moving to Mexico
I brought so many dresses when I moved to Mexico and I only ended up wearing the same short romper practically every day. Depending on where you move to in Mexico you'll need to adjust your wardrobe.
Mexico City is very hot and humid in the summer but becomes frigid and very cold in winter.
The coast of Nayarit (where we lived) stays warm practically year-round with insanely humid and hot temps during the rainy seasons (summer months).
As for Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula, you can bring all the summer clothes including lots of bathing suits, dresses, and linen cover-ups.
Packing for Mexico in general: Bring a light jacket, lots of swimsuits, and some hiking pants and long-sleeves because of the mosquitoes!
My Ultimate Packing Tips When Moving to Another Country
Take it from me, do not pack everything you own when you move abroad to live in another country.
Instead, take the opportunity to downsize and simplify your life. Trust me, it works wonders!
You are not obligated to take everything with you. Not your closet, your baggage (literally and figuratively), and neither your box full of shoes you never wear anyway.
Packing Tip 1: Lay it out and half it
It took me several times moving countries to truly learn to pack less. It really, really did.
Layout all your clothes and gadgets. I always do this on a nicely-made bed so I can get a good visual at everything I need to stuff in my backpack.
Then... Half it! Half the amount that's on the bed. Really, try it! You'll already feel better.
If you're ready to take it to the next level, then you can half what you already halved. I did that for my move to Mexico and it was liberating. Plus, when I ended up moving from Mexico a year later, I had way less to stuff to re-pack thanks to my initial effort to downsize. Boo-yah!
Packing Tip 2: Backpack it - Don't suitcase it
I also learned after moving to Europe for the second time to stop carrying a suitcase with me for both my check-in bag AND my carry-on bag.
Now, I never-ever check-in bags at all! I only ever travel with what I can fit in my backpack which is about the same size as this one here.
Packing Tip 3: Roll and stuff
Did you know rolling your clothes saves so much space when packing? Yep! This is a well-known packing tip but I thought I'd reiterate it here.
I'm an avid roller when it comes to packing, so much that I'll scold Paul if I see him folding! Haha.
Also - stuff socks and other little things in empty spaces such as on the inside of shoes. I'm usually able to fit all my socks and bras in these spaces and it saves lots of room!
Packing Tip 4: Pack smart country-wise
Whichever country you are heading to will largely determine what goes in your final luggage.
I always do a little bit of research before packing to move to a new country.
If you are moving somewhere warm: Pack ultra-light. Take two or three t-shirts, several dresses (long and short), your best pair of shorts and shoes, and a long skirt.
Remember to pack and dress modestly and appropriately should you travel to countries where exposing more skin is seen as disrespectful or even unlawful.
If you are moving somewhere cold: Don't underestimate the cold when it comes to choosing between the cute sweater or the warm sweater. Always choose warmer! Pack several leggings, long socks, warm scarves and hats, and a decent coat or jacket.
Packing Tip 5: Keep important stuff extra handy (but hidden)
It's a common mistake for traveler's to pack the essential stuff in too-exposed places or in too-difficult to reach places.
Have you ever arrived at the counter for check-in and felt stupid because you had to dig out half your stuff just to reach your wallet?
Well, packing loads and loads of times teaches you to bypass these mistakes (although it still happens to me sometimes) and save on travel time.
Packing Tip 6: "Don't trust yourself" - Check twice!
Haha by not trusting yourself I mean don't trust the thought or feeling you might have about "Did I pack that?" Especially when it comes to the essentials - passport, visa, phone, wallet - make sure to double-check and look again to see if you have these items.
It doesn't matter if you've traveled to one country or one-hundred, these types of human errors happen to the best of us.
EXTRA TIP: If you travel often, check how many free pages you have left in your passport. If you get too full, some countries will deny your entry because you don't have a minimum of 2 open pages. This just happened to big Instagrammers and travelers Marie and Jake. Marie didn't have enough empty pages and so their whole planned trip to India was canceled last minute.
Hope You Enjoy This Packing List for Moving Abroad!
I hope this moving abroad packing list and guide is helpful for your upcoming move to another country!
Please let me know if you have suggestions, questions, or general moving abroad questions! I'll be happy to chat about my experiences living abroad! 🙂