For some people, packing is part of their holiday experience, a fun exercise that builds anticipation about their upcoming trip. For other travellers, overseas packing is the bane of their existence. They dread it so much that they put off packing until the very last minute, which often leads to chaos, over-packed bags and forgotten items. No matter which category you fall into, if you’re hitting the road to start a new career abroad, eventually, you’ll have to think about what to pack.
Now, before you throw yourself into a packing frenzy and dust off your suitcase, there are a few things to think about. Here you’ll find general packing tips and a packing list to travel abroad addressing the most important things you’ll need to pack, depending on your type of job and the weather at your destination.
Minimalist or not?
In recent years, packing carry-on only has become a trend that many full-time travellers and digital nomads swear by. Whether you can travel carry-on only will depend somewhat on the type of job you’ll be doing, the climate zone you’ll be in and how minimalist you are when it comes to your overseas packing. However, there’s nothing wrong with having a suitcase to check, especially if you’re going to have a home-base and won’t need to pack and unpack regularly.
So figure out whether you’ll be happy to cope with a slim selection of outfits, or if you’d rather have more choice, but a slightly longer wait at the baggage carousel.
Backpack vs. suitcase
This comes down to personal preference, but a few things to consider are whether you’ll be moving around a lot or staying in one location and whether the pavements in your new home are fit for pulling a wheeled suitcase around (this can be an issue on cobblestoned streets and in destinations with a lack of sidewalks). If you are moving to and staying in one place, then one large suitcase maybe the most suitable answer, however if your travelling and intending to explore and backpack, then a large backpack would be the most suitable option.
Also, bring a smaller backpack or shoulder bag that can double up as your personal item on flights and as a day bag when you’re out and about.
Climate & Location
Are you going to spend your time in a hot and humid tropical island, in a European city, or in Alaska? Always research the climate of your destination, as you might be surprised how different the weather is to what you expect—your packing list to travel abroad should reflect this. For example, London in the United Kingdom can get to below freezing during the winter and in the early thirties in Summer.
If you do have to pack for multiple seasons, you should consider wearing multiple layers of thinner fabric, instead of packing bulky jumpers. It will keep you just as warm, and thinner items will take up less space and will be useful in other seasons too.
Our Packing List
Here are all the essential items you’ll need to pack, no matter what job and destination. The areas we’ll be covering are paperwork, your medication/first aid kit, travel essentials, toiletries, clothes and professional items.
Passport:Always triple check you’ve got your passport and make sure it’s valid for at least another six months.
A second form of photographic ID:This can be a driver’s license or your local ID. Keep it separate to your passport in case you lose it.
International driver’s license:If you have to drive for your new job, make sure you have a valid driver’s license or get an international one.
Boarding pass:Print out your boarding pass or have a mobile version ready on your phone to save you time at the airport.
Proof of onward travel:Depending on your destination, you might have to show proof of onward travel or you might not be let into the country.
Copies of important documents: Always carry copies of your important documents and keep them separate from the originals.
Bank card:Apply for a bank card with free ATM withdrawals and possibly also a credit card without foreign transaction fees. Ensure your bank is aware your travelling and how long for, this will ensure they know any withdrawals from your account are valid and won’t put a block on your card.
Travel insurance policy:Even if your employer is offering insurance, it is recommended you take out insurance for the first 2 weeks. Print out a copy of your travel insurance policy (and save it electronically) so you have all the details handy in case of emergency. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Vaccination booklet:Check with your local doctor (GP) or occupational health clinic about what vaccination they recommend for the location you’ll be living and working. If you’re required to get vaccinations to enter your destination, make sure you carry proof of your jabs with you. If you have a medical condition, speak to your doctor about taking a copy of your medical notes.
A few spare passport photos: It’s a great idea to carry a few spare passport sized photos with you in case you need to get a visa.
Proof of employment: Take original and copies (separately) of your employment including, offer of employment, contract and anything else that might be useful in case your challenged at the immigration desk at the arrival desk.
Cash: Before you travel, find out your week’s orientation and ATM/Bank accessibility. Take at least 1 weeks’ worth of cash in the local currency to ensure you can pay for initial food, transport and other initial expenses.
Professional Qualifications/Certificates: if you’re a professional travelling to work aboard, ensure you take a copy of your certified qualification certificates and transcripts. The last thing you want is for them to get lost, but make sure a loved one back home is aware where the originals are located, in case they needs to send them over.
Medication/first aid kit
If there’s any medication you rely on, make sure you research well in advance if it is available at your destination and whether you’ll need a prescription. For universally available items like contraception, it can be much cheaper to stock up abroad than at home.
Ensure you take the prescription and letter from your doctor as proof they are prescribed medication. Ensure the medication is labelled with your name on it. Many countries ban in-bound medication unless you can provide proof of a prescription.
You will be able to buy any first aid items in almost any destination in the world, but you should carry staples like painkillers and anti-diarrhea meds—trust us, you’d rather have them handy and they hardly take up any space.
The amount and type of electronics you’ll pack is totally up to you. Here are some of the most commonly packed items:
Smartphone: Smartphones are our constant companions and that usually doesn’t change abroad. They can double up as a camera to take snaps of your new friends and home. Make sure your phone is unlocked if you want to use a local SIM card. Make sure you have downloaded your favourite music playlists.
Laptop:If you have a laptop, it’s usually worth bringing it. Not only can you use it to update your CV, search for jobs and stay in touch with friends and family, but it’s also great for Netflix binging after a long day at your new job. Small and light models are obviously more travel-friendly, so bear in mind the weight of your device.
Charger plugs and other cables:Some of the most commonly forgotten items are charger plugs and cables.
Adapters: Buy a local power adapter (or a universal adapter) before you leave home, or pick one up at the airport once you arrive.
Kindle or other e-reader: Books are some of the bulkiest items travellers regularly lug around. Do your back a favour and pack a Kindle or other e-reader instead.
Headphones: These are essential to listen to music, podcasts or language lessons on the go. If you can splurge on noise-cancelling headphones, they can be a life-saver on noisy flights or bus rides.
Depending on where your travelling, your destination may have restriction on the type of images you bring into the country. If you’re travelling to a very conservative location, you may want to check their local laws and remove any videos or images that could breach these laws.
These are all the things that make your overseas packing life much easier, but pick whatever works for you and ignore the rest:
Small backpack: Whilst you’ll pack all your possessions into a larger bag for travelling, you won’t want to carry this around with you all the time. Therefore, pack a smaller day bag or backpack too, so you can carry a few essentials with you, whether you’re heading out on a trip, or to work.
Packing cubes: These simple little fabric bags with zippers not only keep your stuff organized, they also compress clothes and save space.
Reusable water bottle: Fill it up at the airport and avoid having to pay $4 for a bottle. You can also take it to work and on day trips, to save money and waste.
Locks: Pack at least one combination lock in case you’re staying in hostels with lockers, or to lock up the zips of your luggage.
Neck pillow, ear plugs, and eye mask: This might sound like overload but they have the power to transform a 12-hour bus ride from hell into a pleasant trip. An inflatable neck pillow takes up hardly any space.
Journal and pens: Obviously optional, but having something to doodle or write down your thoughts in is great to keep you sane on long trips and to document your time abroad.
Toiletries are very personal items, so you’ll have to decide what’s essential for you to pack. In general, most items are available around the world and if you’re staying long-term, it’s impossible to stock up on everything in advance. However, here are some things you should consider bringing with you:
Toothbrush and toothpaste: While they’re available everywhere, it’s good to pack them in your hand luggage in case you want to freshen up during your journey.
Deodorant:Same as above.
Soap: Whilst you can buy soap everywhere, bring some with you so that when you arrive at your destination, you can freshen up, without having to rush to the shops.
Shampoo, conditioner, hair gel. Whatever it takes to make your hair work for YOU instead of the other way around.
Sun block & Bug Spry/Repellent: depending on the climate your travelling or time of year, it is always handy to take some sun-block and bug spray.
Special products: Whilst many everyday toiletries are available worldwide, there may be some products that are not quite so easy to get your hands on abroad.
Hire Dryer and brush: You’ll be surprised very quickly how difficult it is to get ready for work when you have long hair and don’t have a dryer and brush, it is even more difficult to make friends when you keep needing to borrow other peoples things.
If you plan on travelling a lot, you should consider packing solid shampoo bars and soap, as they weigh less, take up less space than liquids, won’t leak and avoid plastic waste.
If you’re travelling carry-on only, make sure you respect the 100ml rule. You can either buy travellised toiletries or buy empty travel containers to fill up yourself at home.
A simple rule for any trip or destination is to only pack clothes you would be comfortable and confident wearing at home. Many travellers buy a whole new wardrobe of technical fabrics and zip-off trousers based on advice, but then never end up wearing them.
Research on the cost of clothing in the destination your travelling. There is no point buying and packing a lot of clothing when it is cheaper in your destination. Alternatively, if clothing is significantly more expensive, it might be worth taking clothing for all seasons.
If your fashion conscious, you may also want to consider the fashion differences. You may feel a little out of place if your wearing clothing very different to your new friends and colleagues.
The following is a rough guideline of a simple packing list to travel abroad and work—edit, revise, and modify per your specific trip and work environment needs/demands:
A light jacket is great for colder days or evenings spent outside.
A pack-able raincoat allows you to leave a bulky umbrella at home and doubles up as a windbreaker.
Shoes are the bulkiest items, so pack as few as possible:
Multipurpose trainers are a good choice.
Flip flops or sandals are a must for any warm destination or around the house
Shoes appropriate for work/your job abroad are a must!
Take a few shoe sacks, these can be very handy when shoes become dirty or smelly
Tip: Always wear your biggest and heaviest shoes in transit, so you don’t have to pack them. Customs will be a little more annoying, but the extra space is worth its weight.
Tops and Bottoms
2-4 light, short sleeved tops
1-2 long-sleeved tops
A sweater and/or fleece. Even in hot climates, you’ll want to pack some warm layers, as bus rides and airports can get freezing cold.
2-3 bottoms, including shorts and/or skirts
Tip: Dresses are great for travelling; they are lightweight, each one is a full outfit, AND you can dress them up or down.
Underwear and swimwear
5-7 pairs of underwear
2-3 bras (plus sports bra) for women
3-7 pairs of socks (depending on climate and job)
1-2 swimsuit(s) if you plan on traveling somewhere warm
A scarf or pashmina—great for transit, a quick layer to improve your modesty, spice up an outfit
A climate-friendly hat
1-2 nice ‘going out’ outfits
Sleepwear: An old t-shirt and shorts or comfy lounge pants are usually fine
Exercise clothes—you are LIVING abroad instead of vacationing, so you should plan for maintaining your regular exercise regime.
Gloves or other cold-weather wear
There is nothing worse then travelling to a new country and being unprepared on your first day. Consider taking just some of your professionals’ essentials so you can run with the ball from day one, this could include:
Pen, tape, scissors, sharpie
If you have any more room, take a few things that is unique to your homeland, that will keep you from becoming homesick or show-off to other ex-pats. This could be anything from beer mats, soft toy, cultural dress, musical instrument and food example Marmite, Tea or Chocolate. If you’re moving into an apartment you may also want to buy some small gifts are a welcoming gesture.
Let us know if we should be adding anything else to our list