Across the Pond’s Tried and True Expert Packing Guide


Helpful Tips!

  • Use a travelling or camping backpack as your carry-on. It not only holds a lot but is very convenient when travelling during school breaks
  • Rolling clothes military-style takes up less space in your luggage
  • Pack some clothes you’re okay with tossing out at the end of your studies/travels since you’ll most likely buy new clothes while there
  • Use space-saver vacuum-pack bags when packing – it’s amazing how much more you can get in (downside: a heavier bag since you can pack more)


Carry-On Packing Advice

Here are some of the few things to stock in your carry on for immediate use on arrival:

  • A couple of granola or energy bars (if you take a night flight and have to travel by train, etc., you might want an extra snack item handy)
  • A tube map if you are going to London
  • Train schedules/times if you are going to access train travel immediately after you land
  • A map of your destination city - most larger city maps can be acquired for free from the AAA/CAA
    • The necessary documents that you need at the border including Valid passport with visa/UK entry clearance, Original documents to prove financial support for tuition & maintenance, Original offer letter from the university & CAS, Details of your destination - address/telephone number, and Official transcript and diploma
    • Pack a pen on the plane with you when traveling to fill out landing cards
    • Extra passport photos – you'll need them for transportation passes and program or institution information
    • You should photocopy all of your official documents twice: one copy should stay at home, with your loved ones, the other set should travel with you.  Put your official copies in your carry-on and keep your set separate from your actual official documents in your suitcase. If something happens (i.e. you lose the original or have the documents stolen), you can still provide the necessary information to your embassy to get the materials replaced. 


What to Pack:

General Clothes

  • In some regions you can experience three “seasons” in one day so be sure to bring several types of clothing you can layer.
  • 2 or 3 pairs of pajamas and slippers

Winter Clothes/Items

  • In order to maximize space in the suitcase, don’t bring too many sweaters and hoodies.  Wear one (or two) on the plane, pack a few more, and buy the rest there.  These can be vacuum packed.
  • Same with boots, wear a pair on the plane and pack a pair of another color.  Buy snow or rain boots in the UK.  Also, make sure your boots are of good quality, especially if you live in big, walkable cities, like London. They will tear apart shoes that are cheaply made.
  • Small umbrella, a few scarves, 1-2 pairs of gloves (you can also plan to buy these there)
    • Note:  if you are going to a uni that is an older institution, and you know it has an old-school architecture library (like Durham or Leeds), or you are in London and might access the British Library, take a pair of cheap cotton gloves and cut the finger-tips off. This will keep your hands warm but allow you to work. Some of the older libraries can be unbearable in the winter.
  • Socks, leggings, hose/tights, long-johns and other undergarments take up little space, especially if rolled or stuffed in empty spaces.  No need to skimp on these! 

Winter Coats Specifically

  • Wear your favorite winter coat on the plane and buy further coats or jackets once in the UK.  These tend to take up a lot of luggage space.  Or, think about having your parents ship these to you, as it gets colder.
    • Note:  A winter coat in Edmonton, Canada, or Dallas, Texas, for example, does not equal a winter coat in Toronto or Buffalo, NY.  The former would NOT be suitable in the UK, but the latter would. Wool is great against the damp/chill, but waterproofs are crucial.  Parkas are not the best items in terms of winter coats.
    • Again, WATERPROOF is crucial. Invest in a quality rain jacket (long trench-type) once you are in the UK. Soft-shell jackets can also be a great investment as they provide protection from the rain and a bit more warmth than a normal rain jacket for use throughout the winter.
    • It’s also worth noting the annual lows for the region where you’ll be studying; many Canadians and Americans from East Coast or Midwest won’t find it necessary to bring their normal “winter” coat. In these instances, bring whatever you would wear for November or March back home.  Of course, this all depends on you and what you consider cold.
    • If you plan to go home for Christmas break, consider bringing your winter coat back then.  That way you can decide whether you will really need it for a “UK winter” or not. Also, use this time to switch out heavier coats and warmer fall sweaters with some spring/summer clothing.


  • Laptop and a few movie favorites – if you buy a laptop in the UK, your US DVDs won’t work unless you change the region settings.  N.B.If you buy UK DVDs too, you can only switch back and forth between settings a limited number of times.
    • Note:  Consider bringing an external hard-drive so that pictures and other files from your trip overseas can be saved without slowing down your computer at all. Especially for graduate students, you will likely be saving a ton of pdf files and articles during your dissertation studies so you don’t want to risk running out of space on your computer.
    • Camera

Body products/Hair products

  • Travel-size toiletries and feminine products to tide you over until you can do some grocery shopping (unless you’re very particular about the products you use; then you might need to consider how to keep yourself supplied for the year).
  • If you need a hair dryer, curlers, or a straightener, ensure they’re dual-voltage.  Otherwise, it may be easiest to purchase these once you’re in the UK.  They can be quite affordable at a Boots or Superdrug.
    • Note:  Dual-voltage items aren’t always a fail-safe solution, unfortunately.  Even these have been known to short out. 
    • On that note, UK stores do not stock all the same hair styling products as we do in the States.  Pack 1-2 extra bottles of your favorites.  (Great for care packages!)
      • Note:  Try checking UK drugstore websites, such as Boots or SuperDrug, to see if they carry your brand.  These can sometimes be cheaper than back home!
      • Extra cosmetics - some items (dermatological ones in particular) that are ordinary in the US can be prescription-only in the UK, if they’re available at all.
        • Note:  Not only may some products be unavailable, some products can be almost double or triple the price!! (Five dollar mascara Target can be £10 in the UK, which can be as much as $15!)


  • Pictures of friends and family – you may get homesick
  • Address book of contacts, at home and abroad
  • Reading material – a few favorite books you want to read

Health Products

  • Small first-aid kit
  • Prescription meds or pain killers, if necessary. 
    • Note:  These need to be in your carry on, in the original bottle. Plus, you have to have a doctor’s note explaining why you take them and have the original prescription, in case border control asks.
    • Also note:  The laws in the UK regarding over-the-counter meds are far stricter than in the US/Canada. Many items including heavier pain-killers (such as ibuprofen) are available in the UK only via an Rx. Check the Boots store online to see if what you normally stock is, in fact, something you can buy over the counter. If not, stock up and take it with you.
    • Glasses, glasses case, and sunglasses
    • If you have contacts, bring extra and enough pairs until you get back home (if possible).

School Supplies

  • You can buy all your school supplies during Freshers’ Week.  Leave it all (or most of it) at home!
    • Note:  Wait to buy your course books until you arrive.

Miscellaneous Items

  • Small sewing kit, especially those with extra buttons, a few needles and thread
    • Note:  Consider a multi-tool Swiss Army Knife and a camping knife-fork-spoon if you plan to travel or backpack a lot.  Obviously, don't take the multi-tool on the plane!
    • Plug adaptors, at least one for when you land/before you can buy additional locally.
      • Note:  Your local Tesco or Asda may be out of adaptors those first weeks of school when international students flood the city. 
      • Also note:  Most adaptors available from airports, etc. would only work for North American three-prong plugs so if you have anything that only has 2-prongs (such as phone chargers) they can short-out or be difficult. For North Americans, we recommend picking up a couple of the NAà UK specific adaptors from Ryman Stationary (common and cheap stationary supply shop in the UK).
      • Specific plug adaptor for your laptop – Macs especially have a global adapter kit you can buy for your power plug, which is not only handy for the UK but handy for travel abroad once you’re there.
      • Bring a good travel guide that includes the different countries you want to visit, although you can find and bookmark much of this information online these days, i.e. blogs or The Lonely Planet.
        • Note:  For London, the London A-Z is a great resource.
        • Bring enough money for the first month as UK banks can take awhile to open and if you are using loans the first disbursement can take weeks. Americans can use debit cards to take money out (notify your banks!) 
          • For CANADIANS ONLY:  A Canadian a pin number can be anywhere between 4 and 6 digits. However, the automated teller machines in the UK only accept 4-digit pins. If you are Canadian and taking your bankcard and visa with you and have a 5/6-digit pin, change it. 


What not to Pack:

  • Leave your shoe closet at home.  Sneakers, 1-2 pairs of comfortable flats that match a lot of outfits, and dressy heels are enough for starters.  You can buy more in the UK.
  • Too much of any one thing – repeat this motto over and over to yourself, “You don’t need as much as you think!”