What to Pack for American College Life

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Are you preparing to come to the United States to study at a college or university? We put together a list of items you’ll need and what you definitely won’t need.

There are some “common sense” items you know to pack, such as clothes, hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, your passport, visa, etc. But we put together two lists: One is for items we want to make sure you pack and the other list details items you can leave at home.

What to Pack

Sheets and a pillow for your bed: Most college dorm rooms will not have sheets or a pillow for your bed when you arrive in the United States. We know some universities may be able to let you borrow sheets until you can buy your own. But if you want to be able to sleep right away after a long flight, we recommend bringing your own.

Bath towel and a washcloth: You won’t be provided a towel and washcloth when you arrive. Be sure to have a towel so you’ll be able to dry off after taking a shower. You’ll be able to buy more once you get settled.

Good pair of walking shoes: Most of the time international students arrive early to campus before American students do. So this means your campus bus may not be running, or it’s going around campus for short periods of time. This means you’ll be doing A LOT of walking. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes.

A variety of clothes: It’s SO important to understand what kind of weather you’ll be dealing with based on the location of your university. Temperatures are drastically different across the United States. Be sure to pack a variety of clothes, including at least one business outfit in case you need to dress professionally. We would also recommend packing at least one traditional outfit. Chances are your university will have an event where international students will get to educate others about their countries. Wearing traditional clothing specific to your country will be important!

Snacks: Since international students arrive early, most of the dining locations on campus won’t be open. You’ll be able to get food when you attend orientation, but pack some snacks you can keep at home so you don’t go hungry.

Cosmetics/Toiletries: There is a huge variety of cosmetics in the United States, but it may be hard to find something similar to your favorite makeup.

Medicines: Be sure to pack your medication! You may not be able to get more while in the U.S.

Sewing kit: We all know buttons fall off, holes come out of no where. Be sure to have a sewing kit so you can fix those small issues with your clothes.

Desk supplies: You can buy most of these items once you arrive in the States, but be sure to bring at least some pencils, pens, and notebook paper just in case you can’t make it to the store before classes start.

Small gifts: We know you’ll be making lots of friends from around the world! So it would be nice to have small gifts specific to your country to give them. Postcards for example make great gifts.

Small decorations: We want to be sure you feel at home, so pack some photographs of your family and friends, famous places from your country, books, whatever will help you feel at home. This will also help you if you ever start to feel home sick.

What NOT to Pack

Dorm-room phone: Some universities in the U.S. actually removed the phone jack from university dorm rooms, so even if you brought a land-line phone, you wouldn’t be able to use it! Most students have their own cell phones. If you don’t have a cell phone yet in the United States, you can easily use Skype or Google Voice to call your family and friends back home.

Cash: Do not bring large amounts of U.S. cash. It’s safer to have American Express traveler’s checks and way easy to cash once you have a bank account in the U.S.

Electronics: Outlets in the United States are different than in most other countries. We recommend leaving behind the hairdryer, alarm clock, desk lamp, and radio and buying new ones once you get in the country. Plus it will open up more room in your suitcase. If you insist bringing these items, you can buy adapters. Outlets in the U.S. are usually 120V and take two flat prongs, or two flat and one round prong.


Do you have items you can add to our lists? Comment below or share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

2 thoughts on “What to Pack for American College Life

  1. In my experience, sheets, towels etc… occupy a lot of space in your suitcase that you may want to use to bring your clothes etc. They are also very heavy and you’re only allowed 50 lbs in one bag if you don’t want to pay airline overweight fees. You don’t even know what size bed you will have in your dorm room yet. Most likely when you get to your school’s destination you won’t move to campus right away you will probably stay in a hotel once the dorm opens up. Make some time to go shopping early at a department store where you can buy all that you need. If your business suit is taking a lot of space in your suitcase forget about it ! You can buy one in the US shopping is great here.

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