Last Updated on October 2, 2021
I’ve now moved abroad twice. Once when I moved to the USA and then when I repatriated back to the UK. Both times I considered them permanent moves. Looking back, if I had know that I’d only stick living in the US for 4 years, I would have packed a little different. However at the time I thought I’d be gone for the long haul so packed accordingly. When I originally left, I had the option of potentially leaving stuff in storage, but coming back to the UK, I then had to pack up EVERYTHING as I knew I wouldn’t be returning. So naturally I had more on the return journey. Here’s a little look at my moving abroad packing list and things that you may need to consider for an international move!
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Moving Abroad Packing List
How Will You Be Transporting Things?
When it comes to moving abroad, there are several different options for how to move your belongings. Think about the amount of things that you want to take and choose accordingly. Some options are:
- A shipping container
- Suitcases/checked luggage
- Driving – car/moving van
- Ship a bag/box
Moving across the Atlantic, I didn’t have the option of driving. I also didn’t have large items, such as furniture, so didn’t need a container. I went down the suitcase/checked luggage route. I wrote a whole post about the type of suitcases I used and how best to pack, which you can check out here: 8 Handy Tips: How To Pack A Suitcase For Moving Overseas | Best Luggage. This post will be diving deeper into the things that were on my packing list.
Luggage Weight Allowances
Some things to keep in mind if flying, you will be subject to weight allowances and maybe even the amount of bags you can actually check in. On my return to the UK, I was able to fly in Business Class, which then meant I had a 32kg weight allowance on my checked bags and 2 suitcases were free. In economy, the weight was 23kg with only 1 free bag. This helped massively, as my additional paid for cases could then weigh 32kg as well.
Planning in advance is a MUST. I knew I would be flying alone and when I realised I needed extra cases to bring everything back, I looked into shipping one of them. BUT I left it too late. Similar to having a shipping container, when items that aren’t travelling directly with you, they could be subject to import tax. HOWEVER there are tax free allowances when you ship items that belong to you. For the UK, you are required to fill in a TOR (Transfer of Residence relief) form. The form literally lists everything that will be travelling without you. I believe it can take a month to be given the shipping number/reference and at this point I had just under 3 weeks left. The company I looked into (SendMyBag.com) required the TOR number before they would generate the shipping label. So it was too close to my departure date.
Hand Luggage/Cabin Bag
Put EVERYTHING you don’t want to go missing or broken in your hand luggage. I used a cabin case and an under seat bag. The biggest things were all my electronics and paperwork.
- Laptop/external hard drive
- Kindle E-Reader
- Drone and controller
- GoPro camera
- Batteries, charging cables, camera accessories
- Worldwide travel adaptors
For the most part, the electronics listed above travel internationally quite well. They are all built to work on different voltages. (In my situation UK uses 240v and US uses 110v). Many electronics are charged via USB leads so you can simply buy some USB adaptors (they are often sold in petrol stations!). For some of the larger items, I used worldwide travel adaptors. For the whole 4 years I was in the US, my camera had a UK charger so was constantly using the adaptor. Now I’m back, my drone still has a US charger!
- Visa paperwork
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Doctors records/visa medical x-ray
- Driving licence paperwork
- School/education/additional qualification paperwork and certificates
- Paperwork for any accounts you may need
I bought a ‘presentation book‘, which has plastic pockets to keep paperwork in. Obviously visa paperwork is a big one and if you’re getting on a plane, you’re going to need your passport. I knew I had to retake my driving test for a US licence, but until I could get that, I was able to drive on my UK licence or rent a car for up to 30 days. I then took all my qualification paperwork in case I needed them as evidence for a job.
When I first moved to the US, I wasn’t able to set up a bank account until I had a Social Security Number. So I did actually travel with a whole chunk of cash. In the UK we have pretty good access to currency exchange bureaus, making it easy to get hold of US dollars in advance. In the US it was a nightmare trying to exchange money, the one time I did do it, I had to do it through the mail via TravelEx. Having cash meant that I didn’t have to worry about how I could buy things when I first arrived.
I also had my mum overtake my UK bank account while I was gone, so when I returned it was easy to transfer my money back.
I highly recommend using WISE (previously Transferwise) to transfer money abroad. I have used them multiple times now and it’s always a very quick and simple process. I would use card details and then the details of the bank account I wanted to transfer the money to. You can also do bank account to bank account or even set up a ‘borderless’ account and hold money in different currencies. There is a fee to transfer but it’s often cheaper than the rate you’d get at the bank. Transfers take a few days to process but you are able to track exactly where in the process you are.
Before the first transfer, they do have to confirm your identity. This requires uploading a document, such as a passport. I then had to take a picture of myself holding my passport next to my face, so show that I was definitely the person in the document.
I always travel with a mini first aid kit. Inside it I have things like:
- Anti histamines
- Sinus relief tablets
- Plasters/Band aids
- My blood pressure monitor (not on my usual travel packing list)
- Glasses and sunglasses
- Mini sewing kit
I knew I would be able to get these things in the US, but having a little supply meant that I didn’t have to rush out and get anything. If you have any prescriptions, have a couple months supply, plus any paperwork, which will cover you until you can get to a doctor for a refill.
Anything else of importance
As you may discover later on in the post, I am hugely sentimental so I ended up moving abroad with a lot of items that held memories for me. Thinking I was moving for the long haul, I wanted to surround myself with my memories. When I first moved, several things got broken during transit and I got really sad about it. For my return, I put these superglued things in my hand luggage to protect them.
I also have quite a large currency collection, it’s not worth a huge amount as it’s literally spare change from a variety of different countries. But both times my bag was stopped at security as they wanted to check what it was. I was fine to travel with it but it was something they inspected both times.
I hate being wasteful. Before I left and went through everything I owned, I did throw away or donate a whole bunch of my things. As mentioned above, I was able to keep a load of my things in storage in the UK. But I didn’t just want to get rid of perfectly good clothes, especially if they were still wearable. Part of me didn’t want to have to go out and re-buy everything again, it just seemed like a waste of money (although additional checked luggage is VERY expensive!). I don’t have a huge amount of clothes anyway. I don’t change things out for ‘seasons’ and everything fits in my wardrobe. I moved with 2 suitcases of clothes.
I moved to a country that has 2 very different extremes of seasons when it comes to summer and winter. Summers are really hot, winters are stupidly cold. This meant that I had to pack clothes for all seasons. I also had a job interview the day after I landed, so the ‘smart’ clothes came in handy!
- Winter coat
- ‘Summer’ coat
- Rain jacket
- ‘Interview’/smart clothes
- Yoga/’workout’ clothes
- Pyjamas (summer and winter)
- Underwear and socks
- Swimwear, surf shorts & rash guards (I did leave my wetsuit in the UK…)
- Long sleeve t-shirts and leggings
- My onesie 🙈
- Lightweight rain boots
- Flip flops
- Water shoes
- Sun hat/winter hat/ear muffs
The winters were much colder in the US so I did buy items that I simply didn’t need in the UK, things like: ski mittens, snow pants, snow boots.
I used packing cubes to group similar items together, which made it easier when unpacking. I knew I wouldn’t need winter items for a while so there was no rush to unpack that ‘cube’. I have 3 different brands so they are all different colours and sizes. This made it very easy to find my interview clothes when I had that sprung on me the day I landed!
I also had vacuum bags for the larger, thicker items…things like my onesie, towels, my winter coat. It’s best to vacuum these things quite close to flight days, as they do start expanding after a while. I found it best to tape over the main opening and the vacuum hole just to try and stop leaks.
Similar to the medication, I took enough to get me through for a couple of weeks. That way I didn’t have to rush out and buy things as soon as I arrived. I always travel with mini sized items so I did the same when I moved.
- Fold-up toothbrush (I bought a ‘proper’ one once I was settled)
- Mini shampoo and conditioner
- Shower/bath products
- Brush etc
- Beach/bath towel and travel towel
Some people have said that they like to take full sized items in case they can’t get their ‘favourites’ in their new home. For me, when it comes to toiletry items, it doesn’t bother me what brands I use, so the mini items worked fine. It then gave me more space and weight for other items that couldn’t be replaced.
Ohhhh how I overpacked on the sentimental items. I never got round to buying a display case for everything, so I ended up storing everything in the suitcase and never really unpacked it! They didn’t go untouched, I would sometimes sit down and look through it when I was bored. But now I’ve moved back, everything is back on display again. As a huge lover of travel I packed all my mementos, my typed up journals and all my photo books. The photo books weighed an absolute ton, but I love looking through them. As a travel blogger, I did often refer to my journals when writing or updating posts.
When I moved back to the UK, I had 4 more years worth of things I had collected…a painting from a guided painting workshop, all my press trip destination goodie bags… I worked in a school and the parents of the students were extremely generous when it came to things like Christmas, I brought almost all of the gifts back home with me. My classroom teacher used to throw me a birthday party every year and one year every kid in the class coloured a birthday card for me and wrote their name in it (I worked in PreK…this was a big deal!)…I kept them all.
- Photo books and framed photos
- Paperback books (including my own that I wrote and had printed!)
- Travel mementos
- Gifts from school/birthdays/Christmas
- Press trip items
- Stuffed toys
- Wall art
- Jewellery box
- CDs/DVDs (yes I know…I mainly had CDs in my car)
Plus items that had a use…
- Mugs/travel mugs
- Backpacks and bags
- Measuring cups
- Storage baskets
- Snorkel set
- Yoga mat
I made a list of everything that I had in every suitcase and bag. I put a copy in the top of each bag and then kept a copy with me in my hand luggage. That way, if a bag was to go missing in transit, I would know exactly what was missing. I also thought that if it got opened by the TSA, by writing that I was emigrated, they wouldn’t be surprised by the weird contents (that’s me overthinking for you!).
What I Left Behind
If you are moving as a whole family, have years worth of items or selling a house etc, you may choose to ship over all your belongings. What little furniture I had, I decided to leave behind. I also sold my bike and my car and left my life jacket (I can wake board so I had bought a cheap one for that), kettle and printer behind. As mentioned above, you may have a change in voltage, so some electronics may not work. A prime example are hair straighteners. If they are from the UK, in the US they won’t heat up hot enough…in the opposite direction, they can fry.
You may just need to weigh up the cost of a shipping container, the value of your items and see if it would be cheaper just to replace the items in the new location. If you sell them before you leave, you may even get a bit of extra cash to help with the cost of replacing them. This is what I did with my car and bike, the money I got from selling them, I put towards a new car in the UK.
Keep in mind that if you ship a car, you may have to make some changes to the vehicle, especially if moving to a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road (headlights for example). Cars coming into the UK will need to pass an MOT test.
Packing is just one small part of moving overseas. You may find this post helpful too! Checklist For Moving Abroad: A Handy Guide For Moving To A New Country
Have any questions? Let me know!