An Expatriate’s Guide to What to Take Abroad

One of the most pressing questions for expatriates – especially those that are moving to a new country for the first time – is what to take with you during that big move. Of course there’s no straight answer to this question as there are a number of factors and variables that may determine what you should be packing. Nevertheless, we’ve come up with a fairly short guide that might make your next big move a little easier to pack for.

1. Know your luggage allowance

This is probably one of the most important first things to consider. The country you’re travelling to, the type of transport you’ll be travelling on, and the company and carrier that you’ll be travelling with all affect how much luggage you’ll be able to take with you. People from the USA, for example, tend to be granted a larger travel allowance on flights than a lot of other world regions. As unfair as it may seem, an American might be allowed two 20kg+ bags in the hold, while you might only be afforded one. 

With this in mind, research how much luggage you can take, and then look for ways to push that boundary to the max. Many airlines for instance will also allow you carry-on luggage as well as other loose items such as a laptop bag, a small handbag, or some light reading material – but this varies from airline to airline so definitely look into this before heading to the airport. What’s more, as carry on luggage is rarely weighed, it’s often easy enough to get away with going over the weight limit here. Books are heavy items, so if you’re taking these then add them to your laptop bag or carry-on luggage, or even stash them in the pockets of the jacket you’ll be wearing on the day. In fact, there’s no real restriction to how much clothing you can wear on board, so it might be worth layering up with some of your heavier items if you’ve got a tight weight restriction ahead of you. 

2. Look into overseas shipping

If your new company doesn’t offer overseas shipping as part of your benefits package, it might be worth looking into it yourself anyway. Shipping luggage by sea is almost always cheaper (and obviously slower) than shipping it by air, and depending on where you were living before transporting luggage in this way can actually be surprisingly affordable as long as you’re willing to wait… and are happy to occasionally have your boxes rifled through! One option that you should rarely consider is  paying for excess luggage during your flight. Not only will it be difficult to get to your new accommodation from the airport with all that luggage in hand, but the premiums you’ll pay for such a service are usually ridiculously high!

3. Decide what’s necessary

Unless you’re going as someone else’s dependent, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be moving abroad to start a new job. So one of the first considerations you’ll have to make before packing is exactly what you’ll need to be professional in your new position. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a good deal of your checked luggage allowance to be taken up with the documentation you’ll need to process your residence permits, your work clothing (suits and shoes are particularly heavy), some casual clothes, and an array of laptops and other electronics. Any spare room after that will no doubt be taken up with the items that you then decide are most necessary, so finding out what’s on offer in your new locale should probably be high on your agenda when preparing too.  

4. Find out what’s available locally

Doing some online research as to what’s readily available where you’re headed and how much it costs there can really save you valuable packing space. Herbs and spices don’t weight much and can be difficult to come by in certain regions of the world, and luxury(?) bedding items such as sheets can actually be surprisingly expensive and are often  necessary to have pretty swiftly after arriving. Clothing can also be quite varied in fashion, and if you have large feet or are particularly tall or wide, you might want to bring some shoes or trousers with you as the culture you’re joining may not offer the sizes you’ll be needing in your day to day.

Other speciality items also warrant consideration, such as any medications you might require, or any gear that could help you to enjoy the surrounding environments such as sleeping bags and tents. Aside from asking questions about local availability in forums, it’s also worth looking at the goods on offer in online marketplaces. Although availability can often be quite poor especially in developing countries, many nations the world over are rapidly increasing their online access to globally in-demand products. You might in fact be surprised by exactly how much you can get hold of once you’ve settled in – so perhaps just consider packing only those items that you’ll need in the short term.  

5. Consider when you’ll be home next

Finally, it’s quite probable that you’re going to return home to visit your family and friends at some point, so there may be some items that you can wait to get hold of on your return. Especially if your company pays for a round-trip flight every year, it can be quite useful to journey home with a mostly empty suitcase and then fill it up for your return leg. This can be a particularly good way of doing things as it allows you the time and opportunity to determine exactly what items you can and cannot find in your new home.  Plus it will probably make you even more excited about returning to your home country and then taking all those wonderful things back with you.