What to Pack for Working Abroad

by Published | Updated

For some people, packing is part of their holiday experience, a fun exercise that builds anticipation their upcoming trip. For other travelers, 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 what to pack.

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Congrats on your promotion to global citizen! Next stop: Ruler of the free world. 👑

Now, before you throw yourself into a packing frenzy and dust off your suitcase, there are a few things to think . 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: 

There’s more to packing than fitting stuff into a bag

You’ve probably packed dozens of times in your life. But packing for working abroad is different, especially if you’re giving up your apartment or house at home. Imagine having to move house, prepare for a new job and pack for a holiday, all at once. That’s how stressful packing can be for work abroad. But it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared and have a plan. (*Hint* this packing list abroad is your plan.)

[2018 REPORT: The world's best places to work abroad this year]

Minimalist or not?

In recent years, packing carry-on only has become a trend that many full-time travelers and 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. 

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Packing cubes will be your BEST FRIEND on this journey.

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). 

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 . 

Climate & location

Are you going to spend your time on 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, Johannesburg in South Africa gets surprisingly cold in winter due to its high altitude. Temperatures are often below freezing at night, while daytimes are usually sunny and you’d be comfortable in a t-shirt. 

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. 

[How to prepare for working & moving abroad]

Our go-to packing list for when you travel abroad for work

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, and clothes—not to mention "job specific" packing tips based on the type of work you intend to do abroad. We've got special advice for English teachers, au pairs, bartenders, farmers, and more. 

Paperwork

  • 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 ID: This can be a driver’s license or your local ID. Keep it separate to your passport in case you lose it.
  • International drivers 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 without ATM fees: Apply for a bank card with free ATM withdrawals and possibly also a credit card without foreign transaction fees. #DoItForThePoints
  • Travel insurance policy: Print out a copy of your 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: If you’re required to get vaccinations to enter your destination, make sure you carry proof of your jabs with you.
  • 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
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A luggage twice your size is not necessary… unless half of it is empty for souvenirs!

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 actually be much cheaper to stock up abroad than at home. 

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. 

Electronics

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.
  • 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 travelers 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. 

merlin packing his bag from the sword in the stone
Merlin makes it look so easy. 🙄 

Travel essentials

These are all the things that make your overseas packing life much easier, but pick whatever works for you and ignore the rest: 

  • Bags: Whilst you’ll pack all your possessions into a larger bag for traveling, 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. 
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Be sure to ONLY pack the necessities… Trust us, this is not easy the first time!

Toiletries

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.
  • 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. For example, do you have a particular face product for your skin type, darkening shampoo for Asian hair or a special hair care product for African American hair? If you can’t live without these, you may want to consider buying some before you leave home, just in case. 

If you plan on traveling 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 traveling carry-on only, make sure you respect the 100ml rule. You can either buy travel-sized toiletries or buy empty travel containers to fill up yourself at home. 

Clothing

A simple rule for any trip or destination is to only pack clothes you would actually be comfortable and confident wearing at home. Many travelers buy a whole new wardrobe of technical fabrics and zip-off trousers based on advice, but then never end up wearing them. Tip: If you stick to one color palette, you’ll be able to mix and match your tops and bottoms and create many more outfits. (Dark neutrals are always a good idea.)  

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:

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Make a game plan before you stuff your clothing willy-nilly into your suitcase / backpack

Outerwear:

  • A light jacket is great for colder days or evenings spent outside.
  • A packable 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 (you might just end up living in them).
  • Shoes appropriate for work/your job abroad are a must!
  • 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 it’s 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.
  • Tip for women: Dresses are great for traveling; they are lightweight, each one is a full outfit, AND you can dress them up or down.
  • 2-3 bottoms, including shorts and/or skirts for women

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

Accessories:

  • Sunglasses
  • A scarf or pashmina—great for transit, a quick layer to improve your modesty, spice up an outfit
  • A climate-friendly hat

Optional extras:

  • 1-2 nice ‘going out’ outfit(s)
  • 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 definitely plan for maintaining your regular exercise regime
  • Gloves or other cold-weather wear (if necessary)
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Waddle on to the next chapter of your life!

[Download our FREE eBook for even more tips & tales from first time workers abroad]

Job-specific packing tips

Here are a few things to consider that will be specific to your new job. It gets a little tricky if you don’t have a job lined up before leaving, but check out these popular work abroad jobs as a guideline: 

Hospitality

While many hospitality jobs provide uniforms, most only provide tops and often aprons, but rarely bottoms and shoes. Most restaurants and bars require their staff to wear black trousers or skirts and often white-collared shirts or t-shirts. Employers usually only provide these if they are branded, so it can be a good idea to stock up on some comfortable and neutral bottoms and shirts that fit you well.

When it comes to shoes in hospitality, comfort will be your highest priority, but many venues have strict rules on design.

Consider packing a pair of comfortable, black shoes, flats or neutral trainers for women and black loafers or trainers for men; ideally without any visible logos. These can also double up as shoes for office work or a night out. 

English teachers

If you’re planning to teach English abroad, find out in advance what rules your school has in place and then pack appropriately. Some countries have very traditional dress codes and expect both women and men to cover their shoulders and knees, even in hot tropical climates. 

Make sure you also research what teaching materials you’ll need and pack your favorite phrasebook or dictionary, if they aren’t supplied. It’s also always a great idea to pack small games for the children, postcards to show them what it’s like in your home country, and some local sweets as a treat. If you want to make a great first impression at your school, bring some local delicacies to share with the other teachers and staff. 

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Actual footage from your future life

Au pairs

If you will be working as an au pair, ask your host family if they have specific rules clothing, but generally, you’ll want to wear clothes that are comfortable and easy to wash, as they’ll get dirty during play times or when you’re outdoors with the kids. Yes, your job will be that fun (after all, overseas nanny jobs are the new black).

It’s a nice idea to pack little gifts for your host family and the kids too, for example, local sweets from your home country or typical games or toys. Also, pack some photos of your friends and family to show your hosts and to decorate your room. 

Manual laborers

If you’re planning on doing manual labour, like farm work or construction work, you should pack comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined. Choose fabrics that can be easily washed and dry quickly, so you can wash them after a sweaty day’s laboring. 

If you’re going to spend a lot of time outside, it’s crucial to protect yourself from the sun. Pack a wide-brimmed hat, protective sunglasses and stock up on sunscreen and bug spray when you arrive. 

Depending on your job, you might also want to pack certain tools or equipment like gloves or other protective gear, although this should be provided by your employer.

[Five rookie mistakes to avoid your first day working abroad]

Zip up that backpack, you’re now ready for takeoff

girl waiting to board train in czech republic
Now that you're packed, it's time for your next challenge: first day on the job!

Remember, if you forget anything, you’ll probably still be able to buy almost anything you need abroad, so don’t stress too much packing absolutely everything and enjoy the experience!

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