Packing To Move Abroad For ESL Teachers

Packing to move abroad can be stressful for the unpracticed. Trying to discern what you will need and whether you are taking too much can seem like a major chore you aren’t prepared for if this is your first time. I’ll go into some various aspects of packing and provide you with a list of some things you should and should not bring.

What are some things to consider?

The first thing you want to take into consideration is whether or not you will be in an urban area or within a short distance from an urban location. This will make all the difference in how you want to pack. Most cities over a few million people are going to have things Western teachers are used to such as beauty and hygiene products, drinks and food products you may be fond of, and clothing in a large variety of styles and sizes. If you are in a rural area far away from any major cities such as in the middle of Siberia if you are teaching in Russia or in one of the many rural areas if you are teaching English in China, then you may think about packing more items for your own comfort. However, if you are in any of the numerous cities popular with ESL teachers then you are probably going to have absolutely no trouble finding any of the products or items you will want while teaching English abroad.

What this means is that you don’t need to over pack. For that matter, over packing should be avoided at all costs. Almost everything I brought with me when I first moved abroad I have since gotten rid of with the exception of my dive gear, a few pairs of shoes, my laptop computer, and the backpack I began with. All of the clothes I originally brought with me with the exception of one fleece pullover have since been replaced. There is absolutely no need to pack tons of things which you will most likely get rid of overtime as your tastes change or as you gain new possessions.

There are a few things that you should consider over packing, however. If you have to take prescription medication and you know it is going to be hard to find where you are going then that may be something you want to stock up on. Are you a fan of taking your daily vitamins? The vitamins you take every day may or may not be available where you are moving to. If they are, then they may be prohibitively expensive, such as where I am living in Thailand. Are you one of those rare abnormally tall people with giant feet? You may consider packing a few extra pairs of shoes as it may be hard to find your size abroad at a reasonable price. You want to think about products that are unique to you which may be hard to find even in your own country or which have to be made especially for you as these are probably going to be hard or impossible to find where you are moving to.

What are the main things I should pack?


This is the most obvious part of packing and the area where almost everyone overpacks for the first time. You have to remember that no matter where you go in the world you are going to be able to find clothes in all manner of patterns and styles. Most likely you will easily be able to find something you would wear. Unless you are well above the average height or wear extremely large sizes you should have no problem finding t-shirts, dress shirts, slacks, jeans, swimsuits, exercise clothing, and any other item of clothing you could need or want. While you don’t want to have to buy a bunch of new clothes you also don’t want to pack so much stuff you don’t have room for anything else. A good rule to follow is to pack a few pairs of jeans, a few pairs of slacks (if you need to wear them for teaching), two or three shirts, a few dress shirts (also if you need them for school), four or five days worth of underwear and socks, and one jacket if you will need it (remember that even if you are going to a country with a warm climate the airports on the way there may be extremely cold). As far as shoes go try not to take more than one pair of sneakers or running shoes and one pair of dress shoes. If you bring any sandals with you try to wear your sneakers on the flight over and pack the sandals in order to save room in your suitcase.


This is where you will want to splurge a little as far as packing. Many countries popular with ESL teachers are also well-known for having high taxes on electronic items. Your computer, camera, tablet, phone (unlocked or it isn’t worth bringing), and e-reader are all valid things to bring with you. These will certainly take up a lot of space in your suitcase or carry-on bag but if you followed the above advice for packing clothing then you should have plenty of space available. You may also consider bringing one or two power banks (as long as they meet regulations for flying). These are usually easy to find most anywhere in the world, however, you will probably want one handy for the initial flight so that you can charge your tablet or phone or e-reader.


If you take prescription medication then you will want to look into whether or not it will be available in the country you are traveling to and if it won’t then you will need to look into any alternatives that may be available. In the event that there are no alternatives available then you will first want to check on the legality of that medication in the country you are moving to (remember not all medication is legal in all countries even with a doctors note) then you will want to look into the legality of you bringing in your own supply (some countries may require you to bring your prescription with you). Other medications such as anti-nausea medication or cold medication should only be brought if you will need them for the plane ride as these will easily be available in the country you are moving to.

Beauty and Hygiene Products

The thing to remember here is to only bring items you think you will be unable to find. Almost anything you could want from deodorant to cologne and perfume to acne products to shampoos and body washes are going to be easily available anywhere in the world you go to. Unless you use something very specific that is hard to find in your own country then only take what you will need for the first week or so until you can get settled in. A specific example of something I like to bring with me anytime I travel back to the states is Old Spice Fiji scented stick deodorant. It is hard to find stick deodorant in Thailand as most of what is sold is small roll-on bottles and sprays so when I am in my home country I stock up on this product and bring it back to Thailand with me. There may be some specific items you want to bring with you from your home country but other than these select items don’t overdo it packing beauty and hygiene products.

What should I not pack?


Before you move abroad it may seem like a good idea to pack up a ton of books in case you can’t find any in English where you are going or to make a dent in all of the unread books you’ve accumulated over the years. Don’t. Not only will you most likely be able to easily find books in English almost anywhere you go in the world you will certainly be able to order them online. That aside the last thing you want to do is take up space with books. Instead, invest in an e-reader which you can easily use to load as man books as you want on without taking up too much space. Even better would be to invest in a good tablet such as an iPad which can be used as an e-reader and for other activities such as watching movies or chatting with family via video calling.


As mentioned above you only want to pack two pairs of shoes and maybe a pair of sandals (though you can easily get these in the country you are moving to if you need them). Shoes easily take up a lot of space and can just as easily be purchased when you arrive abroad if you need a new pair. As mentioned above, if you have well above average sized feet and need to get specialized shoes then you may want to bring a few more pairs. However, for the vast majority of people, one pair of sneakers and one pair of nice shoes for teaching will more than suffice for the initial move abroad.

Miscellaneous Items

There will be a ton of miscellaneous items from pens and pencils to cotton balls that you will want to pack. Just remember, if you will be moving to an urban area or somewhere near a major urban area all of these things will be easily available. Don’t overdo it with all of the random items that you think you are going to need as you most likely won’t. When I first traveled abroad I took playing cards, notebooks, and a few flashlights all of which I no longer am in possession of and which I never even used. These things simply took up space that could have been used to pack a few extra shirts or a piece of dive equipment (which I have used). Think very carefully about the random things you are tempted to pack and ask yourself “have I used this in the past year?” because chances are if you haven’t used something in your home country in the past year you are probably not going to use it abroad in the following year either.

What are some tips for packing?

In order to have room for everything you wish to take and still have a bit of space left over for extra items, you need to learn how to pack your case in a way that will conserve space. There are a few different things you can do to ensure you are getting the maximum return for the limited space in your case. One of the first things you should think about is how you pack your clothes. One of the best things that you can do is to tightly roll your shirts and other clothes so that they take up a minimal amount of space. If you will be putting shoes in your case you can stuff them with socks and underwear so that they do not just leave space in your case. Try and put all of the clothes on one side of your case. If you have rolled them tightly and are well-organized you will find that they take up but a small fraction of space in comparison to if you would have folded them and laid them throughout as is traditionally done. Some people also like to utilize space-saving bats, however, this is not something that I’ve done myself and I have had no troubles with space in my own travels or even when I first moved abroad.

You will also need to think about how you are packing things. As I mentioned, if you can have all of your clothes only take up one side then you will easily be left with half or more of your case for everything else. You want to take the largest and bulkiest of items and pack them first. For some people, this may be books or a camera case or other similar items. Try and lay them as flat as possible and start in the corners and work your way out, evenly filling the space. The goal here is to utilize the space you are given. If you just throw everything in there will be many gaps where there is only air. However, if you are strategic in how you lay everything, making sure to utilize every bit of space you have, then you should easily be able to fit everything you want to bring and probably a bit more.

One final tip is to make sure you pack a few days before you are to leave and let your case sit for a night or two so that everything has time to settle. When you first pack, there is a lot of air that gets trapped between the things you are packing such as your clothes. By giving this a night or two to settle and push out, you will find that you are left with a bit more room that you can use to pack what you need.

What are some final thoughts?

If you use the above list as a good starting point and then tailor it to your own individual needs you can’t go wrong. Remember that most airlines will limit you to one checked in suitcase usually which can be usually no more than 50 lbs (22 Kg). This will vary depending on the airline you will be flying on so make sure before you pack how much you will be allowed to take and then don’t go over. As mentioned above there is absolutely no reason to pack a ton of times thinking they won’t be available in the country you are moving to as most likely anything you can think of will be easily available to you in any major city around the world. The exception to this may be some types of electronics and items that are hard to find even in your home country. Overall, you shouldn’t be too worried about forgetting anything as you will easily be able to pick up important items after you’ve settled into your new residence. Just make sure you have enough to keep you comfortable when you first arrive till you have the chance to become familiar with your new home.