So, you’re thinking about starting your adventure teaching English overseas, but what do you take with you and what do you leave behind? How do you pack your whole life into a few suitcases and move to another country?
The simple answer is you don’t pack everything. Don’t fall into the trap in which so many travelers and ESL teachers find themselves: Packing too much stuff. If you’re only going overseas for a short while (say, six months or less), your task is simple: Bring as little as possible.
But for longer stints abroad, deciding which worldly belongings to take with you can seem like an impossible task. It is important to prioritize. So here is a list of 7 must-have travel items for any soon-to-be traveler or ESL teacher:
What to Take When Moving Overseas
- Medical necessities
Stock up on the medications you take regularly; gather as much as you can. If you’re going to a vastly different environment, consider obtaining a prescription for medicine to help you respond to travel-related illnesses such as altitude sickness or dehydration. You also may want to bring over-the-counter pills for minor ailments and seasonal allergies.
- Hygienic products
In some countries, the products you normally use for personal grooming may be not be available in a form you recognize:
- Feminine products might be of lower quality.
- Deodorant might be hard to come by.
- Local hair care products aren’t designed for you.
Research this to the best of your ability to know exactly what you’ll need to bring with you to be comfortable and clean. You might be surprised by what you can—and can’t—find overseas!
- Official documents
You may need a copy of your diploma, transcript, or birth certificate to work legally in your new home. Sometimes electronic versions suffice, but check with an embassy or consulate to find out exactly what is required. Even if you already have a visa, you may need these documents to renew your contract, should you decide to do so—many people do! Learn more about the educational and visa requirements for specific countries on our Where You Can Teach page.
Charger adapters will almost certainly be on your list to ensure that you can charge your electronic devices effectively and safely. You should keep gadgets to a minimum, though. If you use a smartphone, tablet, and laptop in your daily life, perhaps bring two-out-of-three with you.
- Hobby items
If you want to be able to keep up with a hobby or two while you’re overseas, don’t hesitate to bring whatever specialized items you need. Whether that means specialty spices for your favorite recipes, a musical instrument to “wow” your students, or a fishing rod to enliven your weekends, these items should take priority over that third pair of jeans you were thinking about bringing.
- Keepsakes and memorabilia
A distinctive trinket or two from home can be the magic touch in making your new home or office feel more… homey! Decorating your classroom with photos of your family or postcards from your hometown can brighten an otherwise empty space. Such items are not only a comfort to you, but they will also allow your students to get to know you more quickly.
- Small gifts
Pack small gifts for your employer and/or co-workers. Of course, it is difficult to shop for someone you have never met, but a friendly gesture can go a long way, especially if you’ve brought something that is hard to obtain locally. Keep it small, though, both in physical size and price tag.
What Not to Bring Overseas!
Now that we’ve covered what you should bring when traveling overseas, here is a quick list of what not to bring:
- Anything needlessly bulky, like linens. Towels are too heavy, and sheets are better off purchased in country to ensure that they will fit your bed. Limit yourself to a travel pillow (inflatable, preferably) and a camp towel.
- Large electronics with a motor, like hairdryers. Even with proper adapters, such devices may be dangerous to use with a different power supply. It is safer and more convenient to simply buy these items in-country.
- Too much clothing! When in doubt, bring less. You’ll need a few professional outfits for work and clothing appropriate for weather extremes. Beyond this, unless you are certain that clothing in your new country will be unsuitable for you, plan to buy some there; you’ll save room in your bags, and blend in better once you get there by wearing local attire. (And while we’re on the subject, you might as well donate some of the clothing you’ll be leaving behind. Someone else needs it more than you do, and when you return home, it will be out of style anyway.)
Worried About Forgetting Something?
That’s okay. Pack a box of your extra belongings, and have a friend or family member mail it to you. Though airmail isn’t a bargain, it may be cheaper than airline oversize baggage fees—check prices carefully. If you have a month or two to spare, you can also ship a box by boat. Clothing for the opposite season would seem an obvious candidate for this. Though time consuming, this method is remarkably cost effective!
Depending on where you are traveling, certain items may be difficult to find. Doing your research is essential. Try to connect with someone who has taught in your new country or city. Find a forum or Facebook group of English teachers in your soon-to-be home. Most people who have spent time abroad are happy to answer your questions. Don’t be shy to ask!
Want to learn more about teaching English abroad, and what you need to make it a reality? Visit a free information session near you!
Written by Jeremy White
Jeremy White has lived and worked in several states and countries, most extensively as a TESOL instructor in South Korea. He has a master’s degree in linguistics and has taught Oxford Seminars courses in both New York and Minneapolis.