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What to bring

Before you start packing, there are many things to consider. How much can you bring? What is safe to bring? Will you bring it with you to the United States or send it separately? This section will help you understand how to get your luggage safely from your home country to the United States.

Airline Baggage Allowance
There is a limit to the amount of baggage you can take with you on an airplane. The number of pieces of baggage and the size and weight of those pieces determine this limit. Confirm your airline's baggage allowance when you purchase your ticket. Be aware that allowances to North America are often more generous than allowances elsewhere in the world. Regulations are subject to change.

Since most people travel economy class, the following limitations are given as guidelines. To North America, passengers are usually allowed two pieces of baggage, plus one small piece of hand or carry-on baggage that can be carried onto the airplane and must be able to fit under the seat. Each piece must not surpass a certain weight and size restriction, as established by the airline. If your luggage exceeds these limitations, you will be asked to pay excess baggage charges.

What to Bring With You

"I brought a lot of clothing with me. I figured that since I was leaving for two years, I should have clothes for many types of occasions. However, when I got to America I soon noticed that fashions here were quite different from the ones in my country. I ended up buying more clothes, already in the first few weeks, mostly because I liked them but also because I wanted to fit in, to look like the others. I also ended up spending a lot of money on winter clothes since I was not well prepared for cold weather. Our foreign student adviser took a few foreign students and myself on a field trip to the local department store to show us what was recommended to wear in the winter. I still wear some of the clothes I brought from my country, but most of it is now just using up space in my small dormitory room!"      - Sanjay, India

What you bring with you is largely a matter of personal choice. You will have to carry whatever you bring, so it is in your interest to keep it light and compact.

Start to pack early, so that excess weight and bulk can be eliminated and essential items not overlooked. Do not worry if you cannot bring everything, since most goods are available in a wide range of prices in the United States. Small items can be sent by airfreight or through the postal system. Shipping by sea can take several months.

Do bring:

  • A good bilingual dictionary, since it might not be possible to obtain one for your language in the United States.
  • All of your essential identification papers and documents, to be carried on your person or in your hand baggage. Do not put important documents in bags you have checked onto the plane; keep them in your hand luggage.
  • Books, manuals or journals that you think might be useful for reference in your field of study and that definitely will not be available in the United States.
  • Pictures of your family, home, and country, for yourself but also to show to your new friends.
  • Items from your culture, such as musical instruments, recordings of traditional and contemporary music, picture books, arts and crafts, and small gifts, to share your talents and customs with people in the United States. For festive occasions, you might consider bringing traditional dress and accessories from your country. This would be a great way to show and tell Americans more about your culture and traditions.
  • A camera so you will have souvenirs of your time in the United States after you return home.

Things to Leave at Home
You can obtain a booklet on customs regulations at the consulate or embassy where you acquire your visa. Prohibited items include some foodstuffs, narcotics, weapons and items for resale. The U.S. Customs Service also provides this information on their Web site at

Do not bring:

  • Things you can easily buy in the United States, such as notebooks, pens, paper (paper in the United States is of a slightly different size than in countries following the metric system), toiletries, towels or bed sheets. These items will take up valuable space in your luggage.
  • Food, seeds or plants. The United States has very strict restrictions on importing foods, perishables and agricultural goods into the country.
    • Books that can easily be obtained in U.S. libraries. Some universities have their library catalog on the Internet, where you can check the availability of books. You can also contact the university library staff to verify the availability of any essential books. You can usually also obtain books through interlibrary loans.
  • Animals.
  • Medications, unless you have written prescriptions from a doctor.
    • Expensive jewelry, treasured possessions, family heirlooms, or delicate things, since there is always a chance that these items can get lost, stolen or damaged during travel or during your stay.
  • Firearms, knives, weapons or articles that could be perceived as weapons.
  • Narcotics or drugs.
  • Any article of clothing, artifact or medicine made from endangered animals.
  • Electrical appliances. Appliances in the United States work on a 115 volts and 60 cycles system. It is usually best to purchase electrical items in the United States, especially if you plan to live in university housing, as some items will not be allowed. Most items are reasonably priced. Also note that video systems, including televisions, VCRs, and DVD players (including those in laptop computers), use different systems in different parts of the world, and those you bring from home are unlikely to be compatible with the U.S. media.

Protecting Your Baggage
Be sure that you clearly label every piece of luggage with your name, U.S. address and a telephone number. Identification tags are available from the airline, but sturdier luggage tags or labels are recommended. For additional security, you might also want to put a label or luggage tag inside your luggage.

Baggage insurance protects you against loss, damage or theft of your baggage.
You should have enough clothing and personal items packed in your carry-on baggage to last for a couple of days in the event your checked luggage is lost or sent to the wrong destination. Be sure to pack prescription medicine, eyeglasses, or other important items in your carryon baggage.

NOTE: Never leave your baggage unattended. You must always be alert to the possibility of theft.

Unaccompanied Baggage
Personal belongings that are sent separately are called "unaccompanied baggage." Such baggage may be taken with you as "excess baggage" (but the cost is high) or sent by mail or private carrier, by land, air or sea.

Usually it is more convenient to take packages to your local post office, rather than to a shipping company or an air cargo terminal. Mail also has the advantage of arriving at your address, rather than at a shipping dock or customs area. However, there are limitations on the size and weight of packages being mailed. Check with your post office about sending such packages to the United States. Ask about rates, regulations, and estimates of how long it will take for your packages to arrive at your college or university in the United States. Items too large or too heavy to meet postal regulations must be sent via a shipping company, either by air or by surface

Shipping Agents
The procedures for shipping are complicated and time-consuming, and students often employ the services of a shipping agent or freight-forwarding company. The agent can make arrangements for transporting the item to the air- or sea-cargo terminal for shipment to the United States. The agent also usually can arrange to have the shipment cleared through customs at the point of entry into the United States and can have it sent by road or rail to you. International Air Transport Association (IATA) agents are recommended. Ask your travel agent or an airline representative for the name of a reliable shipping agent.

Shipping by Air
It is possible to pay for excess baggage and have your extra baggage sent on the same flight you take to the United States. This, however, can be very expensive. It is best to investigate in advance and compare prices with shipping agents. Airlines have size restrictions (approximately two meters). If you have a large item, talk to the airline agent about it. They might accept it as part of your baggage if you pay extra fees; if not, you might have to ship it by air or sea cargo.

International airlines sometimes have air cargo services. There are also independent air cargo companies; however, these companies may not have offices in a large city near you and may fly goods only to large cities or airports in which they have regular service. It would be your responsibility to claim the shipment, pass it through customs, and get it to your residence. Ask your travel agent or airline representative about air cargo services.

Shipping by Sea
Shipping cargo by sea is, of course, far slower than by air, but depending upon how much you ship, it may be less expensive. You would have to claim your packages at the port of entry, clear them through customs, and either transport them yourself to your residence or pay additional handling fees.

Regardless of how you ship unaccompanied baggage, mark all baggage clearly with your name and your U.S. address. Write directly on the box or on an address label secured with wide, transparent tape over the writing.

Baggage Customs
Be sure to declare unaccompanied baggage at customs when you enter the United States. When you pick up the parcels in the United States, you might have to pay duty (import tax). Ask about this when you make arrangements with the carrier you have chosen.


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