What to Pack for Your Dorm Room: A Guide for International Students - United Sports USA
What to Pack for Your Dorm Room: A Guide for International Students

One of the most exciting – and terrifying – parts of going to college in the United States is the idea of living in a dorm. Depending on what type of housing the college offers and how lucky you get with dorm assignments, you could end up in (relatively) spacious digs all by yourself, or you could be in a tightly cramped dorm with 3 other students whom you may or may not get along with.

How are you supposed to prepare for this new life in a dorm room?

The first thing you need to know is that dorm rooms are basically blank cubes when you move in. Most don’t have more than a bed and mattress, a dresser, desk, and lamp for each resident. To make the dorm room liveable and homey, you will need to bring in a lot of your own items. For US students, this is a difficult task but it is even tougher for international students who somehow have to pack everything into suitcases which hopefully won’t go too far over the airplane luggage weight limit.

Here are some tips on what you should bring for your dorm room as an international student.  To learn more about how college housing works, read this article.


Find Out How Much You Can Bring On the Airplane

Before you even start making your college packing list, you should find out about airplane luggage limits. You will also need to find out how much extra luggage costs. This is important because then you can decide whether it makes more sense to bring certain items from home or to buy them when you arrive. Oftentimes, it makes more sense to buy cheap items like towels once you arrive rather than pay the airline fee for extra luggage.

With most airlines, the following restrictions apply:

  • You are allowed one checked bag weighing a maximum of 50lbs (23kg). The bag can be a maximum of 62 inches (157cm) when you total the length, width, and height together.
  • Bags weighing between 51-70lb (23-32kg) will incur an additional fee. Bags weighing more than 70lbs will have to be shipped separately as cargo.
  • Sporting goods, such as golf clubs, can usually be taken as part of your normal baggage allowance so long as the equipment is packed properly and doesn’t go over the weight or size allowance.
  • You are allowed one handbag up to 16x12x6inches (40x30x15cm) with a maximum weight of 50lbs (23kg).

How much will extra luggage cost you? It depends on the carrier. For example, Delta charges $100 for a second checked bag on USA-UK flights. British Airways charges $90 for a second bag.

Tip: If your parent/s are going to be traveling with you for dorm move-in day, take advantage of their luggage allowance!


Items to Bring With You

Important Documents:

Keep these documents organized in a folder and pack them on your carry-on bag and NOT your checked bag. Make a photocopy of any originals and store the photocopies online (such as by emailing them to yourself). Also make sure your parents have copies of important documents so they can send them to you. These documents may include:

  • Your passport
  • I-20 (student visa)
  • Admission letter
  • Flight information
  • Academic documents (diploma, letter of recommendation, school transcripts)
  • Driver’s license
  • Health insurance documents
  • Medical records
  • Prescriptions you take
  • Contact list (don’t rely on phone numbers and addresses stored in your phone – it could get lost or stolen)

Photographs and Mementos from Home:

You can buy pretty much everything you need for your dorm once you arrive, but you can’t buy memories from home. Bring some photos of your friends and family members, or anything else which you connect to home. These will help you through any homesickness that you get while studying abroad.

Important Electronics:

Remember that any electronics you bring from home aren’t going to work in US electrical sockets. You will need to bring an adapter with you (or rush out and buy one right when you arrive). Of course, you could also buy some electronics when you arrive, but these ones make more financial sense to bring with you from home:

  • Your local phone: You probably won’t be able to use your local phone in the USA, but you still need to bring it with you, along with an electric adapter. This phone will be invaluable when you fly back home and want to get in touch with family and friends.
  • Your laptop, tablet, external hard drives, e-reader, and other important academic electronics
  • Headphones: You’ll want these for blocking noise while studying


Don’t wait until you arrive to get a backpack. You will need this from day one!


Be practical when packing your clothes. You’ll probably spend a lot of your time in sweat pants while lounging around in your dorm. You’ll want to pack one dressier outfit to wear, such as for when attending university functions or banquets. Also make sure to pack a bathrobe to wear during the walk between the communal bathroom to your dorm room.

Remember that you can always buy any clothing items that you forget or need more of – such as socks and underwear. So try to fill your suitcase with clothing items which are pricier, like making sure to bring your good boots for winter (if you are studying in a cold climate) and your good rain jacket. Socks can be bought for cheap, but buying a new rain jacket will take a big toll on your student budget!

Dorm Items to Buy When You Arrive

Don’t stress too much about how you will be able to buy all of these items. Someone at your college will offer to drive you to the store for a big shopping trip. You can also coordinate with your new roommate about buying certain bigger items like an area rug.  Here are some of the things you’ll want to pick up:

Academic and Study Items:

  • Printer, printer paper, and ink
  • Notebooks and organizers
  • Pens, pencils, highlighters


  • Sheets (Find out the dorm bed size before buying sheets!)
  • Blankets/quilts
  • Pillow covers
  • Extra pillow/s

Bathroom and Grooming Items:

  • Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and conditioner
  • Other toiletries like q-tips, nail clippers, mouthwash, contact solution, deodorant, etc.
  • Mini first-aid kit
  • Shower caddy (for carrying items to the dorm bathroom)
  • Portable makeup kit (if you wear makeup)
  • Hair dryer
  • Shower flip flops
  • Towels and washcloths

Organization and Furnishing Items:

  • Bed risers: These lift your dorm bed so you can fit more items underneath it
  • Rug
  • Additional seating (such as a folding chair)
  • Storage bins for under the bed
  • Other storage items, such as shoe caddies and plastic crates
  • Laundry bag
  • Clothes hangers
  • Lamps
  • Bulletin board or dry erase board
  • Posters, photographs, and other décor
  • Mirror

Other Items

  • Mini refrigerator
  • Microwave, hot plate, coffeemaker, etc. (check your college’s rules about these first!)
  • Surge protectors
  • Extension cords
  • Fan

Cleaning and Food Items

  • Handheld mini vacuum
  • Unbreakable dishes, cups, and mugs
  • Utensils, bottle opener, can opener
  • Water filter pitcher
  • Small plastic food storage tubs
  • Trashcan and trash bags
  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover
  • Small broom and dust pan

Don’t stress too much about getting every single item on the dorm room checklists. You won’t know until you arrive which items you really need (such as whether your dorm mate was kind enough to bring a mirror, or whether you really need your own microwave or can use the one in the commons room). In no time, your blank boring dorm room will soon feel like home!