What to pack when relocating to another country? A checklist

What should you pack when moving to a new country? Of course it depends where you’re moving to. And how much you crave your home goodies. But an international move is a great reason to declutter.

Scrap, Sell, Store, Ship

Follow the rule: first priority is to scrap it. If you really can’t throw it away, then sell it. If that doesn’t work, then you might just have to store it. Finally, and only if essential, ship it.

As for the ship bit, there are a few essentials that I reckon would come in handy on pretty much any international move abroad.

Beware however that this is a generic list and you should always check any restrictions for the country you’re moving to. For example, Saudi Arabia forbids any alcohol or alcohol making kits, communication gadgets such as walkie talkies and natural pearls, while fashion magazines may be categorized as pornographic and confiscated too.

With that taken into account, load up the container, it’s time to pack…

  1. Medicine. Even the most developed countries can run out of specialist medicines or perhaps they just don’t stock the treatment you’re used to. Check the expiry dates on your pills, lotions and potions and stock up as needed. If you’re moving from the UK with kids, Calpol should be top of your list.
  2. Specialist health foods and supplements. Rules and inspections vary from country to country, so don’t risk a jail sentence for a tub of spirulina. (Click here for the rules for bringing food into Chile). However if you’re on any specialist diet then you might like to check expiry dates and sneak in some staples. Here in Chile, I now wish I’d brought nutritional yeast, coconut oil, hemp powder and other vegan alternatives. Some countries are not so bad, but others charge an excessive amount for vitamins and supplements, and they’re often loaded with sugar and artificial colours. You might like to check the expiry dates and pack a few bottles too.
  3. Gifts. Gifts for the personal assistant, for the relocation agent, for the last minute dinner party invitations, for the ‘sorry neighbour, I promise to try to shut my dog / baby up’ moments. If you’re coming from the UK brands like Jo Malone, Harrods, or anything with the royal seal tend to go down well. Recognised brands of liquor (think Bollinger, Johnnie Walker Blue Label etc) are a good bet too. If you’re travelling to a developing country, you might like to consider taking some small souvenirs for less fortunate children. I wish I’d packed more football memorabilia when staying in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon (by the way, why does every foreign kid support Manchester United?!)
  4. Electronics. Check the power supply voltage in your new host country – you may need to buy a converter. Depending on where you’re moving to, you might want to buy software, computer gadgets and cables in advance, but only if the voltage is compatible. Check the power sockets and pack plenty of travel adapters. As long as they’re not too large or heavy, pack any valuable gadgets in your hand luggage though.
  5. Bedding. We have a German bed, a Spanish mattress, a Belgian mattress topper and British sheets. Nothing fits. Save yourself the headache and sort your bedding before you move.
  6. Toiletries. Some countries’ pharmacies are rare skin care treasure troves. Others are not. If you do track down any lux beauty store, chances are it’ll be fake in a lot of countries (‘Channel’ eyeliner from Delhi, anyone?) Sun protection and many other creams do expire fairly quickly, so don’t go overboard, but you might like to bring along a few of your beauty faves.
  7. Books. Yes I know we’re living in the 21st century and there is this gadget called a Kindle, but nothing replaces a good book, especially if you’re having a homesickness moment. In some countries you’ll struggle to find literature in your native language and it’s a good idea to take a few hardbacks along. Pack them in a plastic container – mould can set in if they’re packed in cardboard boxes alone. When you run out of good reads, The Book Depository offers free shipping to lots of countries (but not all, and books can take up to a month to arrive).
  8. Furniture. OK, so this one depends. If you’re moving to a city with a high proportions of expats, and you’re not adverse to buying vintage you might be lucky enough to stumble on some super second hand deals. Expats leaving Switzerland at short notice provided us with much better goods we could ever find in a lot of UK based stores. If you’re moving for a short term assignment only, you might prefer to put your most valuable items in storage and make do with Ikea (if it exists in your new host country) for the meantime.
  9. Home comforts. Don’t misunderstand me – this is not an invitation to clutter up. Clutter will weigh you (and your spirits) down. But we all have ‘those days’ and home comforts you truly cherish such as photos should take pride of place. A few sensory treats – a scented candle which reminds you of somewhere special, favourite perfumes, that cashmere sweater that hugs you to sleep – they can come too.

Bon voyage!


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