It’s a buzzing time for a lot of you right now! You got your official email and letter from your host university; you’re going to Korea! Congratulations!
But then a sense of dread sets in as you have to figure out everything you need to do before you go. Where are you going to live? What are you gonna pack?! I know that panic very well.
Packing for study abroad is nothing like anything I’ve ever done. You have to keep in mind the seasons that you’ll be exposed to, the things you’ll do, and somehow stuff your entire life into 2 suitcases, a carry-on, and a personal item.
Keep reading until the very end for a gift from me!
No matter how hard I looked for a comprehensive packing list that I could adapt before going abroad, the only one I seemed to find was HerCampus, which was fine, but it really took some adapting for me to get the list that I have today.
In case this page looks different to you, I actually updated it to include insight from after my trip. The first thing I did was upload and clean up my final, detailed packing list. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about specifically what I brought to Seoul with me, so here’s an easy, central place for that. See detailed packing list here! (Please be aware that this list may have affiliate links which give me a small commission at no cost to you) Without further ado, let me give you my top tips on packing for study abroad in Korea!
Keep important stuff in your personal item or carry-on
I cannot stress this enough. It’s more than just packing things you’ll need while you’re traveling, but also anything that you’re afraid of getting stolen or damaged. Expensive technology, jewelry, travel itinerary, sensitive documents, and others of the like should 100% be in a backpack or something that you personally can supervise.
Plan for the seasons of your visit
Korea and Philly have very similar climates, so I ended up bringing a lot of stuff that I would normally just wear at home. If you’re staying for Spring Semester, you’ll want cooler clothes, and Fall Semester folks want to bring warmer clothes.
From June to September, it’s pretty hot and humid, it’s relatively cooler from October to November, and bouts of coldness roll in around December to February/March. Refreshing Spring gusts of wind roll in around late March/early April and the cycle repeats itself. However, be aware that showing cleavage is not greatly looked in the culture, so leave the plunging necklines at home, ladies!
Come up with everything that you use on a regular basis
Yes, list it all! I mean EVERYTHING because you’re gonna cull that down it a bit. It’s easy to forget about laundry detergent, hand soap, and other things (especially if you’re like me and don’t buy those ever). Even if you think it’ll be offered to you, write it down first. You’ll thank me later. Realistically, you should pack a full 2 weeks worth of clothes with a little room for error, and for shopping! Don’t forget that you can layer up for the colder months if applicable.
Review your accommodations and host university requirements
Do they offer linens or do you have to bring your own? What’s the policy on laundry and dishwashing? How much overall storage are you going to have access to? These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking. Now go back to your list and cross out anything that will already be there when you arrive.
Also consider your host university’s requirements as far as documentation. Korea uses passport photos for almost all types of applications, so you should stick a couple of those in your wallet before you go. This is a cheap way of doing it that only requires a white background, a smartphone, and access to printing a 4×6 on glossy paper.
Consider your luggage limit
Most flights from the US to Incheon International Airport support two checked bags around 50 pounds, a carry-on piece of luggage, and a personal item that goes under the seat. You can fit a lot of stuff in a combined 100-pound load, but also think about what you want to carry, and how you’re getting from the airport to wherever your next stop is.
If you’re taking a lot of bags, it’ll limit what you can and can’t ride to get to your destination. For example, if you bring 4 pieces of luggage, your most comfortable option is going to be a taxi, which gets pretty expensive, while if you settle for less, you might be able to catch the subway into Seoul.
What stuff can you buy?
Obviously, you can’t fit EVERYTHING in your suitcases, so some things are just gonna be picked up when you get there. Toiletries, with the exception of necessary specialty items (say, deodorant) can definitely be picked up at places like Olive Young, Watson’s, emart and HomePlus. If you have a specific hair texture that requires special products, you’re better off just packing that in your luggage.
You might also want to buy clothes to spice up the selection of outfits, so consider leaving a little room in your mirage of bags for spontaneous trips to underground shopping centers and trendy road shops. The closer your body type is to native Koreans, the more likely you might come back with a whole new wardrobe (not opening THAT can of worms!). However, if you’re a bit curvy or taller than the average Korean, you’ll want to bring a little more.
You know what you need better than anyone else
People are quick to say what you do and don’t need, but if there happens to be something you can’t live without (and be reasonable here), don’t guilt yourself out of bringing it. I rely on a lot of tech on my day-to-day, and there are days when my hair has a mind of its own, so as a precaution I brought my must-have items.
Whatever you may end up packing, be prepared for things to come up that you didn’t anticipate! A packing list and planning ahead is just a security measure to reduce that inevitable emergency trip to the store.
Don’t stress too much about packing, and I hope you found this helpful! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
Update 8/8/2017: Merged Packing List posts due to redundancy
Update 1/1/2018: New Packing List!
As a gift for reading to the end (or maybe you just scrolled down, I won’t judge you), I have something to share! I will send you an updated, clean, and final version of my packing list from my study abroad experience. Just click on the image (or this link) to sign up!
**Set printing options to Fit to Page in order to avoid accidental cropping!**