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What to pack (and what to leave behind) when you move to America in 2024

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You've likely spent a number of years building up your life with all sorts of big and small items. Some are very important to you, and others are just day to day necessities, but when it comes to packing items and moving across the world to another country, defining what's essential and what should be left behind is important for both your sanity and your wallet; so what should you pack and what you should you leave?

Before I moved to the US, I owned a small two bedroom home and it was filled with all sorts of items and knick-knacks that I'd collected along my thirty-nine years. I remember vividly that my housemate at the time (who had moved country before) was helping me break my items into piles:

“You get three piles: Things you absolutely need to take, things you're still deciding on (the maybe pile) and things you know you don't need to take.

I spent a few days and weeks breaking everything into these three piles so I could see what needed to be packed and prepared. Once I finished, my housemate moved everything from the maybe pile to the no pile, and then explained that if it's maybe, then it doesn't need to go with you, which makes it part of the “no” pile. The “no” pile was then either donated, sold, given away or trashed.

What to do with the things you can't bring with you

This ruthless maneuver of my housemate was shocking to me because so many of the no-pile items were important to me, but what she was trying to get across to me was that when you move overseas you quickly realize that those important things are easily replaced and the memories of the old items can be kept through photos.

I now tell people to replicate this exact process, and once you've moved everything to the no pile, take photos of everything that's important to you, and save them in a folder on your phone.

If you ever want to reminisce, they're all there, and it turns out in the vast majority of cases, the actual item wasn't important, it was the story that came with it, so a photo does just fine!

Should you just move everything you are leaving into storage?

I can say this with almost 100% certainty: No. Don't do this.

Every single person (without exception, to the date of writing) who has moved things into storage will say to me some form of:

I can't even remember what's in there!?

My point is that even if you think “I absolutely need to keep this important items” there's a high chance that once it's out of sight, it's out of mind, and because you can't readily access it from overseas, you will likely just have the burden of paying for storage long term, and ultimately having to go back, unpack, and then give it all away or sell it at a later date (when it's now a bit shabbier, a bit older, and a little harder to move).

Unless your move overseas is a year or less (or you are on a very strict timeline with absolutely no chance of change), I wouldn't recommend this path. You don't want things worrying you from your home country and you want to leave your options open wherever possible, so storage is never the answer.

What items are crucial and must be brought with you?

In my experience this pile is much smaller than you might think, even if you're looking around your home right now and thinking “I can't possibly part with these things”.

I know I just said above not to pack everything in storage, but there is a logic to short term bringing seasonal things if you have the ability to easily store for a few months between visits where you'll then bring a second round of items.

In my two suitcases, I prioritized what I needed for the next three months as I knew I would have to leave and return to Australia before moving again. So I had two sets of packing ready and stored things (lucky for me) with my parents for three months. This was much more cost-effective than buying extra suitcases and wheeling four of them through JFK.

First things first, the priority essentials are important to pack and have access to

Don't pack your passport in your luggage, if you're going to need insurance documents, birth/marriage certificates, prescriptions (see below) and any other official documentation, be sure to store it flat, throw a piece of something firm in with it so it doesn't get crumpled, and carry it with you in your hand-luggage.

You don't want to lose these items on a move.

Should I pack all my clothes for a move?

90% of what I brought to the US was clothes, and for the most part, I made some good decisions. Your basics (the things you actually wear all the time) are your primary concern, and making sure you don't have to go buy underpants on day three of your new life in the US is crucial to your sanity.

There'll also be the nicer items that you've got (suits, gowns, dresses, and your going-out chinos) which are definitely good to pack, because the high ticket, high quality items should travel well and you don't want to have to re-purchase all of these again.

If you are from a warmer country (like Australia) moving to a cooler part of the US then avoid bringing the heavier items like jackets and boots, because the quality you can get in the US is much greater and for relatively cheaper. These items are big and bulky and will require you to sacrifice space where you could have packed other items.

Shoes are a tough one because I know lots of you have lots of shoes, but prioritize to categories of essentials and cull as many as you can, they're big!

But this is your chance to remove all the items that “you'll maybe wear one day” or that you don't actually like but keep in the cupboard just in case. Donate them, give them to friends, this is your best opportunity to start fresh.

What about toiletries and personal care items

If you've got some favorites, this is important to have stock of and enough supply for some time because not everything will be available in your new home.

This is especially important for items like tampons, sexual health items, and other more sensitive items that you may not want to have to find in a pinch.

Also worth noting is that things like sunscreens and moisturizers can have different chemical make-ups in the US compared to what you're used to, so be sure to do some research in case you have sensitivities.

Should I bring all my electronics and appliances overseas?

No. You really shouldn't. You will need adapters (the small little travel things) all over your home, and in some cases big and bulky step up/down convertors as well.

To work out whether you'd need a big and bulky convertor, you can look on the back of the item you're thinking about packing and seeing if it says “110V/240V” or if it says “240V”. If it says the latter, you will need to invest in one (or more) large item convertors that will fill up your new home quickly.

Bring your electric toothbrush, and your phone adapter, and your Playstation, sure, but leave everything from the kitchen at home, and certainly no major appliances. They're huge, they'll require all sorts of work in your luggage, and they're ultimately not worth it.

What about the furniture I love, should I bring that?

Honestly, no, again.

Furniture is large, it requires shipping, and it will likely get you into a one-on-one with a shipping company now explaining that customs is holding your items and needs another few thousand dollars to inspect and release it (this isn't a scam by the way, it's real, and it's pricey).

I know you love that lamp, and I know that bed you've got is perfect, but leave it behind, and find your new perfect setup in your new home. You will need furniture that fits, and you will need items that work in your new arrangement.

You will also likely not see this furniture for 6+ months while it ships over, so you'll have to buy interim furniture anyway, and then you'll find new things you like, and it's really just a nightmare.

Can I bring along all my medicines?

Be sure to check with official resources like the FDA before you do this. There are strict rules about what you can and cannot bring, and you will likely need proof of what you're bringing with fresh prescriptions, and a limited supply on it (do not go out and buy 12-months of prescriptions before you do this because in many cases it's not permitted).

Check with your doctor, create a plan, know what insurance is required, and make this a priority.

What about things that bring me joy like games, and paintings and pictures?

I'm never going to be the one to tell you to leave your happiness behind. This adventure is going to be big and scary and having some trappings of home are always worth it.

Pack the small things, pack the teddy bear, and in my case, pack the Playstation.

These are worth it, and will make you happier in the darker days of your move. But limit it to the absolute top-priority essentials. Bring one frame, not eight, and take photos of the rest. Paintings can be removed from their mount or frame and rolled, so you can re-mount them at the other end to save yourself the worry and hassle of shipping large, bulky, and fragile items.

I'm big into board games, and some fit into your hand luggage, but if it's a huge box, it's likely not worth it, but that one's up to you, I get it.

Where should you start shopping for new items?

I've got a list of brands and items I recommend here!

A quick note about affordability and wastage

I want to completely acknowledge that this concept of getting rid of the majority of what you own and starting fresh is only possible for some and can cost a significant amount of money. It's not easy.

That being said, when you're planning a move overseas there will be significant costs involved in setting up, and that's definitely something you should consider before going on this adventure. Also worth noting is that moving big items, and moving a vast amount of anything, is going to cost you a lot of money, and storing things for long periods is also not financially sound.

I do acknowledge though that you might need to bring some more with you at the very beginning to avoid costs, so my advice above is very much the harshest version of the decision, and you can work your way back as you require.

Secondly, I know it appears very wasteful to buy all new things, but I want to emphasize that the things you currently own don't all need to be thrown away, and in fact, if the things you have are in good working order, they can go on and live very happy lives without you being donated, sold, or given away.

Take this opportunity to be the most generous version of yourself, and do some people around you a massive favor.

Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

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