International Travel Tips

Packing Tips

Due to personal differences in packing styles and the wide variety of Penn State program locations (and climates), it is difficult to recommend a definitive packing list.  Instead, please follow these general packing tips:

  • Do not pack more than you can carry on your own!  Pack your bags and try to carry them once around the block.  If you cannot manage, remove some items and repack!
  • Leave space in your suitcases for things you may want to buy abroad and bring home with you.
  • The type of clothing you pack will obviously depend on the climate of your host country.  Check the monthly average temperatures/rainfall in your host city to get an idea of what kind of weather you should expect during your time there.
  • Pack mostly practical items for your time abroad—washable clothes that you can wear for many occasions, comfortable shoes, etc.  Dark colors do not show dirt as quickly as whites or light colors. Avoid packing clothes that require ironing or dry cleaning.
  • Do not buy a lot of new clothes before going on your program—you will probably want to buy clothing abroad that is in sync with local styles.
  • When considering what to take abroad with you, think in terms of “can’t live without” rather than “just in case.” Don’t take anything irreplaceable (e.g., jewelry with sentimental value).
  • You can buy basic personal care items (shampoo, soap, etc.) in your host country.  Don’t take along excessive amounts of these types of items unless there is a particular brand that you cannot live without.
  • Do not pack any essentials or valuables (e.g., medicines, jewelry) in your checked luggage.  Keep all these things with you in your carry-on luggage.
  • Take only the credit cards and debit/ATM cards that you plan to use while you are abroad.  Keep these (along with other valuables such as your passport and any cash you are taking) in a money belt or pouch next to your body for the duration of your trip.  Leave copies of the front and back of these cards in a safe place and one set at home with your parents.
  • Mark your bags, inside and out, with your name, phone number and address (in case they are lost or delayed in transit).
  • Carry a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a washcloth, and facial cleanser in your carry-on bag.  If you discover that your checked luggage is lost or delayed after you arrive on-site, you will feel better if you are at least able to freshen up and put on something clean!
  • Remember to pack a converter and adapter if necessary for your electronics. It is recommended that you buy things like straightening irons and hair dryers in your country due to the change in currency (adapters do not tend to work well with these products).

Arrival in Country

Trying to navigate an unfamiliar airport (especially a large one!) can be particularly confusing if you are alone and jet-lagged.  Here are some tips to help you navigate arrival:

  1. Most airports are well-marked with signs designed to help orient visitors.  Pay attention to the signs, and you should be fine.
  2. If you need help go to the nearest information desk and ask for directions. Most information desk attendants speak several languages, including English. 
  3. Be on the lookout for the baggage claim area.  Try to collect your bags as promptly as possible after arrival.
    • Former participant’s tip: If you need to, use the restroom before collecting your luggage—there may not be another restroom between the baggage claim area and the exit door!
  4. Check your pre-arrival/welcome information from your host institution. Follow the directions provided to you whether you are meeting the program at the airport, or need to take a bus/taxi to your orientation site.
  5. Notify your family as soon as possible that you have arrived safely so they do not worry.


Staying in touch with family and friends will be important while you are abroad, especially when you are feeling a bit homesick or blue. However, it is also critical to strike a healthy balance between the time you spend communicating with folks at home and the time you spend exploring your host culture.  If you spend all your free time communicating with your parents and Penn State friends, you will have difficulty establishing friendships on-site and you may end up feeling disconnected from your host culture.  

Cell Phones

The world is more connected than ever, and that means that you have many options for cell phones while living abroad.

  1. Taking your U.S. cell phone abroad. Be sure to check with your cell phone provider here in the U.S. about international calling/texting plans. They can be quite expensive so you will want to know the costs well in advance.
  2. Purchasing a “pay-as-you-go” cell phone once abroad. It is generally quite easy to purchase a simple burner phone once arrive in your host country. These phones generally have a low monthly fee and then you can purchase minutes and data amounts. You only pay for what you use.
  3. Purchasing a local sim card for your U.S. phone. Another option is to purchase and international sim card upon arrival in your host country and place it into your U.S. cell phone. You will need to make sure your phone is unlocked prior to travel. And don’t lose the U.S. sim card! You will need to switch is back upon return to the U.S.

Once you arrive on-site the program staff can assist you in finding a cell phone option that fits your needs. Please see our page on Electronic Devices and Mobile Phones Abroad for more information.

International Mailing Customs

When mailing items to another country those items must be reviewed and cleared by customs. Some items may not be legal to ship to another country, or may require a heavy tax to be paid before they are released to you. The recommendation of the EA office is that you do not mail any valuable electronics, medications, or anything that you would be upset to lose. If you need it while you are abroad, take it with you on the plane!