Packing for Moving Abroad: What will I need immediately when I get there?

During the planning stage of the move, I felt I wanted a checklist to tick off as I packed, just to keep everything in check, perhaps similar to lists I had been used in my years in scouting. In this post, I include thoughts and my experience during and after the move as well as planning checklists for parents moving abroad. Of course, everyone has a different story (see Our Story and Moving Abroad: What to do then? for more information), we decided to move in a house immediately so my checklists here reflect this choice.

It takes a number of weeks for a container to turn up. For us, it took 10 weeks. Without a good amount of determination, good will from everyone and some essentials, life can soon be harder, bringing down times and difficulties… Ten weeks with three kids can be long so better be best prepared in the packing phase! The packing phase was long, thinking about it every day for 6 months, but also very quick as when movers arrived they took over the house and it all went very quickly from that point so better be prepared…

During the planning phase, a number of questions came up: essential items, what to bring or not, what to sell or not, fear of forgetting something. I include different checklists related to these concerns and a checklist of items I did not think about, where I could have saved costs, if I had packed it.


We knew we had a lot coming in the container. We did not want to accumulate too much and spend too much money so it was important to buy the minimal initially. I include a checklist of items that I bought within a couple of days of being here, real essentials.

When we started planning our move back in the UK, I initially wanted to sell all kitchen electric stuff. It then became all a big mountain to sell everything and went on to sell more essential items we had to sell. We had a number of discussions and debates about what to bring or not. Some items may be precious to you and others not, and you then make a decision about what to keep or not. On hindsight, the decision would be perhaps better based on what needs to be bought straightaway. For example, toaster, kettle, cooking stuff were a must. I ended up buying these at low cost, because I knew we had our ‘nicer’ items coming in the container, but should I have sold these I would have replaced them with ‘nicer’ items here. We decided to bring all our televisions with us. We borrowed a television in the meantime. Good decision because our television was really good and it would have cost a lot of money to replace it. My point is here that there are a number of decisions that need to be taken during the planning phase and these will inevitably influence your packing.

We decided to bring our sleeping bags and very comfortable camping mats to sleep on initially. We did not decide what to do in the long run about sleeping arrangements. We were just going to see on the way. I had sold my youngest’s bed as he was ready to move into a bigger bed so I was able to replace it here straight away. For the rest of us, we eventually borrowed beds or bought at a cheap price beds. We also bought linen. I include a list of items we bought at a later stage and reasons for these decisions.

Avoidable expenses?

After a month of being there, my oldest went to a camp so I had to buy warmer clothing, boots, etc. as I had not planned for this in our luggage. Although these are unavoidable expenses, if you know the schools where your children will go to, you may want to contact prospective schools prior moving to ask whether they have planned activities within your first 10 weeks. These types of ‘out of the norm’ activities may need different items, and knowing about them, you could be prepared for them and pack consequently. Similarly, I had to buy all new uniforms for the children. On the first day of school, they did not want to look different so schools could be contacted about colours of uniform (or on their website) and you could pack similar coloured clothes for the first few days, until you can get to the school uniform shop.


Research the weather and seasons in the country you are going to to avoid surprises. Minus thirty in the winter in Canada is quite different to summer in Australia, although happening in the same months!

We brought summer clothes with us, but by the time our container arrived we had needed some warmer clothes for different reasons: cooler days, evenings or nights, activities in the woods, camp, warming up after swimming, basic heating system, changing weather. Some friends in Australia helped us in guiding what we should pack in terms of weather and clothing. Although we had some help, we have needed to buy some warmer clothes.

Technology difficulties

10 weeks on, we are still having IT problems. We packed phones but these were not fully ‘unlocked’. It has been particularly frustrating as we were initially unable to get in touch with each other with important issues to discuss. My husband was given a phone for work within a couple of days of us being there which was great. We thought we had unlocked my phone in the UK but it did not work. Children broke the screen of my Ipad so I was without any communication for a while. We eventually found an IT shop who have been great in helping sorting a few things, but overall we have had problems and communication initially was tricky. Don’t assume you will be able to get contracts with a phone company straight away. We were surprised to find out that you need to have a been a customer with a phone company for 6 months before you can get a phone with a contract. Also, don’t assume you will be able to have a connection for WI-FI/television straight away. It took a while to sort it all out. In fact, 5 weeks for television connection!

Checklist/Essentials items to pack  
Clothes for 10 weeks providing you have washing facilities. Clothes for job interviews/work. Clothes for preferred activities such as sports, etc.  
Shoes and trainers  
Comforters and favourite books  
Swimming stuff  
Car seat/stroller  
Small packsack (for school/nursery, plane journey, days out)  
Camping mats and sleeping bags  
Pillows or pillow case (stuffed with clothes) if no room for pillow  
Slippers, pyjamas  
Cosmetics and basic toiletries  
Bag of medication: paracetamol, any long-term medication such as contraceptives (for more than 2 months); don’t expect you will access to health care straight away, registration may take some time.  
Electronic devices/laptops with downloaded films/programs for the journey and initial days on arrival  
International electric plugs (as many as you have, you will need them)  
Cards and presents from friends  
Make sure movers do not pack essential paperwork such as passports, birth certificates, driving license, ‘baptism’ certificates, qualification papers, papers for your house and cars (if you are selling). Identification cards/papers you will need all the time, for lots of reasons. Although different important were sorted out on-line, we printed off the lease agreement, health insurance and visas; these were basically needed everywhere: registering with schools, childcare centres, medical centre, medical insurance, buying cars. For about 10 weeks, I carried a folder with all these papers with me. You will need identification papers for utilities and lots of reasons so best keep all these important papers at all time with you. I had them in my packsack on the plane, just in case our luggage got lost (It does happen a lot, trust me!)  
Bring with you, vaccination certificate for each child. I asked a full update at our clinic. Childcare centres and schools ask to see this and for children to be fully up to date to attend a setting (in Australia). I have heard some children can be denied entry to settings until full updated vaccination is done.  
Make sure your CV is up-to-date if you are looking for a job. Have copies with you; you may not have access to a printer straight away.  
Items I forgot/didn’t think about/could have saved costs  
Even if you are going to a hot country, pack some basics warm clothes. Speak to people about weather/read about weather and clothing  
Contact schools about special activities/uniform colours  
A bigger bag of toys/ Photographs/photo album to settle the children (see previous posts about my youngest who has found it difficult to settle)  
Sporting equipment that does not take too much space such as rackets  
Pack lunch boxes and water bottles  
Linen, duvet covers and sheets  
Towels/face cloths  
UNLOCKED phones…10 weeks on we are still having problems. Sell any unlocked phones before moving to save you time and money.  
Non-essential we enjoyed having with us  
Sonos: as soon as we had Wi-Fi in the house we were able to plug in the Sonos and play our playlists, a great comforter.  
Items we bought initially and a few weeks later  
Initially – within the first 2 weeks

  • As we were not intending to do camping, I did not think of bringing any cooking stuff. We got all the minimum pots, pans, wooden spoons, plates, glasses either from generous colleagues, charity shops or big surface store at a low cost. Costs can mount quickly. You could save by bringing with you plastic cups and plates, etc.
  • Towels/bathroom mats
  •  Toiletries
  • cleaning products, broom, dustpan and brush
  • Cooking/eating stuff: pots, pans, cutlery, plates, glasses
  • Food, spices, cupboard essentials
  • We also replaced some items we knew we had sold prior, not in the container, such as white goods (some brand new and some second hand, a hoover, a BBQ, bins (left all my rattan bins in the UK!)
  • Coffee machine, kettle, toaster
  • a few toys
  • swimming toys for the pool
A few weeks later

  • After 4 weeks on camping mattresses, we felt particularly uncomfortable (I was also worried about my husband who had been in hospital with a disc inflammation and still recovering) so we decided to borrow beds or buy cheaply on a local on-line selling page. We also bought low cost linen duvet covers, duvet and sheets.
  • We arrived at the end of summer so a few weeks later, evenings were darker, we bought some lamps for when the little one wakes up in the night.

Hope this helps anyone who may think of moving abroad!!!


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