International Students: Prepare to Study in the U.S. With This College Checklist

What should you bring to the U.S. before starting college? What should you leave behind? Get tips with our college checklist for international students.
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  • Bringing items and mementos from home can help stave off homesickness.
  • Make sure to fill prescriptions and gather critical documents before leaving your home country.
  • It's a good idea to bring a laptop, a backpack, and an adapter.
  • Consider renting or borrowing textbooks instead of buying them.

Studying in a foreign country can be an exciting but daunting experience, especially when attending college.

Compared to domestic learners, international students face additional challenges, such as extensive paperwork and planning. However, by packing the right items and preparing accordingly, you can set yourself up for a successful first year of college in the United States.

This guide will explore what you need to know to prepare for college as an international student in the U.S.

4 Things to Do Before You Get to Campus

International students in the U.S. often need to go through several more steps than domestic learners. As a result, it's important you start this process early.

Check with the international students' office at your school for details. This office should offer cultural and academic support and an on-campus global community to connect with.

1. Gather All Necessary Documents

U.S. colleges and universities require you to submit documentation proving you're in the country legally to study. Many colleges provide students with advisors to help them gather the necessary forms. Knowing what documents to bring to college can help avoid potential issues later.

Required items often include the following:

  • Passport and valid U.S. student visa
  • Form I-20
  • Any other immigration documents
  • Acceptance letter from the college and other correspondence with the school
  • Proof of financial support
  • Record of required immunizations
  • Health insurance information

2. Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

Current CDC guidelines require all nonimmigrant, non-U.S. citizens — including international students — entering the United States by plane to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. To meet this requirement, you must have received both doses in a two-dose series (as of March 2023, booster shots are not required for entry).

Additionally, many U.S. colleges require incoming students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

3. Confirm Your Class Schedule

Be sure to confirm your class schedule and that you've registered for courses required by your degree program. A U.S. student visa may require international students to maintain full-time status, meaning taking too few classes could complicate your time abroad.

4. Reserve and Pay for Housing

Whether you want to live in an on-campus dorm or an off-campus house or apartment, finding housing as soon as possible is important. Before you arrive, reserve your room on campus or use your school's resources to find off-campus options.

If you want a roommate, take time searching for one who meshes well with your personality and overall lifestyle. You can use social media, email, and video chat to get to know a prospective roommate before agreeing to live with them.

What Should You Bring From Your Home Country?

Figuring out what to pack can feel overwhelming. Here's a short list to help you prioritize the essentials.

  • Photos and Mementos: Feeling homesick is completely normal in college, especially for students thousands of miles from home. Bringing photographs, small decorative items, and even food items you can only find in your home country can help mitigate homesickness and make you feel more comfortable in your new environment.
  • Laptop and Electrical Adapter: Bringing a laptop from your home country could help you save money. If you do this, however, make sure you have the proper plug adapter for your laptop and any other electronics you plan to bring from home.
  • Backpack or Bookbag: When you have multiple classes in a row and no time to stop in your dorm or apartment, finding a suitable backpack is key to carrying all your textbooks without hurting your back.
  • Prescription Medications: If you take any prescription medications, you'll need to bring them with you to the U.S. Note that you can only bring 90 days of medication, but your doctor may be able to transfer your prescription to a local pharmacy. Bring a doctor's note and a copy of your prescription (in English) for when you go through customs.
  • Seasonal Clothing: Rather than packing your entire wardrobe, try to pack appropriate clothing for the climate where your college is located. For schools in the Northeast, for example, fall-term items might include a mix of T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, scarves, sweaters, and winter shoes. As long as you plan to return home for winter break, you can bring more spring-friendly items later.
Studying in the U.S. as an international student can be a stressful process. Here’s everything you need to know to make your transition smoother.

What Should You Buy After You Get to Campus?

While it's best to bring the items above with you, here are a few things you should wait to get until you arrive on campus.

Dorm Essentials

Your housing space will likely be pretty empty once you arrive, so stock up on dorm essentials right away. Some items to put on your list include bedding, a laundry hamper, toiletries, storage containers, utensils, and a small trash can. Depending on what your college offers and whether you live on campus, you may also need to buy furniture.

School Supplies

Creating a college supplies checklist can help ensure you don't show up to your first class without an essential item. Whether you decide to shop off campus or visit your campus bookstore, make sure you buy all the essentials for school, including pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, and a planner.


There are several ways to save on college textbooks, though they can still be expensive. For starters, decide whether renting or buying textbooks makes more sense for you. If you're taking a class outside your major, you may be able to rent books or borrow them from the library or a friend. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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