As someone who has studied abroad in London 3 times, did her Master’s Degree in London, and now works in study abroad in London, I can think of no better person to be bringing you this London study abroad packing list!
I get it.
Packing for study abroad in London can be daunting.
Hey, sidenote! If you’re traveling to the UK or live in the UK, whether for a short period of time or as an expat, why don’t you join my Facebook group where you can ask questions, get advice or just look at pretty pictures of this part of the world! Just click here to request to join and I’ll add you!
You can also check out my ultimate guide to visiting London here, which comes with 70+ topics including how to stay safe in London, how to budget for London, and what to skip in the city!
Not only are you limited on space, but you’re also limited on knowledge of what to bring.
I mean, the things to do in London in the summer are completely different from the activities you’ll be partaking in in the winter, and it can be hard to know how to dress for it all.
I remember packing for my first semester in London and I basically threw a bunch of random clothes in a suitcase and hoped for the best (which actually is how I still pack, some things never change)
You may find yourself in the same predicament, so I’ve included some essentials to give you a starting point.
Firstly, no matter your reason for being here, you need the best book on living in the UK for Americans ever written – the book is called “Girl Gone London: An American’s Guide to Surviving Life in the UK” and you should click here and check it out.
I also may have written it, so I’m biased. But truly, if you’re coming to the UK as an expat, a study abroad student, or even a visitor, my guide to life in the UK contains both personal anecdotes and maybe too-honest experiences, as well as resources and advice on topics ranging from homesickness in the UK (or how not to rage book a flight to America like I did), driving in the UK, being a student in the UK, and more practical advice about bank accounts, buying houses, and more.
It’s truly a one stop shop for all of the weirdness and wonderfulness (is that a word?) that comes along with life in the UK, and also there is plenty of opportunity to laugh at me as I share all of my expat fails so there’s that.
The Ultimate London Study Abroad Packing List
How much does it rain in London?
It’s hard to say, but it’s less than you would think and more than a proud Londoner would admit.
A Travel Umbrella that you can throw in your bag is going to be one of the best “forget about it until you need it” purchases that will save you from so many wet hair days.
A raincoat would serve the same purpose, but the rain will start and stop so much that wearing a raincoat can often be an exercise in your ability to predict the weather correctly, which is almost impossible in London (even for people paid to do so, AHEM, BBC Weather!)
2. Carry-on Travel Bag
If you’re studying in the UK, it’s pretty likely you’ll be traveling to Europe at some point, and it’s going to be a much better experience if you have a Weekend Overnight Bag that is able to withstand all of the clothes you are about to cram in it while also being easy to carry.
I have personally seen the aftermath of a friend who brought a rolling suitcase to the cobble-stone streets of Venice and it was NOT pretty or particularly helpful for making us seem like sophisticated travelers rather than stereotypical American tourists.
Sometimes a larger backpack works well for this, and I’ve carried my high school backpack all throughout Europe because I was too cheap to buy a good one, but if you have nothing at all like this and only have small purses or large suitcases, it’s worth the investment.
3. Watching the English
Watching the English is one of the best books I’ve read that gives an insight into the English without playing too much into stereotypes.
It’s not necessary to read it cover to cover because you’ll soon discover English culture for yourself, but for anyone who is interested in seeing the English through an anthropologist’s eyes and learning the different conversational and social habits, this is a must-read.
It’s a funny, easy, read, and more than once I’ve found myself bookmarking pages because I FINALLY have an explanation for some of the habits I’ve noticed of my English boyfriend and his family.
I still haven’t figured out why everyone loves fruitcake so much, so I’m hoping for a sequel.
There are two different types of “tech” items that have always been advised to study abroad students: a converter and an adapter (for physically plugging things into walls).
I’ve never needed a converter: most modern technology (cameras, laptops, phones) are built to be able to handle both UK and US voltages.
The electrical sockets in the UK are three-pronged, however, and set up completely differently than the two-pronged US sockets.
If you don’t have an adapter, add it to your list before you have to buy it in an expensive tourist shop in the airport. Any will work, but I recommend this adaptor.
5. Enough clothes for 1 1/2 weeks
It’s hard to know how many clothes to bring when you’re studying abroad in London, but I’ve found a good amount is about enough clothes for 1.5 weeks. You should aim to do laundry weekly, but bringing the extra week’s worth of clothes allows you the flexibility to wait a bit longer.
In terms of the actual clothes you should bring, it very much depends on the season. This guide to packing for London in autumn is a good starting point for both Fall and Spring.
For winter, you’ll want to pack a heavy coat, and for summer you can leave the heavy coat at home and just bring lots of layers made up of short-sleeve shirts, long-sleeve shirts and cardigans or thin sweaters.
I prefer sweaters like this that let me put clothes on top of it or under it easily, but can also function on their own.
You also want to make sure that you don’t overpack pants. I see this ALL the time. People overestimate how many pants they need to bring, and then they wear the same pair of jeans all semester.
You can always go shopping at Primark to get some new, cheap clothes if you need them when you’re abroad.
6. Wallet or small purse
You’re not going to want to bring a heavy backpack around with you on the tube or to various tourist attractions when you don’t need to. Not only will you get glares from people around you, but often you can’t actually bring a big backpack into many museums and who wants to be fighting with a businessman for space for your giant bag on the tube?
No one, that’s who.
Make sure to bring a separate wallet or small purse to keep with you in a pocket or around your shoulder for those days and nights when you don’t need anything besides your Oyster card and your money.
You can’t go anywhere nowadays without your laptop, but especially not when you’re studying abroad in London. You’ll need it to complete assignments, as well as do things like make flight bookings for travel.
Some students just bring a tablet to work on, but I don’t think that’s enough when it comes to writing an actual essay or dealing with foreign websites that might not work as well on a tablet.
If you’re looking for a laptop just for your study abroad semester that’s lightweight and easy to carry with you, consider this one or this one.
8. Rain jacket
On top of the clothing you’re already bringing, you’re going to want some sort of rain jacket no matter what the season.
This is a great way to stay warm and dry in the winter, but it also can help if you have a lightweight one in the summer as it may be hot and muggy, but still raining.
9. Waterproof shoes
It doesn’t rain in London as much as you would expect, but it still rains enough for waterproof shoes to be an essential part of any London packing list.
You can opt for a pair of waterproof sneakers that you can wear at basically all casual functions, or you can choose a pair of waterproof boots like these if you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor adventuring or doing a winter semester.
There’s nothing worse than having wet socks and wet shoes when walking around London because you stepped in a puddle, so stock up!
10. Handheld phone charger
Whether you’re traveling on the weekends or just out for a long day in classes and on excursions, it’s easy for your phone to lose battery and to not be able to charge it.
Packing a handheld phone charger that you can carry with you in your bag makes it way easier to keep your phone charged.
It’s essential to have a working phone when you’re jaunting around London, as you may need it for directions or just as a safety matter in case you need to call emergency services or someone else.
11. Prescriptions from home
If you have any medical prescriptions that you take regularly, you should take them with you in your luggage to London rather than expecting that you can get them when you get to London.
Make sure to carry the actual medicine along with a prescription note so that you can show anyone in TSA or on the airlines who asks.
It’s also easiest if you can bring some unopened prescriptions – many doctors will prescribe you more than you need so that you can have it for the duration of your program abroad.
This is especially important if you have a medical condition that really requires that you take it regularly, like diabetes. You don’t want to be caught off guard while in London and have to wait to get a prescription faxed from your doctor so that you can take it into a medical service abroad, etc, etc.
Things to Leave Off Your London Study Abroad Packing List
There are a couple things that are pointless to take with you to London, and everyone knows that space is at a premium when you’re thinking about packing and purchasing more luggage space on planes – so take note!
1. Hairdryers or hair straighteners
The voltage is different in the UK and US – stronger in the UK – which means that if you take your hairdryer or hair straightener from the US and use an adapter to make it fit into a UK plug socket, there is a very high chance that it could melt/explode/cause a fire.
You can get cheap hairdryers or hair straighteners in the UK from stores like Boots, so I would advise just getting one when you get here and then donating it when you leave (as you wouldn’t want to take it back to the US since it won’t have the right voltage still!)
2. Your bikini
Unless you’re planning on extensively traveling on the weekends to very warm climates, the chances that you need a swimsuit while you’re studying abroad in London are practically zero. Leave it off your packing list for studying abroad in London!
There are a few places to swim outdoors in the heat of the summer, or there are gyms with swimming pools, but I can guarantee you that unless you already swim a lot and it’s a huge part of your daily routine, you’re not going to make use of it or use it while abroad.
3. Paper, pens, pencils
It’s a waste of space to bring paper, pens, pencils or other school supplies with you when you study abroad in London. Save that space for items that you can’t easily buy abroad, like your medications, clothes, laptop, important items for you.
There are plenty of places in the UK to purchase school supplies like Ryman, and on top of that – you’re not going to actually need as many school supplies as you think you are.
Wait until you get there and then decide what you need instead of bringing every pencil and notebook you own.
4. Peanut butter
There’s a misconception out there that you can’t buy peanut butter in the UK. This may have been the case back in the day, but as an American who thrives on peanut butter and eats it often, I can tell you that there are plenty of stores that sell peanut butter nowadays!
In fact, you can buy it from any major grocery store chain like Sainsbury’s or Tesco, and while it might not be in a giant tub like you’re used to, it’s still available in both smooth and chunky options.
There are other American food items you can’t get in the UK that you can get in the US, but the point of going abroad isn’t to just eat American food, so you can deal!