To Pack or Not to Pack: Our Essentials for the Move Abroad

We read about 14 different blogs about what to pack for living abroad. Some were specific to Viet Nam, while many were just generic packing lists. They were overall very helpful to get our minds focused on what was a priority to bring and what could be left behind.

Here are a couple of links if you are interested in looking at them:

Essential Packing List for Moving to Vietnam

The Travelling Tapir’s Packing List

The ULTIMATE Packing List from The Rachael Way

International Citizen’s Ultimate Packing List

As you can see by the titles of the blogs, all have written about what they deem to be the all-encompassing packing list. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to cover everything since it is all so unique to your situation.  If you can’t live without your cozy slippers and a certain kind of peanut butter, bring it—what do we know about your life? If you think you can sell all your clothes at home and just buy new ones where you move, you do you (do some research, too).

The list below is specific to us: two people moving to a smaller town in the South of Viet Nam for jobs, with a semi-furnished apartment (bed, some kitchen supplies, living room furniture). Contrary to many blogs, we’ve been able to find a lot of items in the markets that we were warned may be absent from everyday Viet Nam life, and we’ve also been surprised by what we thought we needed. You won’t find a list of everything we brought, but what we thought was priority, what shouldn’t have made the cut, and what we wished.

We also made the intentional decision that we would only take ‘what we could carry.’ Here we are, with everything we now own on our backs. Some other lists talk about pool inflatables to au pair–this was not for us. This was a bigger decision than just moving because we also wanted to prioritize what we wanted, what we needed in life, and what brought us true joy.


What we brought that was vital:

  • Mattress pad. We were forewarned that Vietnamese beds were too firm and lacking any kind of comfort. This was also true in our case. It took up almost one full check in bag, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
  • Medications. Obvious one right? We brought our subscriptions, but we also brought basic advil, pepto. It gave us peace of mind knowing we had it when we needed it. The other medication that was helpful was the Unisom for the nights we weren’t adjusting to the time difference or we heard a creak in the apartment and thought it was the dead spider’s brothers coming for vengeance. However, I wish we would have brought a multivitamin as we adjust to the different types of food.
  • Cards. We are big fans of playing cards so this was vital for entertainment when it was too rainy to go outside (which is often).
  • Bug Spray. Clearly, we are paranoid about the new creatures we are meeting, but because we sweat more than our Vietnamese colleagues, bugs are more attracted to us. This has been a great decision.
  • Electrolyte Tablets. Same reason as above, we are sweating a lot more. We bought Nuuns because they were in small containers and easy to pack in random small open spaces in our bags.
  • A small amount of candy. It didn’t take up too much of our luggage and it’s been a nice treat from home, but also a treat for our co-workers. We did research to see what candy is specific to America to be intentional about our choice (why bring oreos when oreos are everywhere) and we ended up with salt water taffy. This has been a great way to invite people in and break the ice.
  • Charles Schwab debit card. We went back and forth for a long time on what bank we should use once we get there. What is international, what is ethical, what works for back home, too—lots of questions. Since we aren’t getting paid right away, we needed to access our nest egg and didn’t want to get penalized for being abroad. This is the one we settled on and it has been good to us so far.
  • Computers. Again, obvious, but we didn’t realize we’d be using our own computers for our work load. When we lived abroad in the past, we used our computers for pleasure. In Viet Nam, we use it for work, staying current on news, watching DVDs, and writing this lovely blog!

Items we brought, but didn’t need:

  • Feminine Hygiene products. They have them here, pretty publicly.
  • Shoes. We brought a ton of shoes with us. This could be its own blog post. Justine brought many work shoes that were cloth—she should have brought leather-like shoes because of the rain and dust. Joe brought shoes, but he fits in the top tier of the average foot size in Viet Nam so he can buy shoes here (so can Justine and she has larger feet).
  • Cooking pot/pan. Also at the local grocery store.
  • Converters/adapters. This is probably the biggest shock to us. We were using them for the first week until a co-worker informed Joe that it was the same voltage, ha! If we only had known, all of our electronics from Justine’s flat iron to Joe’s watch all have worked in the wall plug-ins.
  • Clothing. We brought way too many work clothes. We were worried about variety since we’ll be here for at least one year, but after being here, we can see that we can buy clothes.

Items we wished we brought: We should have asked what was supplied in our apartment. Some items were more than what we could have asked for, and some obvious kitchen supplies for us were missing.

  • Back up power cords. This wouldn’t have made the list two days earlier, but Justine’s Macbook Pro cord kicked it. 8 years in America and it was fine then two weeks in Viet Nam, bam, gone. We scrambled to find anything and now we’re just waiting for a package from America. Some blogs warned us of bringingIMG_2992a heavy arsenal of electronics, but we didn’t even think to bring back ups for things that were working, but may be difficult to find if it stops working.
  • More protein snacks. This may be unique to us since Justine is vegan, but it would have been nice to have back-ups while we took time finding places to eat.
  • Rainboots. We would be the only ones in rain boots, but it is wet here. Something we will eventually adjust to, but for now, it would have been a treat.
  • French press. Yes, the snobby way of drinking coffee.
  • Clothing. Funny, right? We might have brought the wrong kind. On the way back from the market today, Justine said she wished we would have brought more patterned clothing as to mask the sweat a bit more. Yes, we know, we should be called our sweaty beet at this point.
  • Miscellaneous kitchen supplies. Peeler, spices, storage containers (to keep the bugs out).

Lessons learned:

  • Conservative clothing is correct, but we found that it is okay to wear bright colors to work or out. We’re in a smaller town, too, but I was surprised given other blogs and information, that women wear pants, thick-strapped tank tops, and open-toed shoes to work.
  • Our colleagues are more stylish than us. Probably because we followed blogs that said be conservative, don’t stand out more than you already will, and pack clothing that is re-usable. We ended up packing lots of white shirts, black shirts, and black pants. We could have packed clothes that were more our style.
  • We should have asked what was supplied in our apartment. Some kitchen items were, some not.

Thanks to our mothers, we have our first packages coming with ‘essentials’ such as vegan jerky, lotrimin, a power cord, ant-killer, peanut butter, and popcorn. It’s okay to bring what you will miss from home!

If you’re planning to move abroad and want to ask questions, please email us at or post on the comments. We’re happy to help, if we can, given our three weeks of expertise.

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