How to Pack a Suitcase for Moving Overseas

How to Pack a Suitcase for Moving Overseas

Something you don’t really think about until the last minute when it comes to emigrating is how to pack a suitcase for moving overseas.

It’s completely different to packing a suitcase for going on holiday, or even an extended period. When you’re packing up your entire life and starting over in a new country, you have to think really carefully about not only what to pack for your overseas move, but how to pack it. You really want to maximise your space and weight allowance for your international move.

As someone who has emigrated three times and lived in four different countries, I understand the importance of efficient and strategic packing. In this guide, I’ll share my key practical tips on how to pack your suitcase for moving overseas, ensuring you have all the essentials to start your new life with all the things you need to hand when you arrive, without tipping the scales when you check in.

Tips On How To Pack Your Suitcase for Moving Overseas

First, here are my essential tips on planning and packing for moving overseas. Later I’ll share what to pack in your checked luggage and what to pack in your hand luggage.

Research Airline Baggage Policies

Start by familiarising yourself with the baggage policies of your chosen airline.

Different airlines have varying weight allowances and restrictions, so understanding these guidelines will help you plan and pack accordingly.

Check the airline’s website or contact their customer service for accurate and up-to-date information.

Make A Packing Checklist

Creating a packing checklist is a helpful way to ensure you don’t forget any essential items.

Divide your checklist into categories, such as clothing, electronics, toiletries, and documents. This will assist you in organising your belongings and avoiding unnecessary duplication. I love a good checklist and feel lost when packing if I don’t have a list!

Sort And Declutter

Moving abroad presents an excellent opportunity to declutter and down size your possessions.

Sort through your belongings and separate items into three categories: keep, donate/sell, and discard.

Only pack what you truly need or hold sentimental value. Selling or donating items can also help offset the cost of your move.

Invest In Vacuum-Sealed Bags

Travel vacuum bags are fantastic space-saving tools.

Use them for compressible items like clothing, bedding, and towels. By removing excess air, you can significantly reduce the volume these items take up in your suitcase. They might not save you weight, but they will definitely save you wasting precious space.

Roll Instead Of Folding

This was life changing when I discovered rolling instead of folding when it comes to packing a suitcase.

Rolling clothes instead of folding them can save a considerable amount of space – probably more than you think. It also minimizes wrinkles.

Roll each garment tightly, and then stack them neatly in your suitcase. You can even pack small items, like socks or underwear, inside shoes to maximize space.

Watch this handy video for great rolling tips from Portable Professional.

Pack Versatile Clothing

Choose versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits.

This is handy if you want to cut down on your wardrobe drastically, or are going to ship most of your clothing in your container.

This approach allows you to pack fewer pieces while maintaining a variety of outfit options.  

Remember to pack for the weather you are travelling to – if you’re going to winter, pack warmer clothing, if you’re arriving in peak summer, you can get away with packing lighter clothing (and probably more clothing too).

Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes or organisers are a game-changer when it comes to keeping your suitcase neat and organised.

Group similar items together, such as tops, bottoms, or accessories, in separate cubes. This method not only maximises space but also helps you find what you need quickly when you’re unpacking on the other side.

Pack Heavy Items First

To distribute weight evenly and prevent your suitcase from tipping over, place heavy items at the bottom of your suitcase.

This includes bottles, shoes, toiletries, and electronics. Lighter items can be packed on top. Remember to securely wrap and seal any items that could leak in case of breakages.

Use All Your Empty Space

Make use of empty spaces in your suitcase, such as the insides of shoes or gaps between larger items.

Fill these spaces with smaller items like socks, underwear, rolled-up belts, or travel-sized toiletries. This technique helps maximise every inch of space available to ensure no space is wasted.

Weigh Your Suitcase Before Leaving Home

Before heading to the airport, weigh your suitcase to ensure it meets the weight requirements of your airline.

If necessary, remove non-essential items or redistribute weight between your checked and carry-on luggage. This proactive measure can help you avoid excess baggage fees.

Digital luggage scales are easy to find online and not too expensive either.

Check Your Baggage Allowance Before You Fly

It’s important to note that baggage weight allowances can vary between airlines and destinations.

However, as a general guideline, most airlines allow passengers in economy class to check one or two bags with a total weight limit of around 23kg per bag. Business and first class passengers usually have a more generous allowance too.

If you’re flying on a one-way ticket for emigration purposes you can sometimes qualify for an increased baggage allowance. We were allowed 40kg per person when we emigrated back in 2013. That was with Singapore Airlines. We have to show our visas and our one way tickets as evidence and then we were allowed to take more than the standard allowance – super helpful when you’re moving overseas and packed everything including the kitchen sink!

Tips On What To Pack for Moving Overseas

Packing for moving overseas requires careful planning and organisation. Yes I know it’s boring but it’s essential if you want to arrive with everything you need to set up your new life in the first few weeks while you wait for your container or build up your belongings from scratch again.

Start by making a list of essentials you absolutely need for your journey and on arrival (told you I love a list!). This will help you differentiate between what to put in your checked luggage and what to put in your hand luggage.

Consider the climate on arrival and availability of goods in your new destination when deciding what to pack and what to ship.

Essentials to Pack in Your Checked Luggage When Moving Overseas

When it comes to packing your checked luggage, prioritise items that are heavy, non-essential, or not allowed in your hand luggage.

Here’s my key checklist of essentials to consider when packing your checked suitcases for moving overseas.


Pack versatile clothing suitable for the current climate of your new destination. Include layers to accommodate varying weather conditions especially if you’re heading to a city like Melbourne where you can get 4 seasons in 1 day!

Don’t forget to pack formal attire if you have any professional engagements like job interviews or networking events to help you find a job in Australia.


Carry travel-sized toiletries to tide you over until you can make it to the shops on arrival to restock.

If you like specific brands, consider purchasing some of these items before you leave so you have the products you prefer for a few weeks on arrival. This can also help you save money in the early days as some brands are quite expensive, especially when converting from rands to dollars.

Having simple things like familiar face cream and shampoo can relieve some stress in those first few weeks too when absolutely everything is new. It’s just one less thing to worry about!

Double-check current regulations regarding travelling with liquids and pack them securely in a sealed bag to prevent leaking all over your belongings.

Personal Keepsakes

Include sentimental items that hold emotional value, like family photographs, letters, or small mementos. These cherished belongings will help to provide much-needed comfort and familiarity in your new surroundings.


Pack any electronics that are not needed during your journey, or you’re happy packing in your checked luggage. For me this might be things like hairdryers or straighteners, or a portable hard drive with our digital documents.

Also pack a power board and at least 1 plug converter so on arrival you can use all your electronics without having to worry about how you’re going to charge or connect them if the plugs are different.

Essentials to Pack in Your Hand Luggage When Moving Overseas

I wrote a whole blog post about what to pack in your hand luggage when you move to Australia previously, but here are the main essentials that should go into your hand luggage when you move overseas.

Your hand luggage should contain items that are essential for your journey and valuable possessions that you wouldn’t want to risk losing.

Travel Documents

Keep your passports, visa letters, boarding passes, travel insurance document, and any other travel-related documents in a secure and easily accessible place.

You can get some really practical but stylish travel wallets these days that hold everything securely and neatly so you can just grab things out as you need them.

I love the ones from Colette Hayman – super stylish and affordable.

Important Documents

Keep all your important documents, such as passports, visas, birth certificates, and medical records, in a secure folder. Make copies and store them digitally as a backup.

We travelled with a small lever arch folder which contained all our original and certified certificates, letters of reference, tax documents, visa documents and medical documents.


Pack any prescription medications you require during your journey and the initial days in your new country. Include a copy of the prescription, if necessary.

Take enough for a week or two in your hand luggage, and if you have several weeks or months’ worth of medication, consider packing the rest in your checked luggage.

Always have your prescription ready for border authorities to review otherwise they may be confiscated if you can’t prove they are for personal use and you are entitled to have them.

Change of Clothes

It’s a good idea to have a change of clothes in your hand luggage in case your checked luggage gets delayed or misplaced. This will ensure you’re prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.

I usually take at least two simple outfit changes just in case. Nothing too bulky that takes up valuable hand luggage space though.

If you have young children, make sure you have a few outfit changes and enough nappies to get you through the journey to your final destination too. You know how messy babies, toddlers and young kids can be at the best of times!

Snacks and Entertainment

Long journeys can be tiring, so pack some of your favourite snacks, a refillable water bottle, and entertainment options like books, magazines, or headphones to keep yourself and your children occupied.

Snacks for kids are especially important as they can sometimes not be huge fans of the food on planes. The last thing you need is a hangry kid on your hands during or after a long haul flight so just pack ALL THE SNACKS!

Valuables and Electronics

Carry your valuable items like jewellery, cash, laptops, phones and iPads in your hand luggage. This is for safety reasons more than anything.

Obviously it should go without saying but don’t forget to bring all your chargers for any devices too. Ensure they are compatible with the voltage and plug standards of your new country. Adapters for your items would be good too but these can go in your checked luggage.

A good set of noise cancelling headphones can also be a great investment for long haul flights.

Also, consider packing a backup power bank for your electronics. Not all planes have USB ports in the seats (certainly not in economy anyway), so having a power bank can help you stay charged for the whole duration of your journey.

I hope that’s given you some clear direction when it comes to how to pack a suitcase for moving overseas.

You don’t need me to tell you that moving overseas is an adventure filled with both excitement and challenges. Packing your suitcases and hand luggage strategically can help alleviate some of the stress associated with starting afresh in a brand new country in those first few hours, days and weeks.

If you take your time in planning, prioritising, and being mindful of what you pack in your checked and hand luggage for your overseas move, you can ensure a smooth transition and have the essentials you need at your fingertips when you need them the most. Don’t forget to embrace your journey and prepare for all the wonderful new experiences that await you in your new country!

What other tips would you share with someone who needs to pack their luggage for an international move? Share them in the comments below.

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About Author

Helping you move to, settle in, and explore your new home in Australia. Avid reader, beach lover, and horse addict. As someone who has emigrated, not once, not twice, but three times, I know exactly what you’re going through. The ups and downs of emigration are faster than a rollercoaster and I’ve been there – three times!

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