Moving abroad? What not to pack

When you make the decision to move abroad, your life suddenly becomes very hectic. While you’re hopefully excited about your future life abroad, there are many things that need to be done before the actual big move. Work needs to be wrapped up, farewells need to be said. And while all of this is happening, you have to pack up your life and have it shipped to your new destination.

Today’s post will touch on my experiences with what not to pack when moving abroad.

As part of our relocation package, Andy’s company arranged a moving company to ship our stuff from our place in New Jersey to London. When the representative from the relocation company came to our apartment to give us an estimate, he explained that his guys would do all the packing – our only responsibility was to tell them what to pack. As I said in a previous post, we didn’t do a good job at sorting out what to take vs not take, which resulted in us donating nine large full bags of stuff to the British Heart Foundation. But apart from our failure to prepare, there were several electrical items that were easily overlooked. In attempt to help you not make the same mistake, below I share a list of what not to bring when moving abroad.

It helps to preface this list by briefly mentioning the electrical voltage difference between the US and the UK. In the US, the voltage is 120v while in the UK it’s 240V. There is also a difference in number of watts, the frequency and even the plug on the power cord. The UK uses a three-prong plug while the US mainly uses a two-prong plug. Still, the three-prong plug sometimes used in the US is not compatible and will not work in a UK outlet. This is important to note because you cannot simply plug an US electrical item into a UK outlet, even with an adapter – unless it’s a dual voltage item.

Below are the items I’d suggest reconsidering before packing.

What Not to Pack:

Hair tools  like hair dryers, curling irons, hair wands and flat irons. If your hair tools are made for traveling, great! Get yourself an appropriate adapter and take them along! However, most of us don’t use travel specific hair tools as our main, daily hair stylers (my travel hair dryer is strictly for traveling) and use ones specifically made for our home country (with appropriate voltage). This means chances are that the voltage or watts won’t convert. And, if you try to ignore this warning and use it anyway, chances are you will remember me as you turn on your hair dryer and watch it blow out in your very hands. I know because it happened to me.

Electric tools  like power drills. This one completely escaped us! Andy’s power tools are not dual voltage and we didn’t realize it till we got here and had a bunch of Ikea furniture to build. Check yours before packing them up. If they won’t work in your new country, you probably shouldn’t bring them (also, please note that Ikea actually sells very reasonably priced power tools – we got this drill for £30 ).

Light-up holiday decorations – particularly those pre-lit artificial Christmas trees. We had two of these bad boys because I like to switch them up each year. Andy tried to convince me not to bring them but I was adamant about bringing my beloved Christmas trees. Well, imagine the look on my face when I got here and realized I wouldn’t be able to put my trees up in our new place because the voltage wasn’t the same and, therefore, they wouldn’t light up.

Household appliances – I’m assuming you won’t be bringing bigger units like washer/dryer, stove, fridge, etc. but if you do, make sure they will work in your new country. Also, be careful with toasters, blenders, mixers, slow cookers and smoothie makers. If you’re like me and are attached to certain kitchen appliances (like me with my hand mixer and slow cooker) you can keep them safe in a storage unit or with a relative.

Pet grooming tools/toys/feeders – Penny does not like getting her nails clipped. Correction: she hates it and refuses to let us clip them! So the only way to shorten her nails is with her Dremel nail grooming tool. Well, we didn’t think about it beforehand and it was only when that thing needed recharging that we realized yet another thing we probably shouldn’t have brought over.

Electric toothbrushes and razor – this is an important one. If you know where you will be living, check for one of these outlets.


I’ve never actually used it but it appears to be dual voltage and equipped for several different plug types. We have one of these in our bathroom which means Andy lucked out and didn’t have to get a new electric razor. If you don’t have one of these outlets or don’t know if your new place will have one, it’s best to reconsider bringing that electric toothbrush unless…

…you get a converter.

A US to UK converter will step up the voltage from 120v to 240v. Similarly, a UK to US converter will do the opposite.  A converter, however, will not switch the watts. This is important because some electronics won’t operate at full capacity without their required watts (in the US it’s 60 Hz). So if you have a product that cannot operate on the 50 Hz common in the UK, it’s probably not worth taking because they will only operate at about 3/4 capacity. And, in case you’re wondering, these products would be anything that run fans, spin wheels or rotate things. Examples are hair dryers and power drills

Because Penny is such a priority in our lives (and because we did not want to buy another Dremel) we actually ended up getting a converter when we realized we wouldn’t be able to use Penny’s nail file here (priorities…).  Converters vary in sizes, ranges and prices so if you do decide to get one you’ll need to do your own research – although I happen to know they are not cheap. And, if you do decide to get one then you can probably use some of the items I listed above in your new country although, as I mentioned, they may not all work the same due to the difference in watts. It is very important that you do a good amount of research before deciding which electronics to take. Had I done my research, I would have known that I did not have to get rid of my Christmas trees :-/

It’s also important to note that computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are usually dual voltage so you should be able to bring those with you (unless you’re looking for an upgrade anyway). You’ll probably only need to get new chargers/outlet cables which is easy enough to order online.

And there you have it, my list of things I’d suggest not packing when moving abroad. The moral of this story is that when packing to move abroad, you really do have to look over every little thing and not only ask yourself “Am I going to use this abroad” but, more importantly, “Can I use this abroad?”.

Did I miss something? What did you not remember to pack when moving abroad? Questions about the electricity in the UK? Send me your comments!

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