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US studies: Tips on travel and baggage
Matthew Schneeberger
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August 07, 2007

So, you're leaving for a US university in just a few short weeks!

Once you've booked and confirmed your flight, there's still one major item on your itinerary -- packing.

Before you pack, you must ask and answer the following questions:

~ How much can I bring?
~ What is safe to bring?
~ Will you bring it with you or send it unaccompanied?

This article will show you how to get your baggage safely from India to your US university. Tomorrow, we'll look at what exactly you should bring and what you should leave at home.

Baggage allowance

When packing, many students forget to heed the baggage allowance of their airlines. This can lead to tremendous additional, and unnecessary, charges.

There is a limit to the amount of baggage you can take with you on a plane.

Economy passengers are typically allowed two pieces of baggage, plus one small piece of hand baggage that can be carried onto the airplane. This 'carry-on' luggage must be able to fit under the airplane seat or in an overhead compartment.

Here's a general idea of what economy class passengers can expect when travelling (Business and first class are given more leeway). Of course, this depends on your particular airline.

Two pieces of checked baggage: The total of the three dimensions not to exceed 158 cm (62 inches) per bag provided that the overall dimensions of the two pieces shall not exceed 273 cm (107 inches) and the weight not to exceed 23kgs/50lbs per bag (piece).

One piece of hand baggage: 55x38x20 cm. Weight not to exceed 10 kgs (22 pounds).  

If your luggage exceeds these limitations, you will be asked to pay excess baggage charges. These can be quite exorbitant, especially if you miss the mark by a significant weight.

Some items, such as musical instruments or sporting equipment, may exceed size allowances. Most airlines have 'special baggage' rules which cover these pieces. Be sure to inquire with your airline if you will be carrying any of these items.

Also, if you will be flying with multiple carriers, ensure that you check with each separate airline. Your baggage may fall well within the restrictions for the international leg of your journey, but your travels within America may have entirely different rules.

Finally, be sure to confirm your airline's baggage allowance when you purchase your ticket. Stay updated throughout the weeks preceding your flight -- regulations are subject to change. Some carriers offer special packages for students and professionals shifting to a new country. See if your airline has a 'special student' travel package (this may result in lower ticket prices as well).


Label every piece of baggage with your name, US address and a telephone number (The International Students Office of your US university). Identification tags are available from the airline, but these are often flimsy and can easily. Instead, make your own large labels using black marking pen, white paper and sturdy tape.

For additional security, you may also want to put a label or baggage tag inside your baggage.

Traveller's and baggage insurance protects you against loss, damage, or theft of your baggage. Many agencies and universities recommend travel insurance, but it is entirely a personal decision. Ask your university's international student advisor if he or she can recommend a good travel insurance company.

You should have enough clothing and personal items packed in your carry-on baggage to last for a couple days in the event your checked baggage is sent to the wrong destination or lost. Be sure to pack prescription medicine, eyeglasses and other crucial items in your carry-on baggage.

NOTE: Never leave your baggage unattended. You must always be alert to the possibility of theft or tampering.

Prohibited items

You can obtain a booklet on customs regulations at the consulate or embassy where you acquire your visa. Prohibited items include some foodstuffs, narcotics, weapons, and items for resale. The US Customs Service also provides this information at:

Unaccompanied baggage

Pieces of 'Unaccompanied baggage' are personal belongings you send apart from your flight. Of course, you could just take these items with you as 'excess baggage', but the costs are frighteningly high for large amounts.

Usually it is more convenient to take packages to your local post office, rather than to a shipping company or an air cargo terminal. Mail also has the advantage of arriving at your address, rather than at a shipping dock or customs area.

However, there are limitations on the size and weight of packages being mailed. Check with your post office about sending such packages to the United States. Ask about rates, regulations, and estimates of length of time. 

Items too large or too heavy to meet postal regulations must be sent via a shipping company, either by air or by surface carrier. In these cases, employ the services of a shipping agent, for reasons listed below.

Shipping agents

The procedures for shipping are complicated and time-consuming, so students often employ the services of a shipping agent or freight-forwarding company.

The agent can make arrangements for transporting the item to the air- or sea-cargo terminal for shipment to the United States. The agent also usually can arrange to have the shipment cleared through customs at the point of entry into the United States and can have it sent by road or rail to you.

Ask your travel agent or an airline representative for the name of a reliable shipping agent.


Be sure to declare unaccompanied baggage at customs when you enter the United States. When you pick up the parcels in the United States, you might have to pay import tax. Ask about this when you make arrangements with the carrier you have chosen.

Tomorrow: Packing for US studies?

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