Study Abroad in South Africa with Arcadia University

Ready to Go to South Africa
What to Pack

There is no such thing as taking too little, although it's hard for us to convince students that this is true. Just ask someone who has studied abroad before, and you'll probably be advised to leave as much as you can at home.

What Did They Bring?
We asked our Spring 2011 Students what they packed, or wish they had packed - or hadn't packed! See their answers here.


"Pack everything you might need, then take half of it out," was one student's advice. It will be there when you get back. Let practicality be your guide for packing. Keep in mind that overseas it's perfectly acceptable to wear the same outfit a few times in one week.

If you plan carefully so that all articles of clothing mix and match, you can create plenty of different outfits from a minimum number of items. Also remember that the weather can vary quite a bit throughout the day and from town to town. Choose clothes that are good for layering.

The leave-half-behind rule

You are going to have to carry whatever you pack by yourself, so leave behind half of what you think you need. You will be limited to two pieces of checked luggage of 44 pounds each and one carry-on bag of 15 pounds on the flight, and even that is more than you can comfortably carry. Large, hard-sided suitcases are tough to carry and even more difficult to store.

  • USE DUFFEL BAGS with wheels or a good, internal frame BACKPACK. Closet space will not be as generous as what you are used to, so even if you can get it there, you won't necessarily know where to put it. No one has ever complained about taking too little luggage.
  • We'll say this in a more serious way. Neither Arcadia University nor our group flight carrier can guarantee the immediate transport of more than two pieces of stowed luggage and a carry-on piece.
  • Students should be prepared to move their luggage through airports, on and off busses during orientation, and up several flights of stairs to their rooms.
  • Student rooms are normally equipped with only a foot and a half of hanging space and two, three-foot bureau drawers or the equivalent shelf space, and emptied luggage is usually stored under beds. Keep this in mind when you're packing.



As South Africa is located in the Southern Hemisphere; its seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere. Summer will last from December through March and winter lasts from June through August. South Africa is a large country with a variable climate; however regardless of location the summers tend to be quite hot and winters are mild. In Cape Town the daytime is warm and the temperature drops in the evening. You should be prepared to carry a sweater or jacket in the evenings and during the cooler months of May-July, a waterproof coat is recommended.



Practical and sturdy clothes are what you will need for your stay in South Africa. Neutral, solid colors will allow you to mix and match outfits, saving you space in your luggage and closet. Students dress casually: jeans (not the torn variety), shirts, and comfortable shoes. Indeed, comfortable shoes are very important, as you will be doing a lot of walking around campus and in the city. You may also want to bring:

  • A raincoat with a warm lining (detachable is best) or waterproof jacket.
  • Bring a light weight jacket, windbreaker, or jean jacket.
  • Jeans. Bring several pairs.
  • Khakis or lightweight pants (1 or 2).
  • Two pairs of comfortable walking shoes. Sturdy, lace-up shoes are a good choice for fieldtrips.
  • Two pairs of casual shoes (loafers, Doc Martens) for skirts and trousers.
  • One or Two Dressy Outfits (button-down shirt, dress socks, skirt etc.)
  • One or two cotton sweaters.
  • Cotton T-shirts, long and short sleeve. Good for layering.
  • Pajamas (1 pair).
  • A couple pairs of shorts.
  • A bathing suit or two.
  • Underwear and socks. Bring two weeks worth.
  • One or two sweatshirts, one pair sweatpants.
  • Accessories, such as belts and scarves. Leave good stuff at home!
  • Sun screen and hat!!

Returning students also say:

  • Wear comfy clothes on the plane!
  • Take whatever you feel most comfortable wearing.
  • Wear layers to keep warm.

Our advice is to choose things which are easy to keep clean and can be washed and dried at the laundromat. It is very difficult to dry hand-washed items properly in your room, and dry cleaning tends to be much more expensive than in the U.S.


Other Items

Sheets and towels

Students are advised to include one or two towels in their luggage. However, it is not advisable to pack sheets, pillows or blankets as most housing venues will provide bedding materials for the students.

Hairdryers and other electrical appliances

If you can help it, don't bring electrical appliances from home. The electrical current in South Africa is 220 - 250 volts at 50 Hz (cycles per second). In the U.S., it is 110 volts at 60Hz. You will not only need an outlet adapter to plug in your appliance, you will also need either a converter, or a dual voltage appliance which can be switched from 110 to 220 volts. (The difference in the number of cycles means that appliances with motors may not work as well in South Africa as they do in the U.S.) For certain appliances such as hairdryers, it is often easier to buy one overseas.

Contact lenses

The overwhelming advice is to switch to chemical disinfectants and extended wear lenses, and bring solution from home. Some students report running out several weeks before the end of the program, so you should bring more than you think you'll need. Bring a spare pair of lenses.

Disinfecting units are a problem for contact lenses. Because of the difference in voltage, the timer may not shut off automatically. Besides, electrical outlets are hard to find when you're on the road traveling. However, if you can't stand chemicals, try the dual voltage (120/240) unit from Cooper Vision. Also, take along a pair of glasses for emergencies. And don't forget sunglasses!

Musical instruments

If you play an instrument, you might want to think about taking it along. However, large instruments, such as guitars, may count as one piece of luggage on the flight. Your instrument should be properly insured and safeguarded. Be prepared for the possibility of an excess luggage charge as well.

Ipod or Mp3 Player and Other Electronic Devices

("Bring it or suffer" is one comment we’ve heard.) You can buy speakers abroad if you get tired of earphones.

A backpack and book bag

You'll need a small bag for books and a larger backpack for weekend and vacation trips. Backpacks with internal frames seem to be more popular. Remember, larger backpacks will count as one piece of luggage on the flight (you're allowed two pieces); they're too large to carry on.


Don't invest in a brand new set of luggage for the trip. A sturdy suitcase or duffel bag and one backpack will do. Duffel bags are practical and easy to store as long as they're a reasonable size. If your duffel bag is bigger than you are, it's too big. Whatever luggage you do choose, be sure to put your name and overseas address on a luggage tag on the outside and on a piece of paper in an inside pocket.


A camera will help you to capture your overseas experience. One word of caution, though, cameras disappear. If you have an expensive camera, have it insured. Many students bring film from home and wait until they get back to have it developed. You can ask to have cameras and film hand-inspected in this country, but you may be required to put it through the x-ray machine in South Africa (Most airport machines won't affect film under 1000 ISO). Also, remember to write down what you take pictures of, or you'll be faced with 20 sets of prints of unidentified monuments, cities and sunsets. Those who bought film and/or developed it overseas were generally pleased with the results and agreed that the cost of film was more expensive, but developing was comparable to the US. Don't buy film at major tourist areas as you'll end up paying a lot.


You can get just about everything you will need in South Africa. Don't bring extra supplies with you. Bring a supply of basics to get you through the first month. By then, you'll have found the best local shops for whatever you need. However, don’t expect to see the same brand names you are used to, you will have to identify alternatives.


If you take a prescription medication make sure you have enough to last your entire stay abroad. Don't assume that you can get the same medication abroad. A prescription from home will NOT be filled in South Africa. You'll need a new one from an SA doctor.

Alarm clock

Pack the small, battery-operated, travel kind. The wind-up kind tick incessantly.

Water Bottle

You should definitely bring a reusable water bottle with you to South Africa for travel and staying hydrated on a daily basis.

Photos from home

Bring along your favorite photos of your family and friends. You can decorate your room with them.


You can rent or buy a used bike there if you would like. Just make sure to buy a strong chain and lock as well!

Academic papers, fax and phone numbers, e-mail addresses

Pack a copy of your college's undergraduate catalog and any papers you were given with instructions about credit transfer. Also remember to pack the course descriptions you received for your program and anything else you received from us. You'll need to refer to these materials overseas. Your study abroad advisor's home school's fax and phone numbers, as well as the e-mail address, will prove to be helpful too, especially if you have to contact your advisor for course approval.

Multipurpose Knife

Very practical, especially if you're going to do a lot of traveling. It's a corkscrew, screwdriver, scissors and knife all in one. Please be sure to pack this in your checked luggage for safety reasons.


Security and Insurance

The Arcadia University College of Global Studies supports the guidelines described in "Responsible Study Abroad: Health and Safety Guidelines" for program sponsors, participants and parents by the Interorganizational Task Force on Safety and Responsibility in Study Abroad. (complete text of these guidelines).

A little common sense goes a long way Do not bring any valuables which promote theft and cannot be easily replaced. Put identification labels inside each of your bags (not just on the outside). Leave a list of your travelers check numbers with your family. We also recommend that you leave a photocopy of the data page of your passport (passport number, the date and place of issue) at home and keep a copy with your belongings in case it is lost or stolen. To insure your baggage and personal effects inexpensively, investigate adding a rider to your family's homeowners' policy. Arcadia University does not insure your possessions against loss or theft, but you can and should. Some other valuable tips to protect yourself include:

  • Leave irreplaceable items of high monetary or sentimental value at home.
  • Do not carry a lot of cash.
  • Use safes in hotels and hostels.
  • When you are traveling wear a neckpouch with your money and passport in it inside your coat or clothing. 
  • Pickpockets and petty thieves sometimes target tourists and other unsuspecting newcomers. Be very careful to protect your belongings, especially during the your first few days in the country.


Shipping and Storing Personal Effects Overseas

If you pack carefully, you'll manage on the airline baggage allowance (2 checked pieces and 1 carry-on). Please remember, we cannot store anything for you. Customs declarations must be made on all packages sent overseas. To avoid duty charges on your belongings, be sure that everything has been used and mark the declaration Used: (item names), Property of Addressee.

Whatever you do, do not send a trunk. Even if you can find a freight forwarder to ship it and clear it through customs, it will be difficult to handle once you get it, a problem to store and even more troublesome and expensive to send back home.