What To Take?

The variation between individuals/couples/families and what they choose to take overseas can be quite diverse. The following suggestions and lists are intended to be only a guideline and are by no means all essential. They should help you decide for yourself whether you choose to take certain items from the UK, buy them on location or just do without. Another tool that you can use to plan 'what to take' is the Universal Packing List or if you're only going short-term, try Packing 101.

It's also worth checking with any contacts you have at your destination to see if others in the area have items for sale or if former tenants have left certain items in the accommodation that you will be moving into.

Local knowledge is most helpful - research what is available in the area you're going to. Whether you're going to a rural or urban location will obviously make a big difference to what is locally available.

If you are buying any new, pricey items to take out with you, you may qualify for a VAT refund when you export the items from the EEC. For more on this see VAT Refund

The following is a compilation of suggestions that mission workers have submitted to OSCAR as useful items to take only if they are not readily available where you will be going:

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First rule of thumb: Check what's locally available and what the clothing norms are. Remember that there are different subcultures even in the same country/city/town/village so it is best to do a bit of research first.  

Clothes made from cotton or a mixture of cotton and man-made fibres are the most suitable for hot countries. For countries that experience a rainy season, a waterproof lightweight coat/jacket is recommended with suitable footwear. In equatorial regions the sun is very strong so choose materials that are good quality, hard-wearing with permanent colours, as colours can fade and elastic deteriorates faster than in the UK.

It is occasionally useful to have a smart outfit and you may even want to bring a suit or long dress/cocktail dress for special occasions if you have one.

For Women: Cotton skirts, dresses, blouses, t-shirts, bras, underwear, jumpers, sweaters, sweatshirts, shorts, swimming costume, cotton night-shirts, trousers, jeans etc., sunhat.

For Men: Shorts, cotton shirts, t-shirts, trousers, ties, jeans, sports clothes, swimming costume, cotton or woollen socks, sunhat and handkerchiefs.

Sports clothes are good to take if you enjoy sports activities. Even though facilities may be different overseas, there will still probably be the opportunity of playing some kind of sport.

In some countries, it is often possible to buy material and have clothing items tailor made at reasonable prices. You could take your own paper patterns / a sample for this.

It is important to have good quality footwear. Sandals, shoes and trainers are worth taking if good quality shoes will not be easily accessible or more expensive. Children's shoes should allow for fast growing feet.

For hot countries and/or where you may be working outside, don't forget a hat and sunglasses with proper UVA&UVB protection. Also worth taking suncream.

As for jewellery, simple is often more advisable than extravagant, especially where you may be a target for crime.

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Children's items

Take all that you would normally provide for babies and children, with the addition of a good supply of clothes, adequate supplies of toys (it may be worth taking birthday/Christmas presents with you if you plan to be away for a while), possibly a baby sling (in preference to a pushchair/stroller which has limited use in areas that have rough roads and no pavements), baby/child car seat (with car attachment belt kit, if needed). In providing children's clothes, allow for growth through to your next opportunity to shop! Nappies (disposable ones may be more expensive than in the UK, but that depends on your luggage allowance!).

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Household items and accessories

As before, check what will be locally available.

Sheets, good quality Pillows and Pillowcases, Duvets, Duvet covers and/or Blankets, Under-blanket, Bedspread, Bath and Hand Towels and Face clothes, Jey/Dish Cloths, items for washing dishes i.e. sponges with abrasive part, scourers, dusters, tea-towels, brush for washing dishes, Table linen, Plastic tablecloth, Jug covers, Food covers.

If mosquitoes are forecast, mosquito nets are essential for all beds. Nets for double beds should be extra large, you will need spares for visitors and possibly for travelling. Many house floors outside the UK tend to be bare so you may wish to have some rugs (see under 'furniture' later). Shower curtains,hooks, and bathroom mats.

If a compact, lightweight and quick-drying towel for travelling is required, these can be obtained from outdoor or camping shops (e.g. Millets and Blacks).

Another useful item for regular travellers is a universal/worldwide bath plug. These can be used on different plug hole sizes and use downward water pressure to maintain a seal. Ideal for folk travelling in areas where plugs aren't used or facilities are basic. Also obtained from outdoor or camping shops (e.g. Millets and Blacks).

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Crockery and hardware

Where the water is impure, a water filter is a necessity. If you are going to have 'piped' or mains water, an inline water filter or a reverse osmosis filter would be worth considering. Alternatively, a free-standing or bucket filter can be used. Katadyn filters are generally considered to be the best type.

Pressure Cooker (possibly with spare rubber rings and valves), Potato Peeler, Kitchen Timer, Oven Gloves, Cool Box, Vacuum Flasks (Steel/unbreakable kind), Tin-opener, Cooking Pans and Frying Pans, Weighing Scales and Standard Measures (European or American), Ironing Board, Iron, Electric Kettle (possibly with a spare element), Kettle for gas stove, Toaster, Liquidiser, Basic Dinner Service, Mugs, Cups, Saucers, Glasses, Basic Cutlery, Lots of Plastic Storage Containers (Tupperware) in the whole range of shapes and sizes, Desk lamps, Mop and replacement heads, strong, sharp Meat/Bread/Vegetable Knives, Knife sharpener, Cooking implements, a strong soft Brush, Handbrush and Pan. Fruit squeezer, Grater, Teapot, Coffee Percolator, Bread, Cake, Pie tins and Baking Trays, Mixing Bowl, Rolling Pin, two or three good Torches with batteries (rechargeable batteries prove very economical in the long run), Basic tools for DIY, two or three good quality Padlocks. Spare fuses & fuse wire, three way mains plug adapters. Sewing Machine and all Sewing Accessories including cotton threads.

Some of these items may be available locally but, again, are often expensive, so the above are suggestions as to what you might need depending on personal requirements.

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Food supplies

Check with someone at your destination what's available and what isn't. It's the more specialised items that you may want to think about taking (i.e. marmite, packet sauces, dressings, powder mixes, gravy powder, flavourings, herbs, spices, gelatine etc.).

For many locations it's useful to have a recipe book that starts from basics, as most dishes have to be made from scratch and convenience foods are either very limited or not what you would expect in the UK.

In most developing countries and some in Eastern Europe, water needs to be filtered for drinking, cleaning teeth or cooking. Bottled water is usually available to buy in the shops in many countries where water quality is a problem.

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Electrical items and household appliances

Obviously, some of these items depend on an electricity supply so it's worth checking into that before you consider them (see 'Other Electrical Considerations' below).

Electrical items and household appliances are available in many countries but quality and price can vary. Sometimes these are cheaper than in the UK but more often they are more expensive. For long term mission workers with a large shipping allowance, some of these appliances might be useful to ship. 

If you like to cook or bake in bulk (which makes hospitality less stressful) a freezer may prove useful.

In hot dusty areas, a washing machine is a real advantage as clothes get dirty very quickly.

Also, a gas stove of some sort (either a two ring burner or a complete stove, depending on your budget) is a definite advantage where the electricity supply is erratic. If you do take your own stove, it must be one converted to operate from LPG (bottled) gas. LPG gas bottles are widely available in many countries though price varies considerably.

Other electrical household items like kettle, iron (plus ironing board), toaster and microwave oven are worth taking with you, if needed.

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Other electrical considerations

Check what voltage (and frequency) is used at your destination before you take any electrical items. Electrical items now produced in Europe are being standardised on 230V (50Hz) which will work fine on 220/240V.

If you take electrical appliances with UK plugs, you will either need to change the plugs to those of your destination country (best bought when you get to your destination) or you can take a travel plug adapter. These are available in many UK electrical stores. Boots make one that is particularly good and comes in a protective case for around £5.

Sensitive electronic items  may not work properly with even slight variations in voltage so having some kind of voltage regulator or stabiliser may be advisable (see next paragraph). This is also advisable if you're going to a country where the voltage fluctuates significantly (i.e. many developing countries). 'Step-down' transformers can be obtained for countries with a much lower voltage (i.e. 110V like in the USA). Light fittings can be either the bayonet type or the screw type, check which are prevalent at your location if you're planning on taking any lamps (or bulbs!).

Several voltage protection devices are available. It's up to you how much protection you think you need. For sensitive equipment like computers and electronic items it is recommended that you use something to protect them from voltage spikes/surges or rapid fluctuations. More information can be obtained from mission suppliers or shippers on this subject as it depends what's available in the UK. One company who make a good range is Sollatek UK Ltd (www.sollatek.com). See also Belkin products (www.belkin.co.uk).

If you're going to a place where there is either no or infrequent electricity, you may want to consider taking a generator. Most generators run off petrol (or diesel) and can provide power for a house, office or machinery. Generators are quite expensive (£100 to £1000). For domestic low power uses (TV, lights, computer etc.) a 2.5 KVA (2500 Watts) generator will be sufficient, but if you intend to use high power appliances like an electric cooker or a kettle then something like a 5 KVA (5000 Watts) generator will be needed. Another piece of advice here is to use low energy bulbs as they will put much less load on your generator. Other lower wattage items (like a travel kettle, travel iron etc.) may also be worth considering. Generators are available from tool retailers or even some DIY stores. Some popular makes for small, domestic generators are Generac, Honda, Yamaha.

Also if there are electricity problems at your location you may want to consider some other form of lighting. Some people have rechargeable battery lanterns, whilst others have rigged up a 12V lighting circuit using a car battery and battery charger (mains or solar powered). Others just use candles but this can somewhat restrict your evening activities! Whatever you plan to do, bring the necessary items with you (except the car battery, maybe, they are heavy and are available in most countries).

For alternative forms of power, the following site may give you some ideas and advice:

Centre for Alternative Technology

If you're looking for solar, water or wind powered products, or books on building alternative power systems and related issues, CAT has a wealth of information and sells a number of items at very competitive prices.
Website: www.cat.org.uk
Tel: 01654 705950

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Other items

Tablets/Phones/Radio/CD/mp3 player (having short-wave is sometimes necessary as the BBC World service is broadcast on short-wave for remote access, though some areas re-transmit it in FM), favourite CD's or digital music files, reference books, novels and work books, Christian and secular books (having them on a digital reader can save a huge amount of shipping!), Sports equipment, Sleeping bag, lockable lightweight holdall, Games and activities, items for Hobbies, Camera, Hair Dryer, Electric Shaver, Pocket Calculator (solar and/or with batteries), Musical instruments with spares (i.e. strings), Pictures and Wall-Hangings.

Most people find having their own computer (whether a laptop, desktop or tablet) a neccessity. This would continue to be the case on the field. You need a computer overseas to have ready access to email and/or the Internet. Computers are also useful for organising your prayer letter or blog and support information. If you really can't afford a computer, then you can possibly use a work or colleague's computer to send and receive e-mails. If you're taking a Personal Computer and accessories, remember to take an adequate supply of consumables (e.g. printer cartridges/refills etc.). If the computer is a laptop, you may want to consider taking an additional battery where the electricity supply isn't so reliable.

Local communication overseas is often a problem (due to poor or no telephones). One solution to this is to use VHF radios for local communication and they work up to a range of a few miles (more outside built up areas). CB radios are often cheap to buy second-hand in the UK (and still available new) so taking two or more CB radios and any accessories will enable you to keep in contact. UK CBs work on the 27MHz FM frequency band so you should check if that's an allowed frequency at your overseas location.

If you can't or don't want to read your news online, you can order special overseas weekly editions of UK newspapers which are a good source of information, UK and world news. 'The Week' publication provides a condensed overview of UK news. However, these can often be bought in major cities and airports throughout the world at a slightly inflated price.

The Guardian Weekly www.guardian.co.uk/guardianweekly
The Week www.theweek.co.uk

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Being a bulky, heavy commodity, furniture may only be worth taking if you need it and if your shipment is going by sea. Some items can be substituted with lighter, more practical alternatives (i.e. clothes tidy rail instead of a wardrobe). If you're with a mission, they may provide furniture. If not, furniture may be bought or borrowed locally at a reasonable cost. Either way, it's good to check the situation before you go.

Items to consider: comfortable chairs, soft furnishings, dining table and chairs, book cases, desk, coffee table, crockery storage (if no kitchen units), beds (and mattresses), bedside tables, dressing table, chest of drawers, wardrobe.

In some countries, mattresses are only available in foam so if you require anything specialised (i.e. if you have back problems) you may wish to take a decent mattress with you. If you need a cot for a baby/young child, it may also be worth taking it as safety standards and availability of good cots are often poor.

In hot countries it's often nice to sit outside so it may be worth considering some garden type furniture (camping chairs, table, even a barbeque!) if you have room, though again they may be readily available.

Unlike the UK, few houses overseas have carpets ( they are not always practical in hot climates). You may like to take some 'scatter rugs' with you but be aware that they may get dirty and worn very quickly. Curtains are also worth thinking about. Material can often be bought locally but the variety and quality can vary greatly. If you know where you're going to live, obtaining window measurements beforehand may help you to plan ahead on making your curtains.

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Items like Washing powder, soap, shampoo, toothpaste etc. can often be bought locally but are usually expensive and not always good quality. Other items worth stocking up on are: Toothbrushes, Conditioner, Sachets, Hair Brush, Moisturising Cream, Suntan Cream, Sun-block Cream, Lip Salve, Talcum Powder, Bubble Bath, Sanitary Towels and Tampons, Perfumes, After-shave, etc., Razor Blades, Razors, Sponges, Nail Brushes, Cleanser, Cotton Wool, Contraceptives etc.

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You can buy most stationery items around the world but if you want to take some items with you for ease, here's a list to remind you of what might be needed:

Felt Tip Pens, Ink Pens/biros with Ink or refills, Scissors, Bulldog clips, possibly Stencils, Supply of Birthday and Christmas Cards, Notebooks, writing pads, Files, Diary, small supply of 'gifts 'for' Birthdays/ Thankyous etc.. (birthday candles for the cake, too!), stapler and staples, Blue tack, Sellotape, Brown Tape for parcelling up packages, Hole Punch, Correction Fluid, Erasers, Key rings, ruler, elastic bands, labels, pencils.

Take a supply of UK postage stamps (for letters sent by hand to UK for posting).

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First aid & medical items

These are just suggestions for the medicines you may need during your time overseas. For some medicines the 'use by' date may expire before you get to use them, some can be cheaper bought locally and are available, therefore we suggest that certain expensive items marked with an asterisk are better bought locally (where available) as and when you may need them. However, if you have favourite varieties then it is probably wise to take those. As well as these suggestions, you need to take an adequate supply of your usual medicines (i.e. prescribed medicines, inhalers etc ... see 'Note' below)

Antibiotics - penicillin general
Antiseptic Cream or wipes - (e.g. Germolene)
Antiseptic liquid (e.g. Milton Sterilising liquid)
Bites - Anti-histamine cream/Hydrocortisone
Bites - Insect Repellent (e.g. Mosiguard, Jungle Formula or equiv.)
Bites - Anti-histamine (e.g. Triludan - non sedative / Puriton - sedative)
Burns - antiseptic cream (e.g. Sudocrem)
Calamine Lotion
Cold Items - Cold powders, Cough Syrup, Cough sweets, vapour rub
Rehydration sachets (e.g. Diorralyte)
Dressings - Crepe bandage /Melolin Non Adherent / Micropore/ Vasaline Gauze
Ear - ear drops (e.g. Earex)
Elastoplast - Band Aid / Dressing Strip - waterproof
Eye - eye solution (e.g. Optrex)
Eye wash - Antibiotic Gentamicin/ Chlorampherical
Feet - Verrucae cream (e.g. Verrugon), athletes foot cream
Gloves - disposable
Ice/Hot Pack & cover
Infection - cream external (e.g. Daktarin)
Infection Gynaecological - internal (e.g. Gyno-Daktarin)
Malaria Prevention - Mosquito coils, Nets / Mosquito net treatment kit (permethrin)
Malaria Prevention - Chloroquine, Paludrine (Proguanil), Mefloquine
Malaria Treatment - (as for prevention)
Mouth - gel (e.g. Bonjela) / Sunscreen (e.g. Lipsalve)
Painkillers - Paracetemol / Aspirin, ibuprofen etc. ... take one that works for you
Painkillers - metroclopramide (e.g. Maxolon) - treatment for migraines, nausea if susceptible
Stomach - metronidazole (e.g. Flagyl) for amoebic/giardia diarrhoea treatment, Imodium and/or Kaoline/Morphine for diarrhoea, Settlers tums for indigestion
Syringe & Needle Kit / Thermometer Clinical
Travel Sickness tablets (e.g. Sturgeon)
Water Sterilisation liquid or tablets (e.g. Milton fluid or Puritabs)
Worm tablets - Mebendazole 100 mg (e.g. Vermox)

Note: If you take regular medication, make sure that you order adequate supplies for your trip (with a few to spare for 'unforeseen circumstances') in plenty of time. Take them in their original containers with the Pharmacy Dispensing Label intact, and ideally a letter from your doctor, or at least a computer generated repeat prescription slip. Controlled Drugs (such as morphine, pethidine, diconal and others) will certainly need a letter of authorisation. For more information about which drugs this includes and the restrictions visit HM Customs and Excise web pages dealing with this.

Further info about putting together a travel medicine/first aid kit or taking medications abroad, see:

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Shipping a vehicle from Europe can prove quite costly due to shipping charges and high import tax rates in many countries, it sometimes helps if you have owned the vehicle for more than a year before you import it. We recommend you research this avenue very carefully before you do it (someone may have just been through the process and can give you current advice).

Further information about taking a vehicle overseas (or purchasing one on the field) can be found at Cars (Worldwide)

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When packing your personal belongings to go overseas, it may be a help to divide the items into the following three categories:

  1. Items you will not need for maybe 2 months and will therefore travel low priority the most economic way.
  2. Items you will need within a few days of arrival, these should be sent air freight (keep this list as small as possible due to costs).
  3. Items you need to have with you as soon as you reach your destination, these items will travel with you in your luggage.

It may also be useful to ensure that you have overnight items in your hand luggage as you may get separated from your checked luggage enroute. New restrictions for carry-on items mean that it's worth checking the regulations of the country/airport/airline before you get caught out at the airport. Items such as a mosquito net and malaria tablets should be included in hand luggage. There's a brilliant website called Onebag.com which is all about the art & science of travelling light - well worth a read before you think about packing!

Baggage Restrictions - Check with your airline for the latest advice on baggage restrictions or restricted items (also see https://www.heathrow.com/at-the-airport/security-and-baggage).

Luggage Weight - Even though your flight ticket may specify a kilogram limit for your luggage on the ticket (see far right column under 'allow', usually 23K), the airline will sometimes allow a no-charge excess of approx. 10 kilos over that. Even after that, with a bit of shuffling around, the check-in desk may allow more items as carry-on bags putting less in the hold. Charity/mission workers can often get greater baggage allowance by booking their flight through a Charity/mission travel agent (see Travel Agents).

Cases - Sturdy, lockable cases are the best. Though a variety of bags mean that you can shuffle luggage around to make the above weight calculations easier (taking smaller bags as additional hand luggage, if possible).

Airfreighted Containers - The most important criteria here is that the containers are light (not heavy) as they are charged by weight. Plastic barrels/containers or light wooden crates are often used. These should be sealed and banded if possible.

Shipped Containers - The most important criteria here is that the containers are strong, durable and secure as they are usually charged by volume. Lockable or sealable, tough plastic containers or strong wooden crates are often used. These should be sealed and banded if possible.

Packing items so they won't move and/or break is a learnt art. Some general rules are: pack heavier items under lighter items, bubble wrap (or equiv.) all fragile items, leave no gaps (use padding if necessary). Talk to your local removals firm if you need further advice!

Keep an inventory of everything you pack (including a brief description and value of each item) and number the boxes/containers. A copy of this inventory is usually required by customs and/or the shipping company. Keep at least one copy yourself for customs clearance at the other end and possible insurance claims when items are damaged or lost. It's advisable to mark all boxes with your destination name, address and contact telephone number in case official labels come off (These things happen!). Also, you should include contact details both on the inside and outside of any baggage, though it's good practice not to make your address readily visible to anyone overlooking your baggage (keep it in a 'covered' tag). If you're concerned about putting your own contact details on your bags, you can use your organisation, family member, friend or a third party contact service (e.g. www.yellowtag.com )

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Customs considerations

In most countries, you are allowed to import your personal effects during the first few months tax free, providing they are owned by you. Newly purchased items may be subject to VAT or import tax but if you have previously used them this is not usually a problem. Check with someone at your destination about the current customs regulations or see one of the following sites:

World Customs Organisation

The WCO site contains links to customs administration web sites of many countries.
Website: www.wcoomd.org
OAG is the world's leading independent source of flight schedule information and OAG.com has the largest list of flight schedules from around the world. The site also lists basic details about the customs restrictions of different countries.
Website: www.oag.com
HM Customs & Excise
For information about any UK export restrictions or customs information for when you enter the UK.
Website: www.hmce.gov.uk
This website provides the latest and widest range of public service information from the UK government. It includes: UK Passport Info & Application, UK Consulates & Embassies, Immunisations and Travel Health, Country Travel Advice, Customs & Duties Information.
Website: www.direct.gov.uk

Further advice or help on purchasing some of the specialised items above can be obtained from any of the mission purchasers or suppliers listed in Purchasing.

Further advice on packing and customs can be obtained from any of the shippers listed in Shippers.

Other tips on 'what to take' and packing can be found at any of the following websites:

If, by your experience, you feel that certain items on this page should be added, adjusted, emphasised or removed, please contact us and we will consider them.

Book Reviews

Quick read e-book with practical tips for children and pets.
Reviewed by Heather Huber