February 13, 2011


What to bring

We have come up with a list of essential things that you must bring and also a list of things you should not bring. What you bring in the end however is entirely up to you. Travelling light is the best piece of advice we can give you but if you’re travelling with parents, go ahead and bring your very own bathtub from back home if you should so wish.

Remember to check your baggage limit on the website of the airline you are flying with. All baggage flying into the US are subject to checks by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). There is a high chance that your bag might be checked. It is a good idea to use baggage with TSA locks or buy external TSA locks for your baggage because the TSA will break open your bag for inspection.


1. Your passport, I-20 and visa (stuck on one of your passport pages), and I-94 card (a little card that will be stapled to your passport upon entry into the US). If your I-94 is not attached to your passport, you can access it online: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov and print it out once you get to Duke. You will probably need your I-94 for administrative matters on the first few days of orientation. (There are printers in most of the dorms, in the library and also outside Marketplace.)

2. Credit cards (It is a good idea to own a supplementary card from any of your parents’ account). Note that many car rental services in the USA accept only credit cards and not debit cards.

3. Original GCE A-Level certificate if you do the A-level so that you can get your International Placement Credit which allows you to accelerate your degree requirements.

4. JC/High School Notes: A-Level Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Math and Economics notes are particularly useful sometimes

5. Singapore driving license if you have one. It is recognized in the entire US and acts as a form of ID.

Personal items

1. Casual wear for Fall

2. A waterproof winter jacket. Down jackets are recommended. Don’t buy them in Singapore if you don’t already have any. Buy them in the US instead because they’ll be cheaper and you don’t really need them until late October.

3. A small umbrella. It rains often in Durham and the umbrellas they sell on campus are ridiculously overpriced. Think 30USD for a medium sized umbrella.

4. Backpacks are useful to have on short trips and for lugging engineering/math textbooks to class.

5. Graphing calculators – you need them for engineering classes! Bring if you have one at home, or else you can get a Ti-89 online (it’s really useful for your engineering classes)

6. Prescriptions and prescription medicine. Aspirin is the United States equivalent of Panadol. American medicine tends to be stronger than usual and you may not be used to them. If you can bring some medication from Singapore. Multivitamins are encouraged too if you take them regularly. If you believe in TCM, bring a sufficient supply; traditional medicine can be found at the Asian market but they are rather pricey.

7. Contact list of names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of key contacts both in the States and at home. Click here to access our database of Singaporean Dukies, we are always willing to help!

8. Previous upperclassmen recommend that you bring passport-sized photos in case you need to get a new passport or visa or some other documentation such as the International Student Card as it is not convenient to take passport sized photos at Duke. However, you should have been asked to submit a photo for your DukeCard which can be retrieved for use to make any sort of photo ID within Duke such as the International Student Card. On a side note, the International Student Card is a great card to have as it offers you identification within the United States and may have travel insurance and travel deals for holders of the card. Your only other form of recognized identification would be your passport. (More on that later.)

9. Essential toiletries to last for the first week. The nearest supermart is Harris Teeter, along Ninth Street. It is about a 5 minute walk away from East Campus, and you should be able to find almost everything you need here. Dollar General, a dollar store, is also in walking distance. Duke also provides buses for you to get to Target during orientation week.

10. Multi-adapter and transformer is a must if you are bringing electrical appliances from Singapore. Note that the States uses a lower voltage than Singapore does (AC 110-120V, 60 Hz). Advice from the electrical engineer: most electrical appliances from home such as kettles, lamps DO NOT support 120V at 60Hz, while most electronics such as laptops or iPods come with a power adapter that DOES support 120V at 60Hz. However, CHECK FIRST before plugging in. US plugs are flat vertical two pins, with and without a round pin on top. Note the output wattage of the adapter as well.

11. Accessories: The following items may seem inconsequential but you will find them very useful: Pens from home (pens in the US are not extremely advanced and if you are the sort that can only write with particular pens, it would serve you well to be well stocked with your favorite gels/Pilots), short ruler, correction tape, pad of paper (but you’ll have to get used to the Letter-sized paper in the US), safety pins, paper clips, sewing kits, extra buttons, nylon cord, first aid kit, alarm clock/watch, flashlight, spare batteries, plastic bags and duct tape.

12. TSA lock. As long as you fly to, from, within the US and you wish to lock your baggage, you would need a TSA lock. Please see http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/locks.shtm for more information. Your locks will be cut by TSA agents if you choose to use non-TSA locks. You can otherwise choose not to lock your baggage.

13. Food. If you cannot live without Singaporean food, you should bring some. Note that food that contains pictures of chicken or other poultry will subject you to ridiculous TSA checks due to a fear of the Avian Flu, after which they’ll most probably confiscate it anyway. This also happened when some of us have tried bringing in vacuum-sealed Bak Kwa. There is an Asian market near Duke but it is difficult to get anywhere without a car.

14. Personal effects such as photos of loved ones and friends will be extremely useful if you should get homesick. The SSA however strives to be a home away from home for you to help you deal with any homesickness you might develop.

15. Desk Lamp. If you are used to using fluorescent desk lamps, you might want to bring your own from home as most desk lamps in the US uses light bulbs which tend to heat up easily. Fluorescent white light bulbs are harder to find and pretty expensive. The closest substitute for white light is a ‘soft white’ bulb which emits a yellowish light. Fluorescent desk lamps, however, are available at Office Depot at rather steep prices.

16. Cash – Bank draft normally takes more than a week in. The different banks will normally come down for you to open an account with them. If you get to Duke earlier, you can set up an account at Wells Fargo which has a branch along Ninth Street. However, it is also during this time when you do most of your settling in shopping (for appliances such as fans, desk lamps and other comforts) as well as setting up phone accounts and stuff. For phone account, they typically need a deposit of USD150. Smartphones will an additional USD100-USD200.

What not to bring

1. Do not bring dictionaries. Online dictionaries are readily available.

2. 2-Hole Punchers because 3-Hole Punchers are used here. If you bring the 2-Hole punchers, make sure you bring enough 2-Hole files or binders because you would not find any here.

3. Staplers possibly face a similar problem the hole punchers face due to difference in sizes of staples. However, you can’t find small portable staplers in the US so it might be a worthwhile investment, if you’re willing to bring a small box of stapler refill cartridges.

4. Essence of Chicken. Walmart and the Asian market nearby sells them.

5. Linen. Beds here are longer. If you wish to bring your own linen, check the dimensions in the pre-enrollment package you received before buying and bringing over any. A short trip to Northgate however will allow you purchase comforters and linen cheaply. Buying Duke (Blue Devil Delivery) is a lot more expensive but more convenient. Pick up will be at the truck parked at the car-park next to the Housing Office (behind Brown) where you pick up your dorm keys when you reach East Campus.

6. A combination of cash, bank drafts or other monetary instruments exceeding USD 10000USD. You will have to declare it at the customs and the procedure is troublesome. Electronic transfers of cash are a viable option although there are wiring charges.

7. Too many T-shirts. The first month in school will leave you with at least 5 new, free T-shirts. Eagle-eyed awareness of events/activities will land you at least 5 more.

Miscellaneous Packing Advice

1. Pack a spare set of clothes in your hand-carry luggage. A couple of us had a nasty experience in freshman year, when our airline chose to offload our baggage from our connecting flight from JFK to RDU, as they had no more room (!). It really helped that I had a spare set of clothes and undergarments to last me the two days it took for my baggage to arrive.