Chapter 1 Pre-departure Preparations

Most if not all of this information is derived from the MASA Newcomer’s Information Pack 2021, created by the former Head of Student Outreach Aidi Wafi. For all intents and purposes, this section is a copy-paste of that, with little to no significant changes besides formatting and language.

1.1 Documents

Be sure to print out whatever you need a copy of. It will be difficult printing anything without current students’ help until you get your i-Card here in the university. You won’t have WiFi/5G either.

Put all your documents in one file, order them well, and bring it in your hand luggage.

COVID-Era Documents
  • A PCR Test Result (preferrably negative, must be taken 3 days prior to flight)
Travel Documents
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Boarding pass(es)
University documents
  • I-20
  • Offer letter & financial statement
  • McKinley Health Center forms, immunization history & medical check-up results

1.2 Money

  • Always have your money on your person. Hand luggage works too but is possibly riskier.

  • Most international airports accept major currencies.

  • If you plan to exchange foreign currencies, we recommend you do it in Malaysia beforehand. You could also change them at international airports (like O’Hare, which you’d likely arrive or transition at). You won’t get to change foreign currencies to USD in Urbana-Champaign.

1.3 Contacts

Be sure to have with you / remember emergency contact number(s) to call when you reach the U.S. in case anything happens. If you’d like to have someone to contact here in UIUC, email us and we’ll help you.

1.4 Packing

We split these into two parts: Things you may likely bring on-hand, and things you may prefer to bring in your check-in luggage.

1.4.1 On-Hand Luggage

Here’s what we can tell you if you plan to bring any of these with you:

Laptops, iPads, personal computers in general

  • If you’re carrying them on you, make sure they’re easily accessible. You’ll have to take them out at security checks… a lot of times.


  • Get an international adapter! The plugs in the US are very much not like our UK-standard ones in Malaysia.
  • Alternatively, you could buy new cables for your chargers when you get here. Some of us do that, some of us use our adapter till we leave.

Toiletries kit for travel

  • Hygiene is important. Having small toiletry bag on you is a good idea if you want to keep fresh between flights.
  • You could bring a toothbrush, toothpaste tub, face towel, mouthwash, lotion, etc.
  • All hygiene goods must be within travel-size: Check this with your airlines website.
  • If any of these are liquids, put them in a ziploc bag so that it’s easy to take them out during security checks.

Jackets or sweaters

  • It can get pretty cold in the plane. It’s a good idea to have one on you once you’re out of Malaysia.

Something to keep you occupied

  • Flights to the US tend to be looong. If the on-flight movies don’t cut it for you, you may want to have something with you to keep busy.
    • Well-charged handheld gaming consoles
    • A good book
    • The Good Books (religious texts)
    • Anything else you may come up with


  • If you have the space, some extra clothes might be a good idea, especially under the rare unfortunate chance your luggage doesn’t arrive on time.

1.4.2 Check-in Luggage Clothes

Everyday clothes
  • Shirts, pants, undergarments, socks, shoes, and all
  • Remember that you can always buy more of anything once you arrive here!
  • Overall, how much is “enough” to bring is up to you and your expected living conditions here
Jackets, sweaters
  • A few extra would be good besides the one you bring on-hand
  • As for winter clothes, MaSA has yearly trips to Chicago and a shopping outlet near there to buy winter clothes. We do this after new students arrive, so if you don’t have winter clothing or don’t want to bring them from home, this is an option
Traditional clothes
  • MaSA does celebrate traditional Malaysian events, so bring your traditional clothes if you want to keep in theme!
One towel
  • Keep it small and thin, you don’t want it taking too much space. You can get a new one when you arrive, but in the meantime, better to have one than none Other Items

We’re putting miscellaneous things first because it’s shorter than the food section, hahh.

For Muslims
  • Having a prayer mat is a good idea
  • You can’t buy kain pelikat here, so bring one if you feel like you’d at least sometimes need it
  • Scarves & brooches are somewhat difficult to buy here besides online; shawls are available here, but are somewhat costly
  • Plushies, precious gifts, bantal busuk, photos… you know it!
  • Inhalers & supplements come to mind (fish oil, vitamins, etc)
  • We recommend medicines for flu, fever, coughs, pain, sore throats, headaches, etc
  • Any pharmacy goods you’ve found useful will continue to be great when you’re here. Be sure to declare all medical goods!
Spare glasses / contact lenses
  • A very very very very good idea. Get everything you can from Malaysia.
  • Glasses are relatively more expensive in the US. Bring your glasses prescription here too so you don’t have to pay out if you do have to get a check-up.
  • As for contact lenses: Solutions are cheaper in Malaysia, but you don’t have to bring too much (three 350 mL bottles are good enough). A typical 300 ml bottle costs around $10 if we’re not mistaken.
  • You can always get your stock here. Below, we detail the differences between Malaysian stationery and US stationery.
  • Punchers
    • The United States uses Letter size paper. Malaysian punchers are for A4, so… just don’t bring one. Get one here.
  • Pens, pencils & erasers
    • You can totally buy them in the US. If you bring mechanical pencils from Malaysia, there’s no guarantee that the lead refills are identical to ours.
  • Rulers
    • If you really want to avoid metric, a centimeter ruler from home wouldn’t be a bad idea.
    • The Union Bookstore does sell rulers with inch and centimeter measures though.
  • Correction tape
    • You honestly don’t need this. You wouldn’t have the time to use it when note-taking, nor in exams. Plus, most assignments are done online now. Food

DECLARE ALL FOOD YOU BRING. Whatever food you bring, double-check with airport guidelines to make sure they’re actually allowed to bring.

  • To make it easier in security checks, if your food is not packaged, list its ingredients.
  • If you’re living in a campus residential hall, you may want more instant food, snacks, and anything that doesn’t require cooking. That being said, the dining halls are almost sure to keep you full, and you can also get snacks pretty easily in most freshman halls!

The following list refers to more “valuable” foodstuffs that you can’t easily get here, so you’d probably want to bring more of them as a stockpile. These mostly refer to ingredients, so these apply less to those initially living in residence halls.

[Check this section to know what you can get here.][Groceries]

Kuih Raya
  • If you haven’t finished them all, anyways!
  • If you really want to maximize how much kuih you bring, coordinate with your friends! Then you can make sure everyone’s bringing a different variety of goods.
  • You are going to be travelling a good amount, so it’s best not to bring any kuih that’s too fragile… nanti you sampai UIUC bukak bukak kuih semperit pecah pecah, hancur hati
Instant paste or Bouillon cubes
  • It’s somewhat difficult or pricey to get halal stock cubes and curry spices here.
    • Adabi curry spices (like curry or kurma)
    • Maggi instant cubes
Instant drinks, tea bags, etc
  • Milo, Horlicks, Lipton tea, Vico, etc.
  • 1kg is typically enough, unless you drink a lot.
Serunding ayam / serunding ikan bilis
  • BEEF PRODUCTS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN CUSTOMS. Do not try to bring them. People have been brought to court for this.
  • Chicken and fish is absolutely fine, they’re great to go with extra rice!
Dried anchovies / ikan bilis
  • They’re expensive here. Really. If you plan to cook recipes that use them, definitely consider bringing dried anchovies from home.
Brahim products (not as necessarry)
Tomyam paste, kerisik (fried coconut shavings), instant powders, curry powders
  • You can get them here, but they likely won’t taste similar to what we get in Malaysia.