04 Jan Korea Packing List
Note: This post is part of our full Korea Adoption: Guide to Seoul.
Packing was seriously one of the most stressful parts of traveling to Seoul, and it’s still one of the most asked questions we get via our blog! Especially as first-time parents, we really had no idea what to pack, and as super light packers (Brian and I literally shared a carry-on for 2 weeks in Indonesia last year), it just about killed us to think about checking two suitcases, plus managing a stroller, 2 backpacks, and a diaper bag.
In the end, we waaaay overpacked! But the tricky part about adoption is that you just don’t know. Our foster mama gave us two enormous duffel bags of stuff; other foster families essentially transition your kiddo to you with the outfit they’re wearing and maybe one comfort item. So I’m going to cover what we needed, what we didn’t need, and things we wish we would have packed, and then I’ll add a few additional notes on strollers, carry-on items, and your diaper bag for the long journey home at the end. I’m doing this from memory and a few photos I took of all the things we managed to shove into two overstuffed suitcases, so double-check your list! And I’ll keep adding to this post as I think of additional items you might need.
Also, I’m going to assume you can fill in the details for things like toiletries, undergarments, and so on. That said, I would pack everything you use on a daily basis. Most stuff can be purchased in Korea, but stores like Target or Walmart weren’t easy to find, and it’s just not worth spending your time tracking down toothpaste or contact solution when you can bring it with you! We also swear by packing cubes, which kept everything in its place and made for much more organized packing, especially with an overnight layover on the way home!
- Driver’s license
- Credit/debit cards
- T-Money cards (you can buy these in Korea, but we had had some given to us, which saved us about $3 each)
- Important addresses and/or medical needs translated into Korean
**Note: AIAA/SWS did not require us to bring any sort of paperwork outside of our passports. However, check with your agency before traveling to be sure you don’t need to bring specific documents.
- Batter pack/charger
- Kindle/charger OR book
- Neck pillow
- Water bottle
- Small blanket for airplane
- Outlet adapter
- Rx Medications (if you have any)
- OTC cough syrup
- OTC cough drops (though, fun fact, they have amazing flavors in Korea)
- Few doses of OTC GI meds, like Tums, Exlax…
For first trip: Don’t forget your foster family and agency gifts, as well as gift bags and tissue paper! You can find more about the gifts we took to Korea HERE.
I’ll let you fill in the specifics here, but I thought I’d offer just a little guidance!
For our first visits with Gideon (trip 1) and for our Visa appointment (trip 2), Brian and I both dressed in what we would consider “business casual” – dressier pants, nicer shirt, sweater or light jacket, and flats/dress shoes. For your first visits, you’ll likely be playing on the floor with your child, so, ladies, I’d recommend pants over a dress or a skirt. Keep in mind, you’ll be asked to take off your shoes before entering the foster home or playroom to meet your child, and it’s expected you aren’t barefoot. So keep some socks in your bag if you plan to wear flats! We were instructed not to wear jeans to our Visa appointment, but our social worker did, and no one seemed to care at all. We apparently did not get a photo of our entire outfits in the same photo, but we wore the outfit in the photos below to both visits (except second visit we both wore jeans instead of dress pants) and Visa.
For court (trip 1), we both dressed up– a black dress, cardigan, and flats for me; and a dress shirt, tie, brown pants, and dress shoes for Brian. Brian did not wear a suit jacket. You, your agency representative, and a translator will enter the courtroom from a door at the back of the room, where likely the judge will already be in his/her chair and looking down at paperwork. There will be one, maybe two other people in the room. You walk about 15-20 feet into the room, and then you sit in big chairs at a table. The judge is halfway across the room, at an elevated desk, and the whole thing for us lasted about 4 minutes. I’m 99% sure he didn’t notice or care what we were wearing, and it all happened so fast that we didn’t even take off our winter coats! But it’s still a good idea to dress up, as it shows respect. Again, apparently we didn’t get a photo of our entire outfit, so you’ll have to use your imagination a bit.
For custody (trip 2), Brian and I both wore jeans, along with a nicer shirt. In fact, I think we wore the identical outfits as our first meeting with Gideon, except with jeans.
The rest of our time in Seoul, Brian and I pretty much wore the same outfit over and over. People in South Korea tend to wear dressier clothes than we do here, especially out in public. In fact, many Koreans – even during non-business hours – are dressed in what we (Brian and I at least) would consider “business casual.” I rarely saw people out in “athleisure,” and clothing choices tended to be modest and tasteful. We were in Seoul in winter, so I’m not sure what clothing looks like in summer, but we were told specifically by our agency to always cover our shoulders for visits and court.
Except for the events above, we wore dark jeans everywhere and did not feel out of place. In fact, our social workers – again, except for court – also wore dark jeans. I basically always wore the outfits below, which included dark jeans, tall boots, and a long-sleeved t-shirt or sweater, with some combination of a thin black North Face fleece, white medium-weight North Face fleece, and a thin outer wind-proof shell or my North Face raincoat. Plus a scarf, wool socks, and gloves, of course!
I also packed running shoes, leggings/t-shirt for the plane, and our summer clothes for Taiwan, but I didn’t need any of those while we were actually in Seoul. Don’t forget your pajamas, undergarments, and your swimsuits if your hotel has a pool!
We asked for Gideon’s clothes and shoe sizes during our first visit, so we came pretty prepared. However, we had to learn the hard way that kids’ clothing sizes aren’t always consistent and that Korean dryers are the hottest appliances on the planet and shrink basically everything! In the end, though, we still way overpacked.
We got three outfits from foster mom, but we didn’t use them in Korea, as I was afraid to spill anything on such special gifts. In the end, here’s what we ended up needing:
- 5 pairs of pajamas
- 3 pairs of pants (1 pair of sweatpants, 2 pairs of jeans/joggers)
- 4 shirts (2 short-sleeved, 2 long-sleeved)
- 2 sweatshirts
- 1 winter coat
- 3 bibs (Gideon drooled A LOT when we first took custody)
- Sweater for family photos
- Dress shoes for family photos
- 5 pairs of socks
- Swimsuit (as our hotel didn’t end up having a pool).
- Second winter coat.
- The many, many outfits we brought besides the above
Wish we had:
- Kid’s size gloves – It was 70 degrees on the day of custody, so foster mom didn’t send us with any. However, the temperature dropped by 30 degrees by the end of the week, and we couldn’t find kids gloves anywhere.
- Fleece onesie pajamas – This poor kid froze the first night, as he was used to sleeping in a really, really warm room (like 80 degrees warm), and we prefer a really cold room. In the end, we sweated it out for Gideon, but had he had a fleece onesie, we would have all slept much better!
Other Stuff for Gideon
What we actually needed:
- Diaper bag (we used a backpack we purchased in Seoul)
- Diapers (provided for us by SWS)
- Wet-dry bag
- Hand sanitizer
- Plastic bowl
- Bottles (SWS provided us with 4)
- Bottle brush
- Formula travel holder
- Baby wash
- Baby lotion
- Stacking cups
- Ziplock bags
- Small blanket to use for changing diapers
- Small blanket to cover him with
Didn’t need (but glad we had):
- Kindle Fire + Charger
- Diaper cream
- Toothbrush for Gideon
- Toothpaste for Gideon
- Sippy cup (Gideon still uses a bottle, and SWS provided us with 4)
- Nail clippers
- Pedialyte powder
- Water Wow book
Should have left at home:
- Daytime Diapers (SWS provided us with a HUGE package)
- Boogie wipes (not once have I used these, even since we’ve been home)
- Cough syrup (apparently kids under 4 can’t have cough syrup anyway)
- Swimming diapers
- Snack holders
- Coloring book
- Sticker book
- The ABUNDANCE of snack bars, puree pouches, applesauce, shelf-stable yogurt, oatmeal, rice cereal, white rice, and Pediasure we brought. If your child likes snacks, bring some. But we packed half a suitcase, and he ate literally NONE of it. We gave most of it away to another family.
Wish we had:
- Overnight diapers
- Small Tupperware container (for unfinished yogurt in our mini-fridge)
- More washcloths – Washcloths aren’t common in Korea, and Gideon + yogurt wasn’t always the neatest experience!
Gifts from Foster Mom/SWS
Foster mom gave us two huge duffel bags. One bag was filled with 2 outfits, several undershirts, and socks; 5 or 6 of Giddy’s favorite toys, including a massive Pororo electronic pyramid; his first outfit from his birth mama; and every last thing we had sent our boy via care packages, save for one shirt foster mom must have loved, because that was the one she chose for his passport photo and to keep.
The other huge bag was filled with three massive containers of goat’s milk formula, a bottle brush, unopened containers of filtered water, little portioned containers of dak juk (rice porridge) that foster mom had made for Gideon, bananas, strawberry Yoplait yogurt, and four new bottles stamped with the SWS logo. Our social worker added an enormous package of diapers, a commemorative Korean flag, and a book about Korean culture for Gideon to have “as he grew up in America.”
And for my particularly Type-A planners out there (I’m right there with you!), here’s what I took specifically in my carry on/backpack: Wallet (credit/debit cards, about $300 cash), passport, The Connected Child, journal/pens, headphones, phone charger, toothbrush/toothpaste, contact case/solution, glasses, deodorant, socks, small blanket, neck pillow, water bottle, gum, ibuprofen, sunglasses, phone, birth control, keys, itinerary, T-Money cards, and earplugs.
For first trip, I also had foster mom’s framed cross-stitch family, my work computer/charger, and my makeup bag in my carry on. And for the second trip, we also had Giddy’s diaper bag (below), as well as a change of clothes for both Brian and me in one of our backpacks.
Gideon wouldn’t eat anything but strawberry Yoplait and formula in Korea, so for the journey home, we packed his diaper bag with: diapers, wipes, 2 washcloths, hand sanitizer, a few empty ziplock bags, enough formula for about 10 bottles, 3 bottles (we went ahead and put formula powder in 2, and then prepared the 3rd bottle as we waited for takeoff), 3 sealed bottles of water (purchased after security), his wet/dry bag, 3 pairs of PJs, bags for smelly diapers, a small blanket to use on the changing table, a small blanket to cover him with, his stacking cups, 2 empty Play-Doh cups, and some window cling shapes we thought he might want to play with on the airplane window (but he didn’t). Again, he didn’t eat any other snacks, or we would have packed those! He also didn’t like electronic toys in Korea, or we would have packed one or two of those as well. Throughout the 14-hour flight, he went through 5 bottles and all 3 pairs of PJs because he kept soaking through his diapers. We really wish we would have packed overnight diapers, but we didn’t learn how amazing they were until about 4 weeks home!
Stroller vs. Carrier
This is a hot debate in the Korea adoption Facebook groups, but we were exceedingly thankful for our stroller, despite the extra “hassle” (which really wasn’t much, as it was free to check it on the way there, and easy to gate-check on the way home). Though he was reportedly carried in a carrier by foster mom before we took custody, Gideon absolutely refused to go in the Ergo we borrowed from another mama. He also refused to let us carry him without the carrier or even to leave the room without being in the stroller. Hear me when I say we would have been absolutely lost without our stroller! We were thankful to take the carrier, as he now uses a toddler Tula back home, but we got approximately zero use out of the carrier and hours and hours in the stroller.
That said, we purchased a $5 umbrella stroller from a yard sale with full intentions of just leaving it in the hotel room if we didn’t need it (we hear they get donated if you leave them behind, though I don’t know if that’s true). In the end, it was a $5 investment we were exceedingly thankful to have made!
So there you have it. Get to packing, my friend!