Welcome Packet for New Immigrants

Updated on January 03, 2019
D.B. asks from Westborough, MA
12 answers

Hello all,

As you may know, I am a former teacher and current tutor in a couple of areas, including teaching adult Spanish. One of my students, "S", who has been with me for 1.5 years, has been living in the area and working 3 jobs while becoming a citizen. He has worked for 7 years, and now has gone through all the hurdles to get visas/green cards for his wife ("J") and 2 daughters ("R" in grade 6 and "K" in grade 9). They will be arriving from Kenya in mid-February. Although he has been home to visit for 3 weeks a year, this is the first time they will be a true family under the same roof. It's so exciting! And, this is a whole new culture and weather situation for them - big adjustment!

S has signed a lease for a 2 bedroom apartment in my town, which he will move into with a few basics from his current small apartment, and some additional furniture purchases he will make in consultation with J via Facetime (no small feat given the time difference)! So they'll have beds, sheets, towels, etc. He'll be there for a few weeks before they arrive, so there will be groceries, laundry detergent, etc. on the premises. They are selling/giving away virtually everything they own so they will need to get some basics like winter jackets and boots.

He has just started a new, more lucrative job driving a truck Sunday night-Thursday night. It's much better than his prior jobs of personal care attendant/health aide in a bunch of different group homes, and while it takes him away for half the week, he should leverage it by March into a local job (work nights, be home during the day/evening/weekends) which will let him see his family every day. His goal is to start a small trucking company, so this job is something he discussed with J over several years.

The immediate hitch is that the family arrives on a Sunday in Boston at 1 p.m., will go through customs, and then drive an hour west to my town. He thinks by 3 but I think that's optimistic, even if we don't get snow! They will have suitcases of clothing and some personal items, but not much else. They will arrive at the apartment after a 14 hour flight from Dubai (there's no direct route from Nairobi), will be exhausted, and then he will have to leave that evening around 7 and be gone for 4 days! No way around it.

So, I wanted to provide a little welcome packet for them. I have 6 weeks to do this so there's time! I drove him around the town for an hour last weekend to show him the "hot spots" (schools, stores, points of interest) but he doesn't really know the ins and outs of the town himself. He has asked me for, and I have given him, contacts for a good insurance broker and doctors (which will depend on what insurance he chooses). I'm hoping S gets J a bank card so she has resources on day 1! J is obviously a strong and independent woman, but she won't have a driver's license right away. I was thinking they might need some of the following, but thought you might give me some extra ideas:

*map of town with key landmarks shown (each girl's school, library, supermarket, pharmacy, fire, police, town offices, and the church he has been attending in the next town)
*directory of town services including Rec. Dept. activities for teens/tweens
*directory of school services/staff including district office/superintendent and bus routes
*coffee from local coffee roaster (they have Kenyan coffee which excites him - might be a touch of home)
*jar of preserves from a local farm (which offers pick-your-own and fresh produce in season)
*a couple of issues of the local paper
*a few "coupons" for rides from me while he's away since they won't have a car (e.g. laundromat, supermarket, library for the book-loving kids, whatever they need, as well as a general "tour" of the town - it seems better than an open-ended "call if you need anything" offer

What else would you suggest? S brought me a gift after his last trip to Kenya, so I know their culture is open to small gift giving gestures. Also, their English is excellent - they speak 3 languages. So I really want to focus on things S will not have thought of that will help J and the kids for the first few weeks of acclimation. His parents live about 15 miles away but they don't know our individual town at all.

Thanks for your creative thoughts!

ETA: To clarify. They do NOT need money. He works, she's been working in Kenya and will be until the last minute. They don't need grocery gift cards or Go Fund Me pages although those are very kind thoughts. In fact, the dad has contributed to helping our large community of Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees, who truly have nothing. I'm looking for more practical tools and help for a new country.

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So What Happened?

You early responders exemplify Mamapedia at its best! I'm sure more good ideas are to come!

BRILLIANT idea to color code the routes, mention rush hour gridlock, etc.

EXCELLENT idea on the school supply issue - poster boards and unusual things! I have friends at both schools and will try to get a jump on the "needs" list, locks, lunch program, etc. One of my neighbors has been in special ed & guidance at the high school, and she has kids at both schools, so I'll get the inside scoop from her. I'll email a few neighbors with kids the same age. I'll also give info on school closings, snow days, delayed starts (New England snow, you know...)

GREAT idea on the holiday list. The dad is very Americanized after 7 years, and while he knows the basic holidays, but he won't be in tune with teacher in-service days, etc. I did mention to him that the kids walk to town on half days and go for pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, etc. I wanted him to know it's safe and done all the time, etc.
I'm going to let him handle the food, groceries, and laundromat issues - he's experienced in that anyway, and the main laundromat in town takes debit cards as well as quarters. I'll just remind him to prepare them.

WONDERFUL idea on the Welcome Wagon. I wish our town still had one, but we don't. They don't need gift cards - there's no low income component, as there is with the refugee population and the Puerto Rican hurricane evaucees in our area, who lost everything. But thanks for the idea.

It just occurred to me that they'll need help with female sanitary supplies (where to buy, brand names, etc.) - he hasn't dealt with that since he's been away so long.
Utilities - will be handled by the apartment building but thanks for thinking of it.

Cultural issues - our town is diverse in cultures/religions except for Africans/African-Americans. I've already reached out to some friends on who does a good job on cutting black hair. One black friend reminded me to ask about whether they use relaxers or other products, because that would affect her recommendations. I hope to have a whole list of stores/vendors put together before their arrival. Slang - great point! The dad is really well versed except for teen slang. There are a lot of kids in their apartment complex so they'll connect well on the school bus!

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answers from New York on

D., they are lucky to have you in their lives! What a great help you are providing.

My suggestion is to see if you can think of a way to tell them about holiday traditions and similar fun traditions here.

For example, I grew up with a girl from a family who moved to this country at about the age you're describing, and her parents were truly frightened on their first "October 31st" in this country, when suddenly their doorbell started ringing with masked children saying "Trick or Treat"!

Maybe a few fun books about Halloween or about 4th of July barbecues, etc. And about snow and snowmen!

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Denver on

What a great idea. I have a few suggestions, based on both my experience as an English as a Second Language tutor, and as a newcomer to two foreign countries (where my husband was assigned). Italy, the Veneto region, was very cultured and fairly easy to adapt to, but the island of Curacao was a whole other story.

If the family will be using the laundromat, provide them with a couple of rolls of quarters, or tokens or whatever the nearest laundromat requires.

If you have an idea of what local schools the kids will attend, find out what the school supply list looked like at the beginning of the year (notebooks, pencils, flash drives, Kleenex, whatever else middle schools or high schools require these days) and give each kid either a bag of supplies or a basic backpack containing the essentials to head off to school with. Will the girls need locks for their lockers or are they the kind that just need a number combination (the school would handle that, but if they need locks, you might supply them).

Provide him with a list of the utility companies (gas, electric, water) and their phone numbers (both the set-up numbers and emergency numbers).

Find out about the school lunch system. Do kids in the girls' grades bring lunch, or buy it? How do they buy it? Be prepared to explain it to your friend.

And see if the schools have some kind of parent portal for registering, checking on grades, reporting an absence, paying for lunches, etc, and provide the website to the family (and perhaps explain the system).

When we lived on Curacao, I wish that someone had explained to me where to buy things the kids were always needing for school projects. I was accustomed to being able to go to Hobby Lobby, or Office Max, for poster boards, display boards, etc, but the system was totally different there and I was so lost. Who would have looked for highlighters and pens and markers at the store that sold small electric appliances? Not me. But that's where I found them. So you might provide them with the name of a local store that most of the students find basic supplies at - it could be a very different system from what they're used to.

Make a list (maybe on a white board, or a laminated piece of paper) of important addresses and phone numbers to post at their home, in case they need assistance when your friend is working and not available. Pharmacy, doctor, police, water department, etc. I needed that in Curacao, and I felt safer knowing my kids could refer to the list if necessary.

Provide a list of important federal or state holidays like President's Day, Patriot's Day (in Massachusetts), etc, when banks and post offices will be closed.

That's all I can think of. I'm so glad your friend's family will have this welcome when they arrive!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Others have given you great advice. One thing I would suggest for the kids is some teen magazines to help them become familiar with American fashions, culture, etc. If I were a teen moving to a new continent I would be terrified of walking into a new school and being overwhelmed with new things.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

They are lucky to have someone so thoughtful looking out for them!

Great suggestions so far!

Not sure how helpful this will be, but where I live there is a ‘town greeter’. When someone new moves into the town or has a baby, the greeter visits them (or leaves basket on door step) with a basket of free services and coupons from all the local businesses. Like free oil change, free pizza, free haircut, free ham, etc.
it supported local businesses, but also allowed the new person to locate where the places were and try the services for free. Perhaps there would be local places willing to donate gift cards/services to this family?
Hope everything goes well for the rest of their journey!

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answers from Seattle on

As someone who works within the immigrant and refugee community daily.....I have a couple of suggestions of things my clients would have liked!
- A local church that reminds them of home. Whether it be in their first language or has a community where they can feel at ease.
- A grocery store where they can easily find things from home. We had a group of boys living in my program from a country in Africa. We found a grocery store where they could find the spices they cooked with, cookies, meat that was slaughtered the "right" way, and a special kind of bread they ate with everything. We shopped there at LEAST once a week!
How exciting for this family!

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answers from Washington DC on

I would give them a map with highlights of where they are and where they want to be in a folder - so one page would be home to grocery store - highlighted route.

Next would be route to school and home - again high lighted.

I think a basket of small gifts for each would be nice to welcome them to the USA. If they have a bath tub and like baths? I would do different bath soaps and such for them.

Gift cards to your local store so they can buy winter coats would be nice. Maybe try a go-fund-me to help with some of the expenses? That would be nice and since they are legally coming? I would give $50 for that go-fund-me.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

What a beautiful gesture! You are on the right track with maps. I might also go so far as to highlight the routes in different colors according to the person (so the school of one daughter is highlighted in a different color than the other). Also if there are tips on which route is easier at a certain time of day. Or what to avoid completely at a certain time of day.

I know when I’ve been traveling and have been on a plane for an extended time, having fresh fruit, water, maybe some breakfast items (bagels, cream cheese, etc.) is amazing. There will be a huge time difference to get used to as well. Not having to immediately go to a market for supplies is helpful. Even if you bought a box of Owens breakfast sandwiches for the freezer.

You could even go as far as to have a few local “specialties” in the refrigerator they can warm up the first couple of days. Maybe some clam chowder or a lobster bisque. When we visit Boston area we love to visit Mike’s Canoli’s. Their clocks are going to be way off so having items other than breakfast on hand might be appreciated.

Fresh flowers in a vase or maybe some soaking bath bombs would be great. Something to pamper her and her girls.

Maybe a list of “slang” terms too with their meanings. When we moved to Spain we had help with terms that we used commonly that meant something all together different there. Maybe a Frommers or some other travel guide of their new area.

So excited for all of them. Thank you for helping to make their transition an easier task. I wish them all success in this new chapter of their lives. I know you will be instrumental in making them feel welcomed and adjust to their new normal.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

My first thought is to offer to drive them on Monday to a store where they can buy winter coats, boots, scarves, mittens, and sweaters. If their wardrobe and shopping options were anything like my husband's when he arrived from Tanzania in 1995, I can't imagine that they will have any clothing which will be warm enough for winter in Massachusetts. I love the idea of 'coupons' and giving a map with the important places marked on it, too. If you are comfortable having them over for a meal in the first week or two while the father is gone, that would be very kind. As always, you are a mensch.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would add more transportation info, since they won't have a car. Maybe public bus passes and route info. Make sure they know how to use uber. See if you have any more friends that would help with rides for the first few weeks.

You could teach them about our currency. Oh, and 911.
So nice of you!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

oh, how wonderful!!!

you have already thought of all the things i'd have suggested.

throw in some candy, baked treats and gift cards to local restaurants and these folks will have a real warm american welcome.

love that you're doing this, D.!




answers from Miami on

Explanations of how to work the appliances in the house, and the washer/dryer at the laundromat?



answers from Appleton on

I would greet them at the airport with warm jackets, gloves, socks and boots. I'm not sure of the climate in Kenya but I know they don't get cold weather. So even 50* will feel like freezing to them. Imagine moving from Hawaii to Massachusetts in winter the climate shock is amazing. A friend of mine moved from Maryland to Florida a would laugh at the Floridians bundling up in 50* weather, saying it's not even cold. And here they have on scarves and gloves. So cold is relative to what you are used to.
They might also like blanket throws and warm slippers for evening while the kids are doing homework or watching TV.
You might also do a little research on cable and satellite providers in your area. I work for Spectrum and we do have an international package but I have never been asked the channel line-up so I don't know if there are any African channels. It might help them to feel more at home if they can still get channels from home.
Will she have a smart phone? If not try to get her one show her how to use the map. If I need a phone number I can often go to the map in my phone and use the talk to text feature and say Dr. Smith in Menasha and I get not only the directions but the phone number as well. Most business, police departments etc are in there and I can get the info quickly. Also explain the 911 system to her. If they will have a landline phone as soon as the phone connects the call the address will pop up in the dispatchers computer. But explain to her this is for emergencies only.
Not to be negative but I would warn her of the telemarketer scams we live with. I would hate to have her give out personal info or give money to a scam artist. Basically explain to her that if anyone calls asking for money to try to sell her something she should ask to be taken off the call list.
I wish them well and hope they enjoy living in the U. S.

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