You've Landed

Welcome! What you need to know about living in Western Massachusetts

Living in Western Massachusetts

Picture of IPO staff with Sam the MinutemanInternational Student Orientation

Each semester new international students are required to attend International Student Orientation. Typically a multi-day event, ISO will feature a vendor fair made up of mobile phone vendors, banks, area nonprofits, UMass departments and administrators, and technology support. The purpose of the vendor fair is to facilitate a smooth transition to UMass.

At this orientation, you can:

  • Open up a bank account
  • Sign up for a mobile phone plan
  • Attend a campus tour
  • Learn more visa regulations
  • Meet other international students, and more!



The Northeastern United States, especially New England, is renowned for its four distinct seasons. Please review Massachusetts climate data to get a sense of average temperatures and snowfall. If you are coming from a temperate region that does not experience lows below 4.4 °C, you should plan to purchase cold weather clothing when you arrive. Contact your department program coordinator, peers in your program, or an RSO to ask for “best practices” when moving to Amherst.

Here is a helpful guide about climate in Western Massachusetts from us.


There are multiple department stores accessible on public transportation at which you can purchase clothing, staple grocery items, health and beauty items, kitchenware and home goods. The two largest retail chains are Target and Walmart. Both stores allow in store shopping, online shopping with local store pickup, or online shopping with home delivery.


There are two large regional grocery stores on public transit: Stop and Shop, Big Y, and Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and ALDI. There are numerous small international grocers including Big Basket Market, Cousins Market, Neighbor Food Mart, Mom’s House Convenience Store, Trans World Market, and JJ Brothers Tacos and Market. Most of these stores are on the B43 bus line.

Hampshire County is home to 692 small farms. There are farmers markets offering fresh produce, dairy, meat, and shelf-stable goods much of the year in Amherst, Hadley, four in Northampton (Saturdays, Tuesdays, the winter market and the Florence market). There are also numerous small farm stores and stands with groceries available throughout the year.

Clothing and Housewares

In addition to online retailers and large department stores, new students can find homegoods and housewares on community groups such as Freecycle, regional Buy Nothing groups hosted on Facebook, Pioneer Valley Curb Alert, and by visiting local second hand shops in the area.

It is recommended that new students connect with peers at UMass in order to plan for what items should be transported from home, and what can be obtained while here.


Most grocery stores have small pharmaceutical areas, depending on the size of the store. The two major pharmacy chains are CVS and Walgreens and the pharmacy at University Health Services on campus.

Many common drugs have different names between countries. This is a list of brand name drugs with their generic name for reference. ‘Over the counter’ medicines are those that do not require a prescription. Medicines that require prescriptions can be bought from the pharmacy at UHS with a UHS doctor’s prescription.

Next Steps

  • Social Security Numbers

    • Social Security Numbers are unique identification numbers administered by the federal government and linked to your medical, financial, and driving records. Your SSN should not be shared widely as it can be a critical piece of information used by identity thieves. Medical offices, government agencies, and banks will ask for your SSN for identifying purposes.
    • Once your payroll has been processed by UMass Human Resources you can apply for a social security number.
    • Please follow this detailed guide on how to obtain a social security number (SSN).

      There is no need to come to the IPO for the SSN request process. Anything you need from our office can be requested online. If you need our signature on an employment letter, you must request the SSN Letter signature from the online request process here.

  • Immunizations

    • In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine required by UMass, Massachusetts law requires that college students have certain immunizations before coming to school, and submit proof of completion. For more information on submitting proof of completion or obtaining missing immunizations, please navigate to University Health Services.


Western Massachusetts is serviced by two public transportation agencies:

Both organizations have robust bus lines servicing Western Massachusetts. Additionally, there are three private mass transit companies that provide regional service to major cities in the Northeast:

Finally, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority runs its commuter rail between Boston and Worcester, MA daily.

Western Massachusetts is very bikeable most of the year. There is a network of paved bike paths that connect Amherst to surrounding towns including Northampton, Hadley, and Belchertown. Valley Bike Share offers affordable, short-term electric-assist bicycle rentals in Amherst and surrounding areas in the spring through late fall.


The Bursar’s Office at UMass accepts payments in the form of checks and money orders (payable to “University of Massachusetts”, with your name and student ID on the reverse).

  • Fees are not due until after the course add/drop date (approximately one month after the first day of classes)
  • You could either bring a check/money order for the bursar’s bill or you can bring the money with you and open a U.S. bank account and deposit the money. There are considerable safety issues with carrying large sums of money while traveling.
  • More information on deadlines and payment options are on the Bursar’s Office website.

Carrying Money to the U.S.

Methods of obtaining money for traveling to the U.S. will vary by country of origin. Contact your department’s program administrator or RSO’s for specific information.

Traveler's Checks The most common way of carrying money to the United States. Traveler’s checks are insured against theft or loss.

Money Orders/Personal Checks

Money orders and personal checks should be in U.S. dollars but may have a longer processing time when deposited into a bank account. Money orders and personal checks can be made out to the University for tuition and fees.

Travel Currency Cards Details of travel currency cards vary by country. Contact your home financial institution for advice and best practices.

The advice of many international student groups on campus is to carry at least $500 cash for travel expenses, emergencies and to open a bank account.

Banking in the Amherst Area

UMass Amherst Undergraduate Student Success, a unit was established in 2016 through the active partnership of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs & Campus Life, has created a great website to help UMass students navigate the complicated process of banking in the Amherst area.