Searching for the perfect homestay gift for your upcoming host family? Keep reading for my top picks!
I stayed with host families in Guatemala while studying at a language school in Guatemala and in Jordan while studying abroad in college. Both times, I was at a bit of a loss for what to get my host family. I searched online and found some ideas, but I was a little confused by the whole process. So, I wanted to share my Ultimate Homestay Gift Guide to demystify the process and give you some ideas so that you’ll know what to give your host family when you arrive.
Now that I’ve traveled more and have experience staying with hosts from a variety of countries, I have a little more insight into what makes a great gift. I wanted to share some tips and ideas so that you can start your relationship with your host family off on the right foot.
Is it customary to bring a gift for your host family?
In most cultures, it’s customary to bring a gift for your hosts whenever you are hosted in their home. This could be anything from being invited over for dinner to staying with a host family for a month or longer.
You’ll want to present your gift pretty soon after you arrive, usually after you bring your luggage in and start to get settled. There’s no need to wrap your gift, and there’s usually no need to write a card. Just the gift, along with a verbal thank you to your hosts, should be sufficient.
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How much should you spend on a gift for your host family?
The amount that you spend on your gift is less important than the thought behind the gift, but $20 to $50 is a good benchmark for a student, depending on your budget. If you prefer to give a gift that is homemade, that’s totally ok!
If you’re staying for less than a week, gifts in the range of $10 to $20 are appropriate.
What type of gift should I bring to my host family?
The best gifts are items that will help you to share your culture and something that they can’t easily find in their home country. Families often host students because they are interested in cultural exchange, so try to select something that represents the place you’re from and what makes it special. Think about the kinds of small items that people usually buy to remember your hometown and use that as a starting point.
If you’d rather give a gift that represents the town where you go to school, that’s perfectly fine. For the purposes of simplicity, I say “your hometown” in this post, but it’s totally valid if you’d rather bring a gift from another place that you love and holds meaning for you. You could even bring gifts from both regions and explain how they’re similar and different!
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How do you know when to bring a gift to someone’s home?
As a general rule, you should bring a gift anytime you’re invited into someone’s home. These gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they should be thoughtful and relevant to your host. For example, if you’re coming over for coffee or tea, your gift can be a small cake or some homemade cookies because they’ll accompany the tea and coffee.
If your study abroad program involves multiple homestays, bring a gift for each of the families you’ll be visiting. When I studied abroad in Jordan, I lived with one family for most of my trip then spent about four days with another family while on an excursion midway through the program. In cases like that, you’ll want to bring a bigger, main gift for your primary host family, as well as a smaller gift for your other hosts.
It’s best if you can bring a gift from your home country, but if you forget or if it gets lost in transit, you can always pick something nice up after you arrive.
Gift Ideas for Your Homestay
Do not feel limited by this list; it’s intended to give you ideas, offer suggestions, and serve as a starting place. If you’d like to give your host family a gift that is not on this list, do it! However, if you’re stuck and you’re not sure what would qualify as a “local artisan” in the place where you live, I hope this list can help you.
If there’s anything that you like to make at home and give as gifts, it can make a great gift for your host family. This could include anything from knitted projects to candles; if you make it and others enjoy it, it’s probably a great gift!
If you choose to bring any sort of food, be sure that it will survive the journey and still be fresh and delicious to eat.
Chocolate is a great gift because it’s widely appreciated by many types of people from around the world. Start by checking local chocolate shops and chocolatiers for special and unique chocolate bars. If there’s a bar that reminds you of home, that’s probably the right one to choose!
If you don’t have artisan chocolate shops near where you live, try an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods or the equivalent in your town. One or two lovely chocolate bars will make a great gift, especially if you pair them with a few other small items on this list. Remember, the idea is to choose something that won’t be available in your homestay’s country, so it’s OK if it’s not the sort of chocolate you’d eat every day.
Regional candy can make a great gift (or part of a gift) for a host family. Try to find something that is specific to the place you grew up or otherwise not easy to find in the place you’re visiting. Do a quick Google search to be sure you’re not bringing something that’s widely available in the place you’re visiting. When in doubt, you could always bring a few candy bars as an extra addition to your main gift.
A Colombian friend told me that Snickers bars and M&Ms would make a great gift if you were to study abroad in his country. Another Irish friend told me that she’s obsessed with Peeps and candy corn, both of which she stocks up on anytime she visits the US.
A note to Europeans visiting the US: you can’t buy chocolate covered Digestives, Kinder Eggs, or Jaffa Cakes in the States, and they usually go over pretty well!
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A local hot sauce or set of hot sauces can be a great gift for your host family. Be sure to get a few that are barely spicy, or not really spicy at all, so your family can still enjoy them even if they can’t tolerate heat. If you’re planning to buy some hot sauce that’s widely available in the US (think: Cholula) check the websites for a couple of local grocery stores to be sure it isn’t widely available in the place you’ll be living.
Locally made hot sauces will be a safer bet, and they sometimes have pretty jars or interesting labels that your host family will enjoy!
If you’re coming from New England or somewhere else where maple syrup is grown, bring some local maple syrup with you. Try to go for a local bottle, something made at a nearby farm (you can take a broad definition of “nearby” here). Maple candies and maple sugar could also make a great gift, and you’ll be able to take them in your carry on.
Local candles and/or incense
Just about everyone appreciates some self-care essentials, so a beautiful local candle or incense would be a great gift. If you choose to bring incense, I would pick up one of the small incense holders in case your host family doesn’t have one.
The more artisan the candles and incense look, the better!
If there’s a book about your city or region that you love, a copy of a book could be a great gift. Keep in mind any language barriers, though, and don’t bring a book in a language that your host family won’t be able to read.
A coffee table book with lots of high quality photos would be a great gift. This is true even if the text is in a language that your host can’t read–just about everyone enjoys looking at beautiful photos!
Original artwork is a wonderful gift, provided you’re able to safely carry it to your homestay family. This could be art that you made, or a piece from a family member, friend, or just something you really love. Take special care to package any artwork to keep it safe during your long journey.
Any spices or seasonings that are special to your region would make a great gift. This could include things like spice rubs, cajun seasoning, or even barbeque sauce. In Ireland, for example, the only barbeque sauces available here are usually made by Heinz or Bullseye, so any sort of local barbeque sauce available in your hometown would be exciting to try!
A board game that you love could be a great gift for your host family, especially if you show them how to play it. Try to avoid overly common games like Uno, as well as games that won’t be family friendly, like Cards Against Humanity. If you choose to bring a classic game like chess, be sure that the board and pieces are really special and unique.
Classic American games like Yahtzee or newer games like Sushi Go could be fun to play with your host family and easy enough for children to learn.
If you know of a place to buy a nice throw blanket that’s in your budget, it can be a nice gift for a host family! Everyone loves to get cozy on the couch and watch a movie, usually with a nice, soft blanket. Be aware that throw blankets can get pricey and take up a lot of room in your bag, so be sure that you can fit the blanket in your budget and backpack. If you have any concerns, you might choose another gift on this list.
If you’re a tea lover, bring some of your favorite teas to share with your host family. Be sure to bring everything you might need to make the tea, possibly including some local honey and a nice mug.
If you love to cook, a cookbook could be a great gift for your host family. Choose a cookbook that has regional dishes from your area, or one that you’ve used many times and know well. Be sure that the book has plenty of photos so that everyone can see the different types of cuisine.
As a bonus, you could bring any special ingredients used in the book and cook one of the dishes for your host family.
If you’re a big sports fan, a sports jersey or similar item from your college or local sports team could be a hit! If you’re not sure about the right size to get, an adjustable baseball cap is a safe bet. A mug could be even better, since there’s no sizing involved.
Avoid t-shirts or other close-fitting items, since you more than likely won’t know the size and preferences of your host before you arrive.
A jigsaw puzzle
Puzzles are good homestay gifts because they can be enjoyed by the whole family and serve as talking points when your family has future guests. I like these puzzles from Liberty Puzzles, but be sure to choose one of the small ones or they’ll start to get pricey. Alternatively, any puzzle that features your hometown or a nearby landmark would make a great gift!
If you live in a city with a Muji, you can pick up small cardboard puzzles or other games that make perfect small gifts.
How to figure out what’s available abroad
If you have a gift in mind but you’re not sure if it’s widely available in the country where you’ll be studying abroad, you can usually get a good idea by doing some digging online. You don’t need to do an exhaustive search, but a quick Google might help you determine if you’re bringing a special item or an everyday item to your host family.
Try Googling the following terms:
”American items that are hard to find in ____”
“Best hostess gift for a host in ____”
“Is ___ a good hostess gift in ____?”
“Where to buy ____ in ____”
Depending on where you’re going, you may or may not find helpful guidance online. That’s ok, it only takes a few minutes to search and it’s worth having a little bit of regional guidance if you can find it!
Bad gift ideas
If you’re going to be living with a family in a homestay, there are a few gifts that you should avoid.
Anything that will spoil, melt, spill, or break in transit
You’ll want to be sure that your gift arrives in one piece! If you have doubts about your gift’s ability to travel around the world, you may want to skip it in favor of a hardier option.
Although alcohol is a common gift for hosts when you visit their home, it’s not an appropriate gift for a homestay family and should be avoided. You have no way of knowing the family’s feelings towards alcohol, and there are some cultures where alcohol is taboo or religiously forbidden.
If there’s a chance that your gift could be understood as being controversial or insensitive, avoid it altogether. This would include anything from animal products to religious items to references to drugs/alcohol. Your objective when giving a gift to your homestay family is to show them that you appreciate being a guest in their home, and controversial items won’t have this impact. Any items you give your host family should be family-friendly.
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After you’ve selected the perfect gift for your host family, you’ll want to be sure that it arrives in one piece. Take care to pack your bag in such a way that everything in it is protected, since you’ll need all of your items once you arrive.
The biggest risk with any chocolate is that it will melt or break. To avoid this, you’ll want to first protect your clothing by placing the chocolate in a plastic bag. This way, if the chocolate does melt at least it will be contained to the plastic bag. Then, protect the chocolate by putting bars up against something sturdy, like a book or a journal. Finally, insulate and protect it in your bag by wrapping the book and chocolate in a piece of clothing, ideally one that will provide a small amount of insulation like a down jacket.
If you have other types of chocolate, such as truffles, you’ll want to carefully carry them by hand instead of in your checked luggage.
Books or games
If you have a gift that might get crushed or damaged, such a book or a board game, your best bet is to find a box or two pieces of cardboard to pack it in. Then, place the box against the firm side of your suitcase or luggage, packing clothing and other items around it to hold it in place. Try not to keep books in your backpack without protection, since other items can fall on the pages and bend them.
Anything that comes in a glass jar is worth a little extra protection in your bag. Seal the jar in at least one Ziplock bag, and then wrap it in soft clothing to protect it from any other hard objects. Be sure to place the glass jar towards the middle of your bag so that it won’t come into contact with concrete or other hard surfaces while in transit.
My host family hated my gift, now what?!
In the extremely unlikely event that your host family doesn’t love your gift, don’t take it personally. People all over the world have their own preferences, and your idea of a good gift simply might not be theirs.
A gift is a gesture of kindness and generosity. So long as your gift was given with the intention of thanking your hosts for having you in their home, there’s nothing to feel bad about and nothing you need to do to fix it. This is truly a situation where it’s the thought that counts, and sometimes you just get unlucky.
Final Thoughts: What to Give Your Host Family As A Gift
Studying abroad is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience for any World Traveler and their host family. You have the opportunity to learn across cultures, try out life in a new place, and make friends. Your gift is simply a thank you to your host family for having you in their home and sharing their lives with you.
If you have some time before you go abroad, you might want to make a small photo album of your friends, family, school, favorite foods, and hometown to show your hosts. Chances are they’ll be excited to see your life at home and they’ll jump at the chance to get to know you better.