Hosted Student Travel While in the U.S.
Naturally, many participants want to travel to see more of the United States, and in some AFS communities and/or host families, hosted participants have the opportunity to travel with their host family or school. However, the AFS experience is built around immersion into the host family, school, and community; additional travel is NOT a focus of the AFS Program.
When traveling with the host family, AFS compulsory events and participant school attendance must NOT be interrupted. Furthermore, the AFS Participation Agreement, which is signed by all AFS Participants and their parent(s)/guardian(s), states:
We understand that participation is assigned for one AFS Program and that Participants will remain in their host community for the duration of the program and will not leave prior to the conclusion of the program, nor travel between home and host community during the program. It is understood that Participants will return to their home country at the conclusion of the program.
Participants are not allowed to return to their home country during their AFS Program, for the same reasons that we discourage visits from parent(s)/guardian(s)/family members and friends. A trip to the home country interrupts the student’s integration into U.S. American life, as relationships and cultural norms from home are resumed. Your role as a host parent is also interrupted, which may confuse relationships and/or weaken the bond you have built with your hosted son or daughter. Therefore, we ask that you not plan to take trips with your hosted participant back to their home country during the AFS Program.
AFS Guidelines for Independent Travel
AFS-USA travel guidelines are designed to maintain the integrity of AFS Programs and to help participants adapt fully to their lives as exchange students in the U.S. AFS Participants have obligations to their host families, communities, and schools.
In addition, AFS is responsible for participants; AFS must know a participant's whereabouts in the event of an emergency.
Unauthorized participant travel away from the host family or host community is strictly prohibited and can result in Program Termination - Early Return.
Some types of travel do not require special permission and some types require permission from AFS, in the form of a Travel Waiver. The table below outlines some of these situations. Even if a Travel Waiver is not required, the host family should always notify their AFS Liaison or Area Support Coordinator of any overnight stays outside of the host community.
Independent travel is not permitted in the first 5 months of the program and requests made to local volunteers and AFS-USA must be made 3 weeks prior to travel otherwise they may not be approved.
The table below provides additional guidelines on travel opportunities and student stays away from the host family home.
|Situation||Travel Waiver Required||Maximum Length||School Absence Permitted||Additional Restrictions/Conditions|
|1||Spending the night with a local friend of the participant or host family within the host community||No||4 Nights||No||If the stay exceeds 4 nights (Prudent Parent Stay) the family will need to complete the host family screening process.|
Travel with host parents or host family household member who is at least 25 years of age (21-24 with AFS Support Coordinator permission)
|No||Subject to school guidelines||Yes, as long as it complies with school guidelines and J-1 visa requirements||Travel to Mexico is strictly prohibited in states listed in the Department of State DO NOT TRAVEL Advisory list (Level 4 threat). All other requests will be considered on a case by case basis. See Department of State – Mexico Travel Advisory.|
|3||Domestic Travel with AFS volunteer who is at least 25 years of age (21-24 with AFS Support Coordinator permission)||No||Subject to school guidelines||Yes, as long as it complies with school guidelines and J-1 visa requirements||None|
Required/official school trip
(required as condition of being in a school group such as choir or band and with school chaperones)
|No||Subject to school guidelines||Yes, as long as it complies with school guidelines and J-1 visa requirements||None|
|5||Optional school trip (organized by someone at school such as a teacher but not an official or required trip, such as a senior trip)||No||Subject to school guidelines||Yes, as long as it complies with school guidelines and J-1 visa requirements||None|
|6||Belo Tours (optional trip; not a required AFS program activity)||Yes||14 days||Up to 5 days with school permission||Case by case for semester students before the last month of the program|
|7||Travel with organized group in host community such as church or scouts||Yes||10 days||Up to 5 days with school permission||None|
|8||To visit, without a host parent, a host family relative, such as aunt or grandparent, who lives outside the host community.||Yes||10 days||No||None|
|9||Friends from home country come to visit the student in the host community||No, as long as student stays in host community. The student is not permitted to stay at a hotel with the friends in host community.||10 days||No||Must have been on program for 5 months or in last month of program. Strongly recommend no visit prior to the last month of program. Friends should not plan to stay with the host family but rather are expected to arrange for their own place to stay.|
|10||Travel with sending family from home country||No||10 days||No||Must have been on program for 5 months or in last month or program. Strongly recommend no visit prior to the last month of program|
|11||Travel with friends (who are at least 25 years of age) from student's home country who are visiting the U.S.||Yes||10 days||No||Must have been on program for 5 months or in last month or program. Strongly recommend no visit prior to the last month of program.|
|12||To visit friends over the age of 25 from student's home country who live in the U.S.||Yes||10 days||No||Must have been on program for 5 months or in last month of program. Any exception must be approved by AFS-USA staff.|
|13||To visit the home of the host family of another AFSer who is hosted in the U.S. and the student is traveling alone to the host family home||No||4 nights||No||Must have been on program for 5 months or in last month of program. Any exception must be approved by AFS-USA staff. Requires permission of other AFSers support coordinator. (If the stay exceeds 4 nights, or the visit was arranged by AFS, a visit notification must be sent, and any required consents obtained.|
|14||Other travel||Yes||10 days||No||Case by case basis|
Short Stays Away from the Host Family
On occasion, host parents may need to be away for a short period of time for a business trip or family emergency, for example. In such cases participants can stay in the care of a close friend or relative for up to four nights without the host parents needing permission from AFS.
However, prior to such a stay host parents must inform the AFS Liaison of the duration of the stay, and the contact information for the adult or family with whom the participant will temporarily stay. If the temporary stay will be longer than four nights and/or the host parents are unable to find a close friend or relative with whom you can stay, AFS Volunteers or staff will identify a screened family for you.
Steps for Obtaining Approval for Independent Travel
Hosted Students must make all requests for Independent Travel to their Liaison at least three weeks prior to their proposed departure date. All of the following steps must be taken BEFORE AFS will grant approval for an Independent Travel request. Only AFTER approval has been granted should the participant then begin making concrete travel plans:
AFS Participants must first obtain approval for Independent Travel from the host family, Area Team Support Coordinator (ATSC) or designated volunteer and AFS staff. The participant should inform the host family and volunteers of the dates and destinations of the proposed travel, as well as the purpose of the trip. In all cases of participant travel, the participant must provide emergency contact information to an AFS volunteer or staff person. This contact information should include the participant’s travel plans and itinerary, accommodations, and how the participant can be contacted in case of emergency. If the host family and ATSC or designated volunteer do NOT grant permission, the participant will NOT be allowed to go on the trip.
- If the host family and volunteers approve the participant's request for travel, volunteers must confirm the plans with AFS-USA.
- Parental/guardian permission is required for all Independent Travel. The participant is responsible for contacting their parent(s)/guardian(s) in their home country to inform them of the travel request.
- The parent(s)/guardian(s) must then make a formal request to the AFS office in the participant's home country for a Travel Waiver. A Travel Waiver releases AFS-USA from any costs, arrangements, or responsibility for any actions to or by the participant during the travel period. Participants are not released from the terms and conditions of the AFS Participation Agreement during travel.
- The AFS office in the participant's home country will forward a signed copy of the Travel Waiver to AFS-USA. Participants may not travel until the signed waiver has been receive by Participant Support staff.
When the preceding four steps have been completed, the participant is free to make travel arrangements. AFS Participants may NOT make travel arrangements until these steps are completed and the travel is APPROVED by ALL parties.
If you have any questions regarding visits or travel policy for your AFS participant, please contact your liaison, and/or support coordinator first and they will be able to advise you.
Visits from Home Country Friends and Family Members
As our world becomes a smaller place, AFS-USA realizes that many of our hosted participants have relatives or family friends who live in the U.S. Additionally, many parents and other family members may have the opportunity to come to the U.S. on scheduled business or holiday trips. However, visits from parent(s)/guardian(s) or friends from home can often pose problems for a student’s adjustment into the host culture and community and are thus not encouraged. If a hosted student's family or friends express interest in visiting the host parents and students should have a discussion with the AFS liaison to decide whether it would be disruptive to the student's adjustment. Such visits are only recommended towards the end of the hosting experience.
Here are some of AFS-USA's guidelines for such visits:
- AFS participants hosted in the USA can request approval for any visits from friends or family after they have been on the program for five months (or for semester students--in the final month of their program). Deferring visits to closer to the end of a student’s program is recommended.
- All visits must be approved by AFS-USA, the participant's host family, and the local volunteers, in advance of any visit. AFS-USA reserves the right to deny permission.
- Participants may not miss school to travel with their sending parents, relatives, or friends.
- Visits from friends or family should not conflict with host family plans, mandatory school events, or required AFS events and orientations.
- Host families are not required to provide accommodations for visiting friends or family members. It is recommended that they reserve their own room and board.
- Some friends or families may wish to visit at the very end of the program and travel outside of the host community with the student. Some may like to travel back to their home country together. AFS-USA requires a Program Release for any such travel that does not conclude at least 7 days prior to the departure date, or for any changes to the departure date or airport of the return itinerary. If your student is interested in a Program Release as an option, the sending parent(s) should contact the AFS Sending Partner office in their country to inquire.
Talk to your liaison if your student or their parent(s) are thinking about a visit during the year.