AFS-USA travel guidelines are designed to maintain the integrity of AFS Programs and to help students 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 students; AFS must know a student's whereabouts in the event of an emergency. So that student and family travel is managed within the context of these factors, AFS-USA has established the following guidelines.
- Unauthorized student 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 the most common situations and what is required.
- Even if a Travel Waiver is not required, the host family should always notify their Liaison or Area Support Coordinator of any overnight stays outside of the host community.
Situation Travel Waiver Required Maximum Length School Absence Permitted Additional Restrictions/Conditions 1 Spending the night with a local friend of the student or host family within the host community No 4 days No Prudent Parent Policy applies for a stay of up to 4 days. Longer stays requires host family screening 2 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 visa requirements None 3 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 visa requirements None 4 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 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) Yes Subject to school guidelines Yes, as long as it complies with school guidelines and 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 not in household such as aunt or grandmother Yes 10 days Up to 5 days with school permission None 9 Natural family or friends from home country come to visit the student in the host community No, if student stays 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. Natural family members should not plan to stay with the host family but rather are expected to arrange for their own plact to stay 10 Travel with natural family or 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 11 To visit friends or family member 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 12 To visit the home of the host family of another AFS'er from student's home country who is hosted 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. Requires permission of other AFS'ers support coordinator 13 Other travel Yes 10 days No Case by case basis
Guidelines for All Types of Travel
All participant travel must be in accordance with these guidelines:
- AFS Participants will not be allowed to travel independently until after they have been on the program for five months or are in the final month of their program.
- Host family must first approve travel plans
- If host family has approved the travel plans the participant must then get the approval of the Volunteer Team Support Coordinator or other designated volunteer in his or her region
- Travel must also be approved by the AFS-USA staff in the national office
- Travel does not interfere with school (unless a participant travels on a school-organized activity)
- (With the approval of the host family, natural family, host school, and AFS-USA, students would be allowed to miss up to 5 days of school to attend a Belo Tour)
- Travel does not interfere with attendance at compulsory AFS events. This includes school-sponsored travel
- Travel does not interfere with host family plans to pursue activities with a participant, especially holiday plans
- Travel does not interfere with the participant’s adaptation or integration. Travel will not be allowed if a participant is experiencing adaptation problems of any kind. Frequent travel does not encourage integration in the host family and host community. Approval for travel may be denied if a participant has traveled recently or on previous trips.
- Travel does not exceed 10 days
- Travel does not violate AFS safety guidelines
- NO crossing the border into Mexico without prior AFS approval.Due to the great risks currently associated with crossing the Mexico border without an AFS Representative or host family parent, AFS-USA will enforce a strict "no tolerance" policy for any student who violates this guideline and crosses the Mexican border for any reason without prior AFS approval. Students who cross the border without written permission from the ATSC or other designated Team representatives are subject to an immediate early return from the AFS Program
Types of Travel
There are several categories of AFS-sanctioned travel. Formal permission from AFS-USA and a signed travel waiver from natural parents are not required for the following types of trips:
- Travel that is part of an activity organized by the school the AFS Participant attends, i.e. sports events, fieldtrips, school excursions etc. These activities must have school sponsored chaperones to qualify under this category
- Travel on an AFS-sponsored trip
- Travel with an AFS Volunteer who is at least 25 years of age
- Travel with an AFS Volunteer 21-24 years of age with Team approval
- Travel with the host family member who is at least 25 years of age
- Travel with the host family member 21- 24 years of age with Team approval
All other types of travel are classified as Independent Travel and require formal approval from AFS-USA and the AFS Office in the participant's home country. Independent travel includes travel alone; travel with the participant’s natural family, relatives or with non-AFS groups. A participant is considered "traveling independently" whenever he or she is away from his or her host community for a period of time that involves one or more overnight stays, or in some exceptions, an extended day trip away from the community. "Host community" is any community which the participant routinely travels for shopping, medical appointments, entertainment, etc. In any case, it is the responsibility of the participant to ensure that their Liaison is informed of where they will be traveling and how to contact them in case of an emergency.
As AFS prefers that students not miss school, trips will be offered during winter and spring breaks as well as in June for those students who finish school early. While AFS prefers students not miss school, we recognize the enhancement (very similar to AFS's own bus trips 1947-1998) that Belo trips bring to our program and acknowledge that in some cases it is entirely appropriate for students to take part even if they miss some school. Therefore, the AFS-USA National Council recently approved an amendment to the AFS Independent Travel Policy that allows students to attend Belo and miss up to 5 days of school with host family permission and the consent of the host school and AFS-USA.
Steps to Obtain Approval for Independent Travel
All requests for independent travel must be made to the Team Support Coordinator or designated volunteer at least three weeks prior to the participant’s proposed departure date. All of the following steps must be taken before AFS can give its approval for an Independent Travel request. Only after approval has been gained, should the participant begin making any definite travel plans:
- The participant must first obtain approval for independent travel from host family, Team Support Coordinator or designated volunteer and AFS Staff. (If the participant is going to miss any school for a trip with Belo Tours, the participant must also obtain approval from the school.)The participant should inform host-family and volunteers 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
- How the participant can be contacted in case of emergency.
If host family and Support Coordinator or designated volunteer do not grant permission, then the participant will not be allowed to go on the trip.
- If host family and volunteers approve the participant's request for travel, volunteers must confirm the plans with AFS-USA.
- Natural parent permission is required for all Independent Travel. The participant is responsible for contacting the Natural Family to inform them of the travel request. The natural family 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 arrived in the National Service Center. When the preceding three steps have been completed, the participant is free to make travel arrangements. A participant 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, please contact the National Service Center at
Participant Travel Outside the U.S.
U.S. Reentry Documents. Participants (with J-1 visa) who would like to go on vacation with their host parents out of the U.S. must make sure they have the following travel documents: valid passport, endorsed DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status), multiple-entry J-1 visa stamp, and a copy of the I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. See important details below re: Verifying documents for foreign participants traveling outside the U.S.
Entry documents for countries to be visited. It is the responsibility of participants to contact the consular offices in the U.S. or consult the consular website of the country(ies) they are to visit and make sure that they have the proper visa and documentation to be admitted to that country.
Foreign Consular Offices in the United States: http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/32122.html
Embassies in Washington, D.C.: http://www.embassy.org/embassies/
Travel to Canada and Mexico. Please be advised that a visa may be required for a hosted participant to travel to Canada or Mexico. It is the participant’s responsibility to determine whether a visa is necessary and to obtain one. Contact the local Canadian or Mexican consulate for further information or consult the following websites:
Embassy of Canada – http://www.cic.gc.ca/
Embassy of Mexico -- http://www.embassyofmexico.org/
Canada and Mexico also require minors entering their countries to present a Parental Consent Form. This is a notarized letter of permission signed by either or both natural parents (not present at the crossing) giving the participant permission to travel without them. Photo or fax copies will not be accepted, the form with original parental signature/s and notary seal is required. The Parental Consent Form should not be sent to AFS as it is not an AFS requirement, but rather the natural parents should send the form directly to the participant. Not all border officials demand to see the form, nevertheless, it is a requirement and therefore it is important that minor visitors are able to present it upon demand. In order to avoid additional border processing or delays, it is necessary for host parents and student to be well informed of the immigration requirements for country/ies to be visited.
Automatic Revalidation of U.S. Visa. For participants with an expired multiple-entry J-1 visa stamp in their passports and valid I-94 records, their visas will be considered automatically revalidated when they re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico as long as ALL of the following are true, they: 1) have been in Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days, 2) have a current I-94 record stating valid status, 3) have an expired multiple-entry J-1 visa in the passport, 4) are in possession of an endorsed DS-2019 form, 5) do not apply for a U.S. visa while in Canada or Mexico, and 6) are not from one of the countries currently considered by the U.S. federal government to be state sponsors of terrorism.
For automatic revalidation to apply, participants must present a printout of their I-94 record along with their valid passport, expired multiple-entry J-1 visa, and endorsed DS-2019, when they reenter the U.S. For details, refer to the U.S Department of State website at:
In the case of a Sponsored Program participant (YES, FLEX and CB scholarship recipients), the documentation is the same as above except that the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visiting (J-1) Status (DS-2019) can only be endorsed by the US Department of State. (See Verifying Documents for Sponsored Programs Participants Traveling Outside the U.S. section for a description of the signature process).
Verifying documents for core hosted participants traveling outside the U.S.
- Participant must verify that his or her passport is valid. Check the front of the passport to determine the expiration date. An expired passport cannot be used for international travel. The passport must first be renewed at the consulate with jurisdiction over the participant’s state or city of residence
- Verify that the participant's J-1 visa is still valid. The J-1 visa appears as a holographic stamp on the passport. Also check that the visa allows “multiple entries”. An expired “single entry” visa cannot be used to re-enter the United States as it is considered cancelled after the initial entry. However, expired multiple-entry visa maybe used for reentry to the U.S with a valid DS-2019 form and I-94 record under limited exceptions, see - Automatic Revalidation above.
- Print out a copy of the I-94 record before departure from the U.S from the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) website at: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
- The participant must ensure that the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (DS-2019) has been endorsed in Box 7 by The Alternative Responsible Officer (ARO) prior to traveling outside the U.S. The participant should mail the Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) to the attention of the Travel and Logistics Coordinator/ARO at least three weeks before the intended travel. The ARO will endorse the form, which states that a participant is in good standing with the program and will return the form by mail to the participant. If the participant wishes for the form to be returned by overnight or any other type of courier service, they must include a prepaid mailing envelope for this purpose. Forms received without pre-paid courier envelopes will be sent back by regular mail. (Please note, the signature required on the Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) is that of the "Alternate Responsible Officer."#See also Travel Checklist.
Mailing Address: AFS-USA c/o Travel & Logistics Coordinator
120 Wall Street 4th Floor
New York, NY 10005
Verifying documents for sponsored programs participants traveling outside the U.S.
*see section 1-3 above
As stated in the Participants Traveling Outside the U.S. section above, if a Sponsored Programs participant (YES, FLEX or CB) travels anywhere outside of the United States, he or she must gain prior permission from the US Department of State, as well as endorsement of his/her Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (DS2019 form) by the US Department of State officer. To do this, please contact the Travel and Logistics Coordinator who will confirm permission for travel with the YES, FLEX, or CB Sponsored Programs Specialist. This process must begin at least three weeks prior to the intended travel.
The Sponsored Programs staff will secure the necessary approval from the Department of State Program Officer, and will provide directions for where to send the DS2019 for endorsement at the US Department of State.
Note: the original DS2019 form must be sent via courier (UPS, FedEx, etc) when going to the US Department of State, as all standard postal service documents are delayed by weeks in their internal screening processes. Students must also include a pre-paid mailing envelope for return. Any forms received without prepaid courier envelopes, will be sent back by regular mail, and we cannot guarantee how quickly they will be returned.
All participants must verify that they have an "I-94 Card" stapled into their passport. When a participant takes a trip outside the US, this card will be taken on departure from the country and a new "I-94 Card" will be issued by U.S. Immigration upon his or her return. All participants must verify that they have an entry visa, if needed, for the country being visited. They must check with the nearest consulate of the country being visited to determine whether an entry visa is required for the participant. This will depend on the country of citizenship of the participant. The address and phone number of the consulate can be obtained through your local travel agency. Some visas take as long as nine weeks to obtain, so it is important to inquire well in advance about visa requirements.