Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity for any student. But as a parent, it’s easy to worry about your child. Here are ten tips to help you plan ahead so your mind can be at ease and your child can be prepared to travel abroad.
1. Traveling to another country requires a level of maturity and respect.
VIE expects students to conduct themselves properly and to show respect for others throughout the entire program. Failure to abide by these rules may lead to sending the student home at his or her parents’ expense. It’s best of your child is aware of all of these points BEFORE they travel. It might be worth considering if your child is ready for a trip abroad if they are unable or unwilling to abide by these rules.
- I will show proper behavior at all times and remember that I am representing my school, my family, my community and my country.
- I will show respect for local culture, language and customs that are different than my own. This includes acting and dressing appropriately, as well as communicating to the best of my ability in French with French people with whom I interact.
- I will not go out alone. I will always be with at least two other participants and will let my Organizing Teacher know where I am going, with whom and when I will return. I will carry the name, address, and phone number of my hotel or French host family with me at all times.
- I will refrain from smoking, drinking, and using drugs, and I will not accept or transport any of these items.
- I will respect my Organizing Teacher, other school leaders, the guide and bus driver, and I will honor all rules that they set for me and the group. This includes hotel curfews, behavior guidelines on the bus, rules during all visits and at the hotel. I will also show respect for students from other schools with whom I travel.
- I will refrain from inappropriate conduct and will not engage in any romantic or sexual involvement of any kind.
- I will not operate any motor vehicle.
- I will contact my Organizing Teacher or the VIE Paris office immediately if I am uncomfortable with my host family placement or if there is any emergency during my Family Stay.
2. Does your child know these personal safety basics?
Be sure to discuss the basics of personal safety before your child sets sail.
- Cover safety in numbers and why the Rule of 3 is important (always being in a group of at least three people).
- Recommend he/she avoids unlicensed cabs or rides
- Never accept food or beverages from strangers
- Know how to read a map and how to get back to your hotel
- Know how to reach your Organizing Teacher
- Cover what to do in case the student gets lost or separated from the group
- Be conscious about with whom they are making eye contact, and engaging in conversation
3. Have you discussed how to keep belongings secure?
When traveling, it’s best to always be diligent about knowing where your items are at all times (such as bags, money, passport, cell phone, etc.) Pickpockets and theft are legitimate concerns for all travelers. Purses, backpacks and bags are all prime targets for theft. Any personal bag carried around while traveling should have a zipper and should be closed. VIE provides passport pouches to all of our traveling students and we highly encourage travelers to use them. Money and passports should never be left in the hotel room, especially not out in the open.
Rule of thumb is: if you don’t want it to be stolen, it shouldn’t be visible to the public.
For help with packing, here is a detailed packing list from VIE for participants. Additionally, be sure when packing you are following the customs and airline guidelines to ensure smooth sailing at the airports.
4. Is your child prepared financially?
Get your child at least one type of credit card (two might be a good idea in case something happens to the first one) and inform the credit card company of the dates of the trip. Keep a copy of the account number and contact information for the company with you in case the card is stolen or lost.
Make sure your child has a bank account with an ATM card that will function overseas. It is safer to withdraw small amounts from an ATM than to carry large amounts of cash. However, please take note of international fees associated with using a credit card/ATM card while overseas.
Always contact the bank or credit card agency and alert them to your travel plans BEFORE you travel! Otherwise, if your child appears in France and tries to use their card, it may be rejected and flagged as fraudulent.
Please note, the most accepted forms of credit card in France are Visa and Mastercard. American Express and Discover will not always be accepted.
More information on money and budgeting can be found here.
5. Does your child have medical insurance?
With Vistas In Education, medical insurance (secondary insurance) is included in the program price while traveling, as is our civil liability policy.
Before your student travels to France, you should contact the company which provides your primary medical insurance to find out what kind of coverage they will have while in France since that will be considered their primary medical insurance.
You may choose to purchase additional travel insurance coverage on your own should you feel it necessary.
6. Does your child have the correct documents to travel to France AND to return to the US?
It is the participant’s responsibility to be sure all their own traveling documents are in order to travel to France.
Passports: Details regarding U.S. passports can be found here: U.S. Passports and International Travel.
It can take 2-5 months to receive a new or renewed passport. In most cases, you will be required to have a passport before you can even book your air ticket. This means, you’ll need your passport LONG before your travel date. Without the passport, you will not have a ticket.
What constitutes a Valid Passport? According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs; to travel to France a passport “must be valid for a minimum of six months at entry, and valid for an additional three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen Area” (France being in the Schengen Area).
Visas: At this time a visa is not required for U.S. citizens traveling to France; we will notify you if this situation changes.
Non-U.S. citizens must contact their nearest French Consulate immediately for any necessary visas. VIE is not responsible for obtaining visas for foreign citizens; however, VIE will provide any necessary documentation to help in obtaining a visa, upon request. To find the French Consulate nearest you, click on this link: French Consulate Map of the U.S.
7. Have you added your child to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (also known as STEP)?
Enrollment in this program keeps your child in touch with the State Department should there be an emergency or disaster in the area where the student is traveling. The program also informs registrants about concerns which may arise in the area and helps family back home reach the student in case of emergency
You should also know these important terms:
The U.S. Department of State issues a Travel Alert for “short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.” Alerts can be issued for upcoming elections, international events, elevated risk of terrorist activity or health alerts. Note: VIE’s programs have successfully operated under these conditions.
The U.S. State Department issues a Travel Warning “when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” Examples of reasons for a Travel Warning include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.
8. What is the emergency plan?
Our top priority at VIE is the safety and security of all of our travelers as it has been for over 40 years. We provide an extensive Safety & Security program through planning, partnerships, monitoring, communications, education and insurance policies, for our groups traveling to France.
VIE provides planning and support every step of the way. Our staff in France works with local, on-call LA VIE EN FAMILLE Organizers to respond quickly and professionally to any emergency and support each group traveling in France.
To this end, we monitor all news and updates pertaining to travel to and within France. We stay informed through a multitude of resources, including the U.S. State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the French government (Ministère des Affaires étrangères).
Other safety systems in place while traveling to France with VIE:
- Vistas in Education provides medical and trip insurance for all participants in our Travel and LA VIE EN FAMILLE programs. http://www.travelguard.com
- When touring the provinces, groups will have a professionally trained, bilingual guide certified by the French government at all times.
- Organizing Teachers and Travelers are given several important phone numbers in case of emergency
- The phone number where we can be reached 24/7.
- The phone number for each hotel they are staying at as well as the address.
- If participating in a LA VIE EN FAMILLE, the phone number for the LA VIE EN FAMILLE Organizer who lives and works in the region.
- The personal cell phone number for Mia Wolf, program director.
- Teacher and students are instructed on the use of 112, which is the French equivalent of 911
For over 40 years of business, we have cared for thousands of students and their teachers. We are proud of, and stand by, our impeccable safety record.
9. How do we keep in touch with our child while they are traveling?
Before your child heads off to France, be sure to contact your phone company/cell phone carrier. You will want to check ahead of time to see what the charges will be in the following instances:
- American cell phone in US to American cell phone in France, and vice versa
- American cell phone in US to French phone in France, and vice versa
You should also check to see what the data charges are while traveling. Hopefully, by taking care of this in advance, you won’t have any surprise charges on your phone bill while your student is traveling.
To call the US from France: (remember the time difference when calling internationally)
- Dial 001 before the area code.
To call France from the US:
- Dial 0 – 11 – 33 and the last nine digits of the number.
10. Encourage them to HAVE FUN, make the most of their trip abroad
Make sure they take plenty of photos to share with everyone when they get home.