Student visa information and guidelines on travel

Here is a brief guideline to help with understanding student visa regulations as well as the guidelines for student travel and visits from your student's parents throughout the exchange.

Student visa

EF High School Exchange Year issues DS-2019 forms to all students prior to their departure for the US. This form enables students to apply for a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa at an American embassy or consulate in their home country. When traveling on a J-1 Visa, the sponsor organization, in this case EF, assumes responsibility for the exchange student’s immigration status; neither the school, nor the host family is responsible for sponsoring the student’s visa. The original DS-2019 Form and passport should be kept with the student at all times.


Your student must remain in possession of their government-issued documents (passport, DS-2019 Form, personal ID, etc.). You may work with your student to find a safe storage place for these documents, but it is not acceptable for these documents to be taken away from them (for example, families cannot hold them for their student in a family safe).

EF cannot extend a student’s visa to cover an additional year or summer months. Similarly, we cannot change the program end date on the DS-2019 Form, which is sometimes requested for a student to apply for a driver’s license in some states. Please note that the J-1 Visa restrictions prohibit any full- or part-time work, except for occasional casual work, such as babysitting, shoveling snow, etc.

Hostbound flights (travel to the US)

Students beginning school during the fall semester will travel to their host families on flights scheduled every week from mid-July to the end of August. Students arriving for the spring semester will travel between the end of December and the end of January.


We recommend students arrive about a week before school starts. Our EF office staff will reach out to you or your IEC to help you select the most convenient time for your student’s arrival and schedule the appropriate travel dates.


Flight information will be available about one week before the flight departs at which point you, your student and your IEC will be informed of the travel details. As with any kind of travel, last-minute changes due to flight delays, missed connections, weather, mechanical problems, etc., are possible.

Some EF students travel to the US on what are called “group flights” (several EF students flying on the same flight) while others travel independently.


EF makes every effort to provide supervision at the international departure airport and arrival airport in the US. When available, an airport supervisor ensures students depart and arrive safely and reports any travel changes or delays to EF Travel Support staff. Due to airport and TSA security guidelines, our supervisors typically cannot meet students at the gate. Some students may have to change planes before reaching their final destination, and we cannot guarantee supervision at all stop-overs.


Host families are expected to meet their student at the airport. Your student can not be picked up by any party other than you or your IEC, as we need to ensure the person picking up your student has completed our screening process. Once your student has arrived, you will want to remind them to contact their parents in their home country to confirm their safe arrival!

Travel within the US

During the exchange, your student can travel with you inside the US. No approval is typically required for domestic trips; however, we ask that you inform your IEC of any travel plans and have your student tell their parents. Students are expected to pay for their own airfare and travel expenses.


If your family needs to travel out of town without your student, contact your IEC or EF to find another screened and approved host family that can accommodate your student. Students may not stay home alone overnight.

If your student wants to travel with someone else, the trip must be approved in writing in advance by EF and your student’s parents prior to booking travel. The travel companion(s) must be at least 25 years old and be screened and approved by EF. Call your IEC and the office at least three weeks prior to travel to give time for the screening process. Students may never travel overnight alone.


All student travel should be during school breaks or with pre-approval from the school if they will miss classes.

International travel on a J-1 Visa

We ask that you inform your IEC and EF Program Advisor of any international travel plans (including cruises) and have your student tell their parent(s).


Your student's J-1 visa is located in their passport. Most EF students are given a “multiple entry” J-1 Visa. If granted a “multiple entry” visa, your student may travel on a brief trip outside the US and re-enter the country with signed permission from their sponsor (EF). Students with a “single entry” visa are not permitted to exit and re-enter the US during their exchange. Please contact the EF office for more information and to find out which type of visa your student has.


To exit and re-enter the US, students must demonstrate that their visa is in good standing. To do this, students must send their original DS-2019 form to our Boston office at least four weeks prior to travel to be signed and dated by an EF Responsible Officer. Unless this is done correctly, students will not be able to re-enter the US.

Even if your student’s US visa allows exit and reentry, they may still need additional documentation or special visas to enter other countries (including Canada and Mexico). It often takes several weeks or even months to apply for and receive a visa for travel to another country. Help your student check with the nearest consulate for the most up-to-date information on travel/visa needs.


EF staff must also procure the student's parent's written authorization for any trip outside the US. Any student traveling to Mexico will be required to show border officials a signed, notarized letter from their parents giving them permission to go on the trip.

Visits from family

It is normal for students to want to show their family their “new home” in the US. They are excited about their new friends, host family, school and community. With that in mind, we strongly discourage parents from visiting in the first half of the exchange. A visit earlier in the exchange can be very upsetting to the adjustment cycle and can create or worsen homesickness once parents leave.


Because we want our students to focus on their studies and remain academically motivated, we discourage families traveling to the US and taking trips with their child that may distract from this focus. We recommend parents visit after school has ended.

If your student’s parents do visit, you are not required to house them during their stay. We strongly recommend you direct them to a local hotel.


If you are having difficulty talking to your student about their parent’s visit, or need extra support, don’t hesitate to involve your IEC, RC and Program Advisor.

Homebound flights (travel from the US)

Whether students are in the US for one or two semesters, there are a variety of options available to plan their return to their home country. Students generally return home one week after the academic term has ended and EF will automatically book students on a pre-assigned travel date based on their last day of school.


If a student wishes to extend their stay, they can opt for a one-week extension. This option is best for students with personal travel plans, trips with host families, sporting competitions, etc. EF sends the extension approval email directly to host families.


Students who will be traveling with their parents at the end of the exchange have the option to be ticketed on an EF flight that leaves on the same date as their parents. This is only an option if the parents fly out of one of our many pre-approved airports. Visa restrictions may apply. Please refer to the flight information that will be sent later in the year or contact the office.

If none of these options work out, students can decline the EF offerings and purchase a flight on their own. Students are asked to approve the travel dates with their host family before buying a ticket.


Students returning home in the winter will start to receive flight information in November, and final itineraries are sent out in December. For students leaving in the summer, preliminary flight information will be made available in March or April. Final itineraries and tickets are emailed in May and June.

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© EF Education First 2011-2021. EF High School Exchange Year is operated by EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit corporation designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. Note: Featured photo/videos do not include prospective students, and are representative of program participants.