Children playing shop while learning languages

A school exchange or a trip overseas is often a fun experience, providing students and teachers with exposure to new cultures, languages and international awareness. 

With the challenges of COVID-19, both at home and abroad, there are now several more elements to consider.


Your school is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of the students involved in the trip, including any requirements related to COVID-19. Remember to check both the UK rules and the rules of other countries. The traffic light status of European Union countries (Red, Amber, Green) can be found on the UK Government website. Air travel regulations for all countries can be found on the IATA website. For European countries, you can see an overview of rules and restrictions on the Your Europe website

COVID-19 is now a known risk, so many insurance policies will have exclusions for cancellation cover. Many tour operators, travel agents and airlines have options for refunds or making alternative arrangements. Check out the Association of British Insurers website for more information about insurance and COVID-19

The Department of Education has schools COVID-19 operational guidance, including a section on educational visits. You should have contingency plans in place if the travel lists change while you are abroad.

Child protection guidelines

The safeguarding and protection of children is central to any school trip. Consider and evaluate your child protection policies when planning a trip overseas or within the UK. There is more information about this in our guidance documentation.

Duty of care

The school organising the International School Exchange is fully responsible for duty of care for the students, staff and others involved. The school in receipt of a grant is responsible for:

  • ensuring a safe working environment 
  • providing information, advice, training and support 
  • ensuring appropriate policies and procedures are in place 
  • ensuring that employees and others involved in our activities understand their own responsibilities 
  • carrying out risk assessments where appropriate to identify hazards and risks and putting in place control measures for these 
  • ensuring adequate insurance policies are in place or where this is the responsibility of others ensure that this is clear
  • measures that are both reactive – providing a response in case of incidents and emergencies – and proactive – identifying and managing risks.

Travel insurance

It is the school’s responsibility to make sure adequate insurance is arranged for the visit. 

Check what is covered in the insurance. Think about:

  • financial protection
  • travel issues, such as cancellation, loss of luggage and early return
  • third party liability
  • medical assistance
  • accident and serious illness
  • repatriation
  • death
  • legal assistance fees
  • special insurance for particular circumstances such as outdoor activities
  • protection from Covid-19 cancellation.

Check if the school’s insurance already covers teachers and staff for accident and liability while abroad. 

Your school could consider the government’s Risk Protection Arrangement for schools, if eligible.

Independent advice on insurance cover and options can be sought from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) or Association of British Insurers (ABI). Any school holding ATOL or ABTA refund credit notes may use these credit notes to rebook educational or international visits.

New bookings and financial protection (COVID-19 cancellation)

There is operational guidance for schools available on the government website, including advice about new bookings of residential educational visits. 

Travelling to other parts of Europe

Further to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, there are new travel considerations to take into account for individuals and groups travelling to Europe. We have put together guidance to help you with this.

Planning guides

Simplify the planning of your next school visit by reading our School Exchange starter pack, containing sample templates and forms to help you organise your visit.

Please note that these guides were created prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and guidance may have changed

Additional guidance 

Read from the Association of School and College Leaders on how to plan international exchange visits with a homestay element.

Other advice that can help you:

  • This article from TES has some useful tips
  • If it’s your first time in the role of Visit Leader, the guidance from Outdoor Education Adviser’s Panel can be a useful place to start
  • You should remember that looked-after children will require a letter of authority to let them travel abroad
  • Any accompanying adult not employed by the school must have a DBS criminal background check completed
  • A risk log/register should be kept updated throughout the preparations for the visit, identifying potential risks and recommended mitigations. Remember to take into account any public health advice, such as hygiene and ventilation requirements, and include that ask part of the risk assessment.