School trips overseas and exchanges
This guidance provides resources, advice, and recommended good practice for schools taking overseas trips.
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These are recommendations of good practice for ensuring the safety of students and successful learning outcomes while on a school trip. This information has been compiled as guidance only and should not be considered as a substitute for legal or professional assessment of risks and requirements.
For advice on hosting visitors from overseas, see the Ministry guidance about international student visitors.
- Initial planning
- Implementing the plan
- During the trip
- Temporary accommodation
- Risk Assessment and Emergency Plans
- Further information
Have you read and understood the school’s policy and procedures on school trips?
Ensure you are following any existing procedures laid down by the school. Your school will have a staff member responsible for ensuring that school activities are compliant with these policies.
If you are taking international students overseas, make sure you are also following the requirements of the Code of Practice.
Are you aware of your legal obligations as a trip leader?
Make sure you know what your obligations are when students are in your care. These will be outlined in the policies set by your school Board of Trustees. For more information, see the Ministry website on student wellbeing and pages 41-50 and 52 of the EOTC Guidelines.
Have you considered your school’s emergency plan?
Your school will have an emergency management plan in place for emergencies, traumatic incidents, evacuations, and lockdowns. These may be useful for planning emergency procedures while overseas. You can find out more about this on the Ministry website below.
For more about emergency plans, see the advice below on risk assessments and emergency plans.
Are there any likely Health and Safety risks related to activities or accommodation?
As part of your risk assessment you need to be aware of health and safety risks and take appropriate action. Make sure you have someone who is First Aid certified and collect emergency contacts and health information for all students, staff, and other adults on the trip.
For more information about how to undertake a risk assessment, see the EOTC website and advice below on risk assessments and emergency plans.
Have you visited the destination and accommodation before?
If you have not already visited the destination, ask about inspection visits. If you know of another school that has been to the location before, consider contacting them to ask about their experience.
If travelling overseas, make sure to check MFAT’s SafeTravel website for updated information about the destination. We recommend registering all students, staff, and other adults with SafeTravel before travelling.
Which staff or other adults will be accompanying you?
Make sure there is an appropriate balance in terms of gender, experience, skills etc. Is there someone with a first aid certificate? See EOTC Guidelines Chapter 4, and Module 5 for more information.
See guidance below about appropriate adult to student ratios.
If parents or non-school staff will be supervising students, make sure you are familiar with them and are comfortable that they are appropriately prepared to have students in their care.
What are the insurance arrangements, and are they sufficient?
If travelling out of New Zealand, all students, staff, and other adults should have appropriate insurance, including travel insurance. See advice below on insurance for more detail.
If remaining in New Zealand, decisions about insurance should take into account the cost and risk of all activities. Include families in these discussions.
When choosing an insurance provider, ensure you make informed choices and that you clearly explain these to families.
Is the travel company bonded (either TAANZ or IATA)?
We recommend that you chose a bonded travel agent to protect against financial losses if refunds are needed. Travel agents that are bonded through either the Travel Agents Association New Zealand (TAANZ) or the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will provide financial protection if the travel agent collapses and cannot provide refunds.
When you choose a travel agent who is not a member of TAANZ or IATA, there is a higher risk of losing most of any deposits for travel if the agent has financial difficulty. Find out more about bonding schemes for travel agents on the TAANZ website.
You should disclose the risk of non-bonded travel agents to families and the Boards of Trustees, and get agreements from them if you use a non-bonded agent.
Are there any passport/visa implications?
If travelling out of New Zealand, make sure that all students, staff, and other adults on the trip have passports that are valid for at least six months from departure, and the appropriate visas to leave and re-enter New Zealand (if not citizens). Check the visa and entry requirements for the destination country and ensure that all people on the trip have appropriate visas if needed.
Some people on the trip may have passports from another country, so they may require different visas than those with a New Zealand passport.
For more information, see the SafeTravel website. You can check entry requirements with your travel agent, or using the tool on the Air New Zealand website.
What does the cost of the trip include and exclude?
You must clearly communicate with students and family which activities or amenities are included in the cost, and which are additional. For example, ski trip prices often only cover the cost of two-hour morning lessons; afternoon lessons are extra.
If food, transport, or accommodation are not included in the cost of the trip, you must ensure that all students, staff, and other adults on the trip are able to cover the costs of these things themselves.
Is the trip suitable for all students?
Take account of age, gender, accessibility, and diverse needs. Make sure that all students will be able to fully participate in the activities planned.
Consider the cultural or religious backgrounds of the people on the trip, or any past experiences that may be significant. Make sure that all activities are appropriately respectful.
See the Ministry of Education Guides on recognising and planning for the needs of diverse learners.
What is the payment schedule?
Families may find it difficult to cover the full costs of a trip in one payment. You can set up a payment schedule to provide options for families to pay in instalments. Any payment schedule should be outlined with the school and the family as part of the agreement to attend the trip or exchange.
If staff, students, or other adults on the trip will be given money to spend while away, make sure they keep receipts or a record of their expenses.
Make sure you are communicating with parents and explain the following information:
- Details of staff/adults accompanying the trip
- Payment schedule and amounts, including a clear indication if deposits are nonreturnable (eg travel, accommodation, activities)
- Details of what is, and what is not, covered by the cost
- Decisions about insurance and what is included/excluded
- Whether the travel agent is bonded, and the risks of a non-bonded agent
- Advice on appropriate clothing and pocket money
- The itinerary, including departure and arrival details
- Accommodation details
- A clear identification of possible dangers and risks – including cancellations
- An explanation of the school’s emergency plan
- A clear statement concerning discipline and appropriate sanctions
- Details of travel arrangements, including any en route accommodation
- Date of any family information evening
- Receipts or cost breakdowns for any costs paid for by families
Make sure you collect the following pieces of information/documentation from families/students
- Emergency contact name and number both at home and away
- A form of consent requesting special medical and diet information, and permission to take appropriate emergency measures
- Request for passport and visa details
- Medical and travel insurance requirements
Have regular team meetings and ensure all staff are consulted about arrangements
Teamwork and leadership are vital ingredients for a successful trip. If possible, include families in some of these conversations, particularly for longer or overseas trips.
Regularly update your risk assessment relating to individual student’s needs
Meet with relevant staff and family members if you are concerned about an individual student’s needs. For example, an additional member of staff might be needed to assist with students with disabilities or other learning needs.
Find out more about supporting students with diverse needs on the Ministry website.
- Regularly do a headcount of students, particularly when getting on and off transport. Always get another member of staff to check.
- Ensure reasonable supervision at all times. Allocate groups of students to individual staff members; this helps rapid communication of information.
- Ensure students understand and apply travel safety requirements, eg using seat belts on coaches.
- Always keep students informed of reasons for delays or sudden changes of plan. This will help keep students calm if there are unexpected changes and they can update their guardians if necessary.
- Before setting off for overseas and for the return trip to New Zealand, ensure students are aware of Customs and Biosecurity requirements, and the penalties that underpin them.
- On arrival at the accommodation, update your risk assessment. Consider a fire practice if you can do so without disturbing other guests, and check entries and exits to rooms.
- Take care when allocating students to rooms. There needs to be a balance between students’ preferences and the need to ensure good order and safety.
- Let students know who they can talk to privately if they have concerns or are feeling unsafe. Consider informing students and families about room allocations before the trip if possible.
- Take similar care in allocating staff members and other adults.
- Advise students to take care of their belongings and offer to lock valuables in staff rooms or in the hotel safe.
- Make sure rooms are checked for pre-existing damage and report it to the accommodation manager.
- Arrange a meeting with students to reinforce the code of conduct, identify out-of-bounds areas, map out the programme for the week and agree on bedtimes.
- Let the tour reps or hotel managers know of any concerns you may have, particularly if you think they compromise student safety.
- Do not change the planned programme, or accept enforced changes, without good reason. If possible, communicate any changes to parents.
- Consider the insurance implications of your liability as a party leader. For example, many insurance companies do not cover human error. This may be covered by school insurance for professional liability.
- If you are unsure of how to deal with a problem on the trip, consult your team or contact your school for advice. A school should ideally provide an emergency contact so that you can make contact in the event of an emergency.
- In the last stages of the journey home, ensure that students can contact home to provide an expected time of arrival.
- On arrival, staff must stay with students until they are collected.
- Contact family members if they are late to pick up a student.
Insurance should, at a minimum, cover the following aspects.
- Medical expenses incurred for the treatment of illness and/or injury that requires surgery and/or hospitalisation – unlimited sum insured.
- Medical evacuation related to serious illness and injuries – unlimited sum insured, include emergency dental treatment.
- Costs for family members’ travel in the event that the student suffers a serious illness or injury.
Repatriation, search and rescue
- Repatriation and expatriation in the event a student has to return home following an injury or illness.
- Return of mortal remains/funeral expenses - including travel costs for family members, repatriation of remains and funeral costs, search-and-rescue operation costs incurred to locate the insured.
Travel into and out of New Zealand
- Missed flights or delays for travel into and out of New Zealand.
- Medical expenses incurred for the treatment of an illness and injury incurred during the travel.
- Negligence causing bodily injury (including death) of another person or loss of or damage to property.
Party Leader liability
Depending on the circumstances, party leader liability may not be covered by travel insurance but may be by Risk Management Scheme or private insurance programme for schools. We recommend you check the insurance policy with your insurance providers. Situations may include but not limited to costs from missed flights and transport, or misjudgements by a party leader.
Depending on the nature, cost, and length of the trip, you might consider insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters, event cancellation, or global pandemic. This is not essential, but you may want to consider this for trips with high costs, reliance on external bodies, tight timeframes, or higher risks.
See EOTC Guidelines - TKI Website(external link), Chapter 4
A ratio compares the number of skilled and experienced supervisors to the number of students or participants involved in an event. Ratios will vary according to the age and needs of students, the nature of the activity, the location, the competence of the students and the staff involved.
Ratios for overseas trips, remote environments or hazardous activities should match the increased level of risk involved.
If in doubt, be conservative and/or seek professional advice when deciding on an appropriate supervision plan, including ratios. A list of professional national bodies can be found here:
When a student or group are not able to stay at accommodation arranged by their school/trip organiser for any reason, they may need to stay somewhere else temporarily. Reasons to need temporary accommodation include (but not limited to):
- Booked flights/transport have been delayed/cancelled
- Student(s) had urgent medical treatments
- Trips have been disturbed by national disasters/civil unrest
Trip organisers must take a robust approach to determine that temporary accommodation and accompanying supervision are suitable, including, but not limited to:
- Assessment of the suitability
- Ensuring that students have appropriate supervision
- Ensuring the group students have an appropriate ratio of supervisors
- Monitoring and managing any risks to the safety of students.
See the Ministry website for risks assessment resources.
Risk management will help to reduce the likelihood and severity of serious and adverse health and safety outcomes when hosting or taking a school trip. Schools and trip leaders need to ensure that risks are known, assessed, and managed.
You can use this checklist to help you get started. Your school board should also have a set of health and safety guidelines for you to follow.
If you have an extreme event while on a school trip, this can affect students, staff, families, and communities. You can find resources about responses to extreme events on the Ministry website below.
For further information about how to conduct a risk assessment – these will need to be adapted for the NZ environment, but provide a good introduction:
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