CIEE logo
  Explore All CIEE Programs

Exchange Student Rules & Policies

Tens of thousands of young people have enjoyed the benefits of studying abroad with CIEE. We want to ensure the same for you. To make that happen, there are program rules that every CIEE High School Exchange USA student must follow. You received these rules when you signed up for the program, and you also can find them below.

Some of these rules deserve special mention. Please review them below, and if you have any questions, contact your Local Coordinator.

Academic performance

The CIEE High School Exchange USA program is a wonderful cultural-exchange opportunity. At the same time, you’re a full-time student and should do everything you can to achieve good grades.

All program participants are expected to:

  • Maintain a C+ average or higher in all courses
  • Take English, an American history course and two other academic courses
  • Attend school every day and follow school policies


One of the most exciting parts of CIEE High School Exchange USA is seeing different places. You may have an opportunity to travel as part of a school trip, a CIEE-organized excursion, or with your host family.

Trips organized by your host school or CIEE Local Coordinator (LC) have no special rules. Other kinds of travel require advance approval by CIEE. These include:

  • Any trip outside the United States
  • Air travel
  • A trip that causes you to miss school
  • Independent travel without an adult member of your host family, or any trip not organized by your host school or LC

Independent travel can be almost any kind of journey. If you’re not sure, ask your Local Coordinator if your trip is considered independent travel. Examples include:

  • Church youth-group volunteer trips
  • Traveling to visit a relative of your own family or your host family
  • Traveling with visiting members of your own family
  • Traveling with a friend’s or neighbor’s family

All independent travel requests must be reviewed and approved by CIEE. The following requirements must be fulfilled:

  • You must complete a    travel form and submit it to CIEE at least 28 days before scheduled travel
  • Your host family and Local Coordinator must agree to your proposed travel request
  • You must be in good standing at school (prior warning or probation letters may result in denial of your travel request)
  • You must stay with an adult during your trip
  • CIEE must receive a release from your own family

Family visits

To encourage you to engage with your host family, school, and community, CIEE has strict guidelines about visits from your own family and friends. We’ve found that cultural exchange is more rewarding when you devote yourself fully to your time in the United States.

  • Travel with or visits from your own family members are not permitted before January of the 10-month program and not at all during the five-month program
  • Friends from the student’s home country are not allowed to visit at any time during the program

Drinking and drugs

CIEE understands the pressure that teenagers face to drink alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer. Sometimes, in order to fit in and hang out with a particular crowd at school, you may be in a situation where drinking is taking place and you need to make difficult decisions. If found to be drinking while on program, you may be dismissed from the program and have to return to your home country.

  • Underage drinking is a serious offense and our policy is clear. You must abide by the federal, state, and local laws of the United States. Under these laws, in every state, the consumption of alcoholic beverages by anyone under the age of 21 and the use or possession of illicit drugs is illegal. These laws also may include local curfews.

It’s best to avoid situations where drinking is taking place. You might have to walk out of a party or leave a friend’s house. You don’t need to prove yourself or fit in by drinking alcoholic beverages. Make sure your host family knows where you are when you go out, and that there is adult supervision when you’re at other homes.

You should also avoid putting yourself in situations where there may be use of drugs such as marijuana. If you find yourself in this type of situation, contact your host family, LC, or CIEE. If found to be using drugs, you may be dismissed from the program and forced to return to your home country.

If you have questions or concerns, please discuss them with your host family, Local Coordinator, or the CIEE team. We’ll be happy to suggest alternative activities for you where drinking will not be present.

Your local coordinator is your contact that lives in your community and is there to support you. You will receive personal contact information at the start of the program and will meet them within your first couple days of arriving in the US. Throughout the program, they will check in with you every month to see how you are doing. If you are having an issue and need help, contact your LC-don’t wait for them to contact you!


America has a “car culture” and you may be tempted to drive while you’re here. Because the legal driving age in this country is 16, some of your American friends may own or drive cars. You may already have a driver's license from home. Even if this is the case, you’re expected to follow our program guidelines:

  • You're forbidden to buy or drive anything with a motor. This includes cars, motorcycles, mopeds, and all-terrain vehicles.
  • Driving is only permitted with the instructor of an official driver's-education course and only during class hours. This is solely for the purpose of obtaining a driver's license and does not allow you to drive after the license is obtained.

Official CIEE High School Exchange USA Rules

  1. Obey the regulations of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa program and the U.S. Department of State.
  2. Abide by the federal, state, and local laws of the United States and host town. Under these laws, consumption of alcoholic beverages by anyone under age 21, and the use or possession of illegal drugs are prohibited. These laws also may include local curfews. Be aware of these laws, and be mindful that they may be different from laws in your home country and that violations may lead to serious punishment.
  3. Attend the arrival orientation.
  4. Accept placement with a family of any race, creed, or color. Live as a member of your host family, respect your host family and its rules and customs, and accept the responsibilities given to you. CIEE, in its sole discretion, is responsible for choosing a student’s host-family placement.
  5. Consider your personal health and safety needs when applying for or accepting a place in the program. If you suffer from any health or other condition that would create a risk for you while abroad, you should not apply.
  6. Read and carefully consider all materials made available that relate to safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in your host town. Be aware of local conditions that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions.
  7. Respect the host high school’s guidelines and policies, including those related to conduct, delinquency, grade levels, participation in graduation ceremonies, and issuance of a high school diploma.
  8. Maintain a C+ average or higher in all courses at the host high school. Courses must include English (other than English as a second language) and an American History course and two other academic courses. Attend school every day that it is in session and follow school policies with regard to absences.
  9. Travel only with adult members of the host family, the Local Coordinator, official school, or group organized trips. Students must obtain written permission from CIEE’s national office if traveling by air, traveling internationally and/or if travel results in school absences. Travel with or visits from the student’s natural family members is not permitted before January of the 10-month program and not at all during a five-month program. Any visit from the student’s natural family must be approved by CIEE before the family members travel to the United States. Visits by friends from your home country are not permitted at any time during the program. Travel to your home country is not permitted during the program, unless approved by CIEE.
  10. Do not drive or purchase a motorized vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, all-terrain vehicle or any other vehicle requiring a driver’s license. Driving is permitted with the instructor of an official driver’s education course and only during class hours. This is solely for the purpose of obtaining a driving license and does not allow the student to drive after a license is obtained.
  11. Have access to a minimum of $150 to $250 U.S. dollars per month to cover personal expenses. Do not borrow money from your host family. Do not lend money to your host family.
  12. Follow any and all guidelines your host family and community have about smoking. Students who indicate that they do not smoke on their application may not smoke during the program year. In some states, communities and schools, it is against the law for students under a certain age to smoke or possess tobacco or tobacco-related items.
  13. Make arrangements to return home within two weeks after the last day of school, which is when the program terminates.
  14. Students should not have previously participated on an academic year or semester high school program in the United States in either the J-1 or F-1 category.
  15. Participation in extracurricular activities or athletics is not guaranteed. Employment is not allowed on either a full or part-time basis while on the J-I visa high school program. However, students may accept sporadic or intermittent employment such as babysitting or yard work.
  16. A student’s primary intention for participation in the program, and primary focus during the program should be the cultural-exchange experience and not graduation from an American high school or enrollment in an American college or university.
  17. Students may not initiate any life-changing decisions or actions while on the program, including changing religions (though a student is free to explore the tenets of any religion), pregnancy, or marriage. Students may not alter their body in any way while on the program (for example, with tattoos or body piercings).
  18. Students may be dismissed from the program if they suffer from a life-threatening medical condition or debilitating psychological condition.
  19. Refrain from obscene, indecent, violent or disorderly conduct while on the program. Students also shall refrain from perpetrating any form of sexual harassment, or engaging in any self-endangering behaviors. In addition, students shall refrain from any other conduct likely to bring the U.S. Department of State or CIEE notoriety or disrepute.
  20. Any material that a student publishes on the Internet (such as on social networking sites or blogs) that violates program rules will be grounds for student dismissal.
  21. CIEE reserves the right to dismiss any student who fails to uphold any and all of the above rules. In the event that a student is dismissed from the program, the parent or natural guardians are responsible for all additional expenses incurred above those of the regular program costs. In the case of early dismissal, program fees will not be reimbursed.
  22. CIEE is not acting in the capacity of in loco parentis (i.e. in the place of a parent) with respect to you, and that your natural parents still retain all of their rights and obligations and are expected to maintain regular and frequent (once or twice per month) contact with you by telephone, electronically, or in person (if possible, after five months of your program start date).

Community Service Information

One of the very best ways for you to build relationships and enjoy your time in the United States is to take part in school and community activities, sports, and volunteer projects. Sign up for at least one sport or after-school activity, and take part in events like homecoming and prom.

We believe volunteering is important, both for individuals and communities. It’s a terrific way to grow, build character, get involved, make friends and have a good time. All CIEE High School Exchange USA students are required to complete at least eight hours of community service per semester. Many options are available to make sure you find something that aligns with your interests and goals. You can take part by talking to the project supervisor to understand what you will be doing, making sure you get to the project, and helping you document what you’ve done so it can be shared with the world!

You’ll need these documents:

The evaluation form and essay must be sent to CIEE for you to successfully finish the High School Exchange USA program. Email completed forms and essays or send them to:

Community Project Coordinator
300 Fore St.
Portland, ME 04101 USA

Receiving credit: Convalidation

Some students must go through a process of “convalidating” their U.S. grades to receive credit for schoolwork done during this program. This requires an official transcript from your school, and is the student’s responsibility. You may need to provide an official, sealed transcript along with additional documentation upon request.

There are various steps students must follow in order to convalidate grades. The process is slightly different for each country, but it always involves obtaining an official school transcript and students contacting their regional consulate or Secretary of State. CIEE encourages all students, even from countries that do not require convalidation, to request an official transcript from their U.S. high school. CIEE also offers a convalidation service for a fee. Please refer to the information below to get started on the Convalidation process. If you have questions about convalidation, please contact

  1. Apostille Instructions
  2. Declaration of Value: for Italian Students
  3. Convalidation handbook for Spanish Students
  4. Convalidation for Brazilian Students

Back to top of page