International Teams FAQs
We divided the following into five sections to help you find the answers to questions you may have about SIFAT international teams. The five sections are general, funding, travel, health and country-specific. If you still have questions after reading these answers, please contact our international team coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Section 1: General
1. How do I decide on which mission trip I want to serve? How much does it cost?
SIFAT teams serve on projects with our graduates in several countries. Each country’s project page has a summary of the current project, their histories and the cost of each one. This will help in your decision-making.
2. Are the project sites safe?
SIFAT works in developing countries that may have unstable governments. However, SIFAT always makes every effort to ensure team members’ safety. In-country SIFAT staff monitor current conditions and are the most adept at handling any situation that may arise before and/or during all trips. Any safety issues that may arise before your trip will be communicated to your team leader by our International Coordinator. Visit travel.state.gov/travel for country-specific information and please contact us with any questions/concerns based on information you have read concerning your safety in these locations.
3. What if I don’t speak the language?
While we encourage all team members to make an effort to learn a few key phrases in the language of the country in which you are serving, our in-country SIFAT staff speaks English, and SIFAT provides translators for your team. Being fluent in another language is not necessary; hugs and smiles are universal. However, there is always a great need for Spanish-speaking team members, especially for medical teams.
4. What are the minimum and maximum ages for team members?
Many SIFAT teams include families with younger children. However, SIFAT’s policy for team members traveling without a parent is a minimum of 14 years, and only with team leader and parental consent. Having a process for discernment for all youth and adults considering a short-term trip is advised. SIFAT has no maximum age policy. We do recommend that team members talk to their physicians and receive travel approval before signing up for a team.
5. What is the minimum number for a team?
To obtain group airline reservations, a minimum of 12 is required. If you have less than 12, we may be able to combine your group with another SIFAT team. Please contact the International Team Coordinator, email@example.com, who will make every effort to accommodate an individual or any number wanting to serve on a SIFAT team. Maximum numbers are site dependent.
6. What is the registration process?
7. How can I join an existing team?
We want you all to have the opportunity to serve on a SIFAT mission team even if you are not part of a group! Contact the International Team Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, who will make every effort to accommodate your choice of date and location. Please see International Missions page for information on current trips.
8. What about insurance?
SIFAT provides basic medical, accident and emergency evacuation insurance, included in your in-country costs. This insurance policy will provide in-country medical attention in the event of a medical emergency and/or evacuation if necessary. This insurance is secondary to your primary insurance coverage from the United States. Be aware that most Medicare policies do not cover individuals outside of the United States.
While SIFAT will make every effort to keep you safe on our team projects, your cooperation in adhering to the guidelines set by SIFAT is also necessary for your safety and well-being. These guidelines are outlined in the forms you are required to sign and turn in to us before your departure. As in all developing countries, there are political and environmental situations beyond our control that will not allow us to assume responsibility for your safety. Also, please check with your in-country SIFAT coordinator before scheduling any leisure day activities not approved by SIFAT. These may not be covered by our insurance policy.
9. Will there be time for sightseeing, shopping or dining out? How much money should I take?
You will have the opportunity to visit local markets and enjoy sightseeing opportunities at each location. These costs are not included in your trip. Credit cards are not accepted in most locations, and ATMs are often scarce and unreliable. Please plan accordingly. Most meals will be provided by SIFAT, but we recommend you bring at least $200 – $300 if you plan on shopping, sightseeing or dining out during your leisure time.
10. Will there be a team orientation?
SIFAT relies on team leaders to train their team members. A required team leader training may be held each year on our SIFAT campus and manuals will be provided for all team members to help guide your team leader through this process. See our team leader page for more information. We encourage team leaders to also bring at least one member from your team for the training.
11. What if there is an emergency on the trip?
Safety is a primary concern of ours for all team members. If an emergency occurs in-country, SIFAT staff will assess the situation and respond accordingly. Emergency contact information for staff members and embassies is available for download in PDF. Tell your family to always contact SIFAT staff members in the United States first if there is an emergency at home. They will know how best to reach a team member on our mission project sites.
12. Do I need a passport? How do I get one?
Yes, you will need a passport valid for at least six months after your travel dates. For information on how to obtain or renew a passport, visit www.travel.state.gov/passport. Apply now! The process is long and beginning as soon as possible is advised. For passports needed within two weeks of travel, passport offices are located in Atlanta and New Orleans. You must make a reservation before visiting these offices.
13. Do I need a visa? How do I get one?
You will need a visa to enter each country. For Ecuador, you only need to fill out an application on the plane, and there is no charge. Presently, for Bolivia, Uganda and Zambia, you are able to fill out a visa form at the airport when you arrive in-country and pay a fee, in cash, to immediately receive your visa. For more information on specific countries, visit the SIFAT project pages for Bolivia, Ecuador, Uganda and Zambia.
14. Why do I have to fill out SIFAT-required forms?
SIFAT must have this information for airline tickets, hotel reservations, travel insurance, to expedite replacing a lost passport, and to accommodate dietary and medical needs. This information is absolutely necessary to ensure your safety and the success of your trip. The forms must be turned in by the specified date for each team.
Section 2: Funding
1. Is a deposit required?
Yes, a $100 nonrefundable deposit is required to reserve a date for each team. An additional $100 nonrefundable deposit per team member is due no later than 2 weeks from the date of the initial team deposit. A confirmation letter will be sent out to the team leader once deposits are received.
2.What is included in the in-country cost of the trip?
Your in-country fee (per person) includes lodging, most meals, bottled water, in-country project transportation, in-country coordinator, insurance and training manuals.
3.What is not included in the in-country cost of the trip?
Airline tickets, visas and extra baggage fees are not included in the cost of your trip. Leisure day activities are optional and are an additional cost. A list of optional activities and prices for each country is available from the International Team Coordinator.
4. Are there other team costs?
Yes, there is a team project fee for construction teams that covers building materials and other project costs. This project fee is a minimum of $2,500 or $100 per person, whichever is greater. For medical teams, the project fee is $125 per person for healthcare promoter training and/or additional translators.
5. What is my team expected to provide outside of team costs?
For teams with a VBS component, all VBS materials (including paper, scissors, glue, etc.) must be provided by the team. Expected numbers and ages of children will be provided to each team in advance, if possible.
Medical and dental teams must provide all medications and supplies to be used on their mission. In most cases,dentists will need to bring a portable dental unit. A list of suggested medicines, supplies and resources for special medical mission team pricing will be provided by the International Team Coordinator. For some teams, it may be better to buy in the country where the team will be working because of complicated government requirements regarding the importation of medicines.
6. How do I raise funds?
Many team members send letters to friends and family asking for donations. Some teams hold fundraising events, such as 5Ks, lunch plates, variety shows, car washes, etc. For church-sponsored teams, it is always a good idea to involve your entire church in the trip by asking them to support the team financially.
7. Where should donations be sent and how should they be designated?
Your team will be assigned a team number. For any donor to receive a tax credit that team number must be on the check. For church-sponsored teams, we would prefer that all donations be made to the church and the church send a check to SIFAT for scheduled payments. For all other teams, such as university and some medical teams, we realize that sending one check may not be possible. If individuals send a check to SIFAT to sponsor your trip, make sure it has your team number on the check, since SIFAT is unable to keep a record of donations credited to names of individual team members. These checks will be credited to the team account. To be tax deductible these donations are nonrefundable.
8. Is the trip tax deductible?
Yes, the exact language of the Internal Revenue Service regulation regarding travel expenses reads as follows:
“You may not deduct as contributions travel expenses (including meals and lodging) while away from home UNLESS there was no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.”
This has been interpreted to mean that deductions are allowed for travel expenses incurred on mission teams as long as the overwhelming proportion of the trip was directly involved in mission service. An evening at the local cultural attraction does not negate the full day of work beforehand. A Saturday spend seeing the local sights does not negate the contribution of work for the entire previous week. However, please contact your financial adviser regarding tax deductions for your trip.
9. If I decide to cancel, will I get a refund?
All donations to SIFAT are tax deductible and are, therefore, nonrefundable in accordance with IRS guidelines for non-profit organizations.
10. How critical are financial deadlines?
Financial deadlines are extremely critical! Lodging and meal reservations must be paid in advance and supplies must be on site when the teams arrive. Flight reservations made for your team will be canceled without timely payment. All preparations necessary for your team are, therefore, time sensitive. It is imperative that you respect the deadlines given by SIFAT for your team. Scheduled payment dates given to the teams are not flexible as they are based on the deadlines given to SIFAT by airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies.
Section 3 – Travel
1. What about airline tickets?
SIFAT books the tickets for most teams. Our preference is that we make your flight reservations, so we will be able to assist you in the case of canceled flights, in-country emergencies, etc. If you choose to make your own reservations, your times, dates, etc. must be approved by SIFAT and all team members need to be booked on the same flight. Our in-country staff is not able to make numerous trips to the airport, and we cannot risk your safety by allowing individual team members to find their own transportation from airport to hotel. We also cannot be responsible for making changes to reservations not made by SIFAT if the need should arise to reschedule a trip.
2. What if my team wants to get our tickets independently?
You can do so as long as reservations coincide with dates established by SIFAT for the team.
3. Can I use my frequent flyer miles for group rates?
No, you cannot use frequent flyer miles to pay for a group ticket.
4. Can I use my frequent flyer miles to buy an individual ticket?
Yes, but you are required to be on the same flight as your team. See #1 above.
5. Will I be awarded frequent flyer miles on a group reservation?
Yes. You may give the agent at the ticket counter your frequent flyer number at check-in. However, in the interest of ease and delaying others on your team, it is better to have SIFAT give your frequent flyer number to the airline through our booking agent. Please provide SIFAT with any frequent flyer numbers for your team at the same time you send final names for your tickets.
6. Can I arrive before the team or stay longer?
Yes, provided that you have notified our international team coordinator before airline reservations for your team are made. You will be responsible for your own ground transportation and lodging before and after established SIFAT team dates and for being at the hotel when your team arrives. You are also responsible for letting our international team coordinator know where you will be staying before your mission team arrival date, so we can notify you in the event there are any changes related to team plans. Proper notification, approval and communication with our international team coordinator concerning travel arrangements is imperative.
7. Can I get a refund on my airline ticket if I cancel?
No, the airlines have a no refund policy on group tickets. However, by paying a change fee, you may transfer your ticket to a replacement team member no later than 48 hours before your scheduled departure.
8. Are there exceptions?
In the event of serious illness, injury, or death in the immediate family, airlines may make exceptions with proper documentation. However, many airlines are now giving only a partial credit for a ticket that must be used within one year.
9. What happens if I must cancel at the last minute?
You will be penalized for cancellations by the airline. Airline policies vary on these penalties. The balance you have paid for your ticket, after deducting the penalty, will leave you with a credit that can be used for other flights within one year. That ticket usually cannot be transferred to someone else.
10. What kind of ground transportation will be provided?
SIFAT will provide all in-country ground transportation related to the project, usually in buses chartered by SIFAT. For some projects, an additional fee is charged to team members for small plane reservations into remote sites.
11. What should I pack?
A suggested packing list will be provided by the international coordinator to your team leader for each specific site and can also be found in your manual. SIFAT projects are in such diverse locations that we cannot provide a “one list fits all” for packing.
12. How much luggage can I take?
Since airline policies vary on the amount of luggage allowed on international flights, please visit your airline’s website once reservations are made. Restrictions often vary depending on the month in which you fly. Therefore, please continue to visit your airline’s website to stay updated on luggage allowances. Checked luggage on major carriers is restricted to no more than 50 lbs. Your international team coordinator will notify you with any exceptions or information related to your country’s travel information.
Most airlines allow each passenger to bring on board one piece of carry-on luggage that will fit in overhead bins, and a purse or computer bag/backpack.
13. Where will we stay?
SIFAT’s primary concern is to ensure that our teams stay in safe lodging. See country-specific project pages on our website for detailed information.
Section 4 – Health
1. What shots do I need? Where do I get them?
The only vaccination required by the U.S. for re-entry is yellow fever. However, SIFAT highly recommends the following for your safety: Yellow Fever, MMR, Tetanus (with whooping cough), Typhoid and Hepatitis A and B. For teams traveling to Africa, Meningitis and Polio vaccines are also recommended. Antimalarial drugs are needed for travel in Uganda, Zambia, Haiti and some tropical areas of Bolivia and Ecuador. Please begin this process as soon as possible, as many of these medicines and vaccines can take months to become effective. Please be aware that some of these vaccinations are only available at specialized travel clinics. Refer to the CDC for further information, clinic locations and country-specific information on vaccines: cdc.gov/travel.
2. What about prescription medication?
Bring any prescription medications in the originally issued bottles. It is very important to put all prescription medications and prescription eyeglasses in your carry-on luggage. Your prescription medications/glasses may not be available in the countries where you are serving. It is suggested that you bring an extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts in your carry-on luggage. In Uganda and Zambia some over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl and Sudafed are not allowed to be brought in. These and other similar medications are available for purchase in these countries. Please see cdc.gov/travel for country-specific information on medications.
3. Will the food and water be safe?
Never drink tap water in any country outside the US. SIFAT will provide bottled water to all team members, and it is very important that you stay hydrated at all times. SIFAT’s in-country staff will make every effort to insure the safety of all food served to teams. Always avoid buying food from street vendors.
4. What happens if I get sick while I am there?
Please notify your SIFAT in-country coordinator and team leader immediately if you feel sick. In most locations, professional medical help will be nearby. In remote locations, SIFAT has access to medications for many minor illnesses, such as upset stomach and dehydration. For any serious problems, we will make every effort to reach professional medical help as soon as possible. Your insurance covers medical evacuations should the need arise.
Tips for staying healthy on your trip:
While there are no guarantees, there are specific things you can do to greatly diminish the likelihood of your getting sick on a mission team.
- Be in good health before your trip.
- Make sure you have all the recommended vaccinations.
- Stay hydrated–always drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty!
- Do not eat street food or any food not approved by SIFAT staff and use only bottled water to drink and brush your teeth.
- Use hand sanitizer often.
- Wear sunscreen even if you feel it is not necessary.
Section 5 – Country-specific:
Please see project pages listed below for country-specific information. Country-specific FAQs will be available soon with more detailed information.