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Whether it’s for a few weeks during the summer or a couple of semesters, hosting a student can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you invite a exchange student to stay with you, you become an ambassador for our country and open the door to a whole new world view for everyone involved.

There’s no shortage of opportunities, each of which have their own special requirements, but there are a few standard criteria and caveats to consider – the first being a natural curiosity and interest in other people, their values and points of view. Is everyone in your household ready to accept that? If you have children, are they comfortable with bringing another person into the family? Once that decision is made, start planning for your student to arrive by figuring out house and money rules, and don't forget about your insurance!

Who can play host?

There’s no requirement for you to be a “family” in the conventional sense. Single people, single parent families, same-sex couples, families with children of any age, apartment-sharers and other configurations are usually equally welcome. However, generally host sponsors must be at least 25 years of age.

Expect to undergo some scrutiny up front, including criminal reference check for all members of the household over the age of 18. If this doesn’t sit well with you, you probably haven’t thought things all the way through.

Students are matched to households with great care, taking factors such as family structure, pets, location and lifestyles into account. They will be expected to abide by your own customs and reasonable rules in all areas – from cleanliness to curfew times – but you also have to be flexible. If you have an idea of what type of student would fit best in your family, make sure you are up front about this from the start.

Who pays the bills?

Hosting isn’t a way to earn big money. After all, you’re not running an Airbnb. The monthly stipend families receive varies by location and is based on the estimated cost of living and hosting the exchange student. In most cases, it won’t even cover all costs related to feeding and housing a growing teenager, but is more of a gesture to offset the cost of hosting.

The student’s natural parents are expected to provide adequate spending money to be used for personal hygiene items, clothing, social activities, transportation, school and any other related expenses. While it varies among programs, parents are generally expected to send between $300 and $500 per month for each student participant.

No, you’re not babysitting

Once settled, students are encouraged to be as independent as possible. Transportation to and from school is usually not the host family’s responsibility. Many of these kids are used to living in major cities and are accustomed to using public transit – providing it exists, of course.

Remember students will be busy with their studies and will quickly become involved in extracurricular activities. As a result, provided you’re clear about your house rules, your guest shouldn’t need to be supervised 24 hours a day. Many exchange students come from families where both parents work and are quite comfortable with this type of environment.

Understand how your program works

While somewhat similar in nature, there’s a wide variety of programs out there so be sure to do your homework.

At YES Canada, for instance, host families who have children between the ages of 14 and 18 automatically receive priority in their hosting application. For students using Canada Homestay Agency as an intermediary, they will generally be university-aged (19 and up) and looking more for room and board rather than an immersive experience.

Those who choose to study through Embassy English are looking to improve their English language skills and want to live in an environment that supports this goal. As a result, the main language at home has to be English. The same is true for The Canada Homestay Network, except its host families work in both official languages. That means a 100% English environment for ESL students, or 100% French immersion for FSL students.

Of course, not everyone is interested in going to school in the first place – nor are they necessarily from another country. Canadians participating in the YMCA’s student exchange program are looking for an opportunity to gain paid work experience in another province while practicing their second official language skills. In this instance, your first language is expected to be their second.

Will you need to notify your home and auto insurance providers?

Normally when you rent out a room in your home, you're supposed to inform your home insurance company. This way if anything were to happen, your insurer couldn't say it hadn't been informed of the tenant and try to void your policy.

Even though your visiting student is really a guest, let your insurance company know you have an international student residing with you and it is not a landlord-tenant relationship. Your premium rates should not increase. The same goes for auto insurance – let the company know that you’ll occasionally be transporting an international or exchange student. Make sure your insurance is aware of the exact dates when the student is arriving and when he or she is departing.

As for the student, he or she should be covered by their parents’ plan back in their home country. However, it’s advisable to double check that their coverage applies in Canada. Some programs like YES Canada have their own insurance provider specializing in international education. Ensure your student has the proper insurance coverage before he or she arrives.

Enjoy the experience!

Remember to have fun! Hosting an international student is a valuable experience for both the student and your own family. Just make sure you do your prep work!

Gordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a consulting firm focusing on retirement readiness. Gordon was a columnist for the Globe & Mail and Morningstar for many years and is also currently a columnist for Investment Executive, Canada’s national newspaper for financial advisors.

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