Questions About Health & Safety

Is it safe to travel in Latin America?

Costa Rica and Ecuador are typically considered among the safest countries for travelers in Latin America. See individual program pages for more information about regional safety considerations for our programs.

What does Sustainable Summer do to provide a safe experience for students?

We expect that every trip will run smoothly and without incident, but we plan for the worst. Sustainable Summer has invested in the quality of its risk management practices by participating in the Risk Management Training offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization with over 40 years of experience managing risk in wilderness environments.  As a result of this training Sustainable Summer has developed a risk management strategy encompassing all levels of our organization. In order to mitigate the risk that is inherent in all international expeditions, we have invested time and resources in these practices because the health and well being of our participants is of the highest priority. All Sustainable Summer programs feature experienced staff using established risk management best practices to guide every decision. All trip leaders have CPR and Wilderness First Aid training, and at least one leader possesses advanced medical training.

All participants are required to be enrolled in a comprehensive medical and travel insurance as part of their program tuition. (You will be given the option of having Sustainable Summer purchase a plan from our preferred provider on your behalf when you enroll in the program.) We use private transportation when traveling between locations. We work exclusively with experienced local operators who have been vetted by our team. We conduct training with all trip leaders and establish clear protocols to mitigate risk and effectively mobilize resources in the event of an emergency. Please see our Safety page for a more comprehensive overview of our approach to student health and well-being. If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact us to discuss. Answers to some common questions about health and safety are below:

What happens if I get sick or hurt?”

All trip leaders have current first aid and CPR certifications, and can treat basic medical situations on-site.  Sustainable Summer has clearly defined protocols in the event of a health/medical emergency.  All participants are required to be enrolled in a travel health insurance plan whlie traveling on the program. Policies that cover emergency health and medical evacuation while traveling abroad are inexpensive and Sustainable Summer can purchase a plan on your behalf when you enroll in the program. In the immediate areas we will be visiting, medical clinics are available for a broad range of health issues, but participants with more serious needs will be transported to the nearest major medical facility that adheres to similar standards and practices as medical facilities in the United States.

I have special dietary needs. Can I still go?

Sustainable Summer is eager to accommodate medical or dietary needs, as circumstances permit. We are not able to provide alternate meals since most of our food is served ‘family-style’ from locally harvested sources. We will typically eat whatever is fresh that day, so students with dietary restrictions should plan to speak to our program directors before enrolling to ensure we can accommodate their needs.  Programs also require a certain level of physical capability, so students with any concerns about their fitness should contact our office to confirm this is an appropriate program for them.

What about bugs, spiders, snakes, and other ‘scary’ creatures?

Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance.  You should look at the FAQs for the individual programs to get a better sense of the types of “critters” or vector diseases (malaria, Dengue, etc) you might encounter while traveling. We will review prevention measures during orientation and have standing medical procedures in the unlikely event of an incident. We take these risks seriously and will provide you with our pre-program guide, that covers our student health policies in more detail, after you enroll in the program. Please call us with any specific questions.

What vaccinations do I need?

The short answer to this question is that we don’t tell families what they should and should not vaccinate against. That’s a decision for you and your doctor. The Center for Disease Control website is the resource that your physician will likely use in making recommendations, so check that out if you’re curious. For enrolled students, CDC recommendations are provided in your Program Preparation Guide. For students going to Ecuador on a program with us, please see this travel health page for some additional information that is intended to parse through some of the nuances of the CDC recommendations for Ecuador.

Who are the Sustainable Summer trip leaders? What is the student:staff ration?

There are typically two Sustainable Summer trip leaders on each program. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. We also work very closely with our local partners. English-speaking guides, specialists, and instructors will be with us throughout the program. The student:staff ratio will never exceed 6:1.

Questions about Travel and Program Details

How many participants are there? Should I come with a friend?

Sustainable Summer trips typically consist of 10-14 students, ranging in age from 15 to 18. Most students do not enroll with a friend, but pairs of students are welcome to come together.

How do we get to our host country? Is there a chaperoned group flight? How do we travel in country?

Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States, which all participants are typically required to take. This flight will be chaperoned by a trip leader.Flights typically depart from a major hub, like Miami or Atlanta. Program pages on this website specify departure airports, costs, and other information on the group flight. Detailed information about securing a seat on the group flight will be provided upon enrollment in the program.

Once in country, all travel will be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we may occasionally use other transport when traveling locally. This can range from a cattle truck to the local bus. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!

Do I need to speak Spanish? Will there be opportunities for me to take Spanish classes?

No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program.

How ‘academic’ is the program? Are we ‘learning’ the whole time?

We are looking for intellectually curious and academically motivated students. However, there’s also plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. Activities on our programs include surfing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, and horseback riding, just to name a few examples. We also think bouncing down a dirt road in a cattle truck to visit an indigenous tribe or spending the day learning the basics of permaculture on an organic farm, to name a few educational examples, is pretty fun, too.

Is this a ‘community service’ program? Can I get credit for community service?

This program is not intended to be a “community service” trip. All of our programs feature partnerships with local organizations with a strong commitment to improving and sustaining the local community and we will actively engage in a day or two of community service during the program. Sustainable Summer will provide documentation of the program fundamentals and community service hours. If you are looking for a community service program, we strongly suggest you review some of our thoughts on service learning.

How do we stay in touch and communicate with family/friends?

Communication via cell phone or Internet is often not possible for several days at a time during programs. When we are out of cell phone range, we always have an immediate means of reaching emergency assistance should it be needed, for instance, via short wave radio. However, students should be prepared for the reality that they may not be able to place or receive calls or check email for long stretches during the program, up to one week at a time. Internet access at several points during the program, so students can plan to check in with family and friends intermittently throughout the trip. In case of emergency, family members will be able to reach our 24 hour hotline to communicate important information to their students in as timely a manner as is practical.

Do we eat “local” food? Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?

The short answer is “yes” and yes.” See individual program pages or call us for more information about your specific dietary considerations.

Questions about Applying

Am I eligible to participate?

You must be at least 15 years of age and no more than 18 years of age on the program start date to participate.

We are able to accept students from any location worldwide, although if you are applying from outside the United States there may be special visa and insurance requirements as part of your participation. Please email prior to submitting your application.

Is there an application deadline? How do I apply and enroll? How do I pay?

Please see our Application Policies for more info.

Will I be accepted? Should I apply? How do I know if this is the right program for me?

Sustainable Summer is not for everyone. In addition to the age requirements (15 – 18 years old), in general, you should have a strong interest in environmental sustainability and the requisite physical and emotional maturity to handle the experience of traveling with your peers in a developing country. Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone. See our Application page for more info on how we make acceptance decisions.

Do I need to speak Spanish? Will there be an opportunity for me to take Spanish classes?

No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program.

How do I enroll?

All students must complete an online application at A $35 non-refundable application fee ($70 after April 1st) will be required to submit the application. Applications will be reviewed on a weekly basis, and students will be notified via email of the acceptance decision. Enrollment information will be provided with the acceptance decision.

Financial Considerations

How much does the program cost?

Tuition ranges from $1995 to $3995, depending on the program. Please see specific program pages for tuition amounts.

What’s included in the cost of tuition?

Tuition includes all accommodations, meals, activities, curriculum and instruction, ground transportation, chaperone for suggested outbound group flight, and contributions to service projects. Scholarships and financial aid are available.

What’s NOT included in the cost of tuition?

Tuition does not include airfare, entry or exit fees, travel insurance, and personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls. Please see individual program pages for airfare estimates and a breakdown of any entry or exit fees.

What are the payment terms and refund policy?

A non-refundable deposit is required to secure enrollment in the program and is applied against the cost of tuition. Enrollment deposits can be made online, or by check or wire transfer. The balance of tuition is due by April 1st, or within 21 days of enrollment if enrolling after March 15th, and is payable by check or wire transfer. Please see our application and enrollment policies page for more information.

Are scholarships available?

We have financial aid and other scholarships available. Please see our scholarships page for more information.

Participant Resources

Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions and resources for enrolled participants. If you’re already signed up to go on a Sustainable Summer program, you’ll find useful information here that will help you prepare for your summer with us. Don’t forget to check out your MySummer account for all of the participation forms, our Program Preparation Guide, and other important info.

Please give us a call or email if you can’t find what you’re looking for or have any questions.

Where can I find participation forms?

Forms and other participant information are accessed through your MySummer account.

Where can I find information about the group flight, airfare, visa requirements, and other travel details?

In your MySummer account.

How do I pay my tuition invoice?

In your MySummer account.

How do I return forms to the Sustainable Summer office?

Please upload them to your MySummer account. This is by far the easiest and most efficient way for us to receive your information. Other methods increase administrative work on our end, which has an impact on student tuition. As an extra incentive for families to use MySummer, we will credit your final tuition invoice $25 if we receive all required participation forms through MySummer before April 1st.

Can I fax/mail/email you forms instead?

If you’d rather fax your forms to us, this is the number: 646.712.9439. Please ensure multi-page forms are faxed as a single document. You can also email a scanned copy of each form to Again, ensure multi-page forms are emailed as a single document. If you’re not sure how to combine multiple pages into a single document, a quick Google search will yield several free, easy ways to do this. Lastly, you can mail to Sustainable Summer, 212 S. Oxford St. #3A, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Please note, we charge a $25 administrative fee for processing snail mail. Don’t worry about including any special subject lines, cover letters, or other information when you submit forms. As long as the student’s name is on the form, we’ll figure it out.

How will I know if you received my forms?

Check the “Participation Forms Status” section of your MySummer account for a record of all received and outstanding pre-participation items.

I have a question about my participation forms. Who should I talk to?

Call us at 646.504.5046 or email We’re glad to help.

Should I bring my computer and cell phone?

Students should not bring a laptop computer or tablet device. Smart phones or other handheld devices with wireless capability can be useful for the occasional email correspondence when we are in locations with wifi access. It is okay if students would like to bring their smartphone for the purposes of checking email via wifi, listening to music, etc., but all participants will be required to turn off the cellular signal on their smart phone at the start of their program and limit the use of technology to designated times. However, there will also be internet cafes in in some of the locations we visit, and it is emphatically not necessary to bring any type of internet capable device to communicate with home. Please note, even if students disregard our “no cellular service” policy and set up an international calling or data plan, they should be aware that cell service and/or Internet may not be available for several days at a time. In general, we may be in a “communications” blackout period for as many as 7 days at a time. Our staff will always have an emergency communication device available and the means to coordinate a rescue with emergency professionals.

How do I do laundry?

You will not have regular access to laundry facilities during your program, but you will typically have the opportunity to do laundry once or perhaps twice during the trip when we are in a larger town with laundry services. It is the student’s responsibility to pay for laundry. The price will typically range from $1/kg to $5/kg. Our packing list will provide more information on this topic. We find that a “laundry prevention plan” coupled with occasional hand-washing works perfectly fine for most students.

How do I get to my host country? How do we travel in country?

Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States. See your MySummer account for details.

How much spending money do I need?

See your Program Preparation Guide for specifics (in your MySummer account). All meals and program-sponsored activities are included in the cost of tuition, so students will only need spending money for souvenirs, laundry, personal items and incidentals.

Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency, so we recommend students withdraw cash prior to leaving the United States, as ATMs can be few and far between where we will be traveling. $100 should be more than sufficient for most participants, unless they plan to purchase many souvenirs for family and friends. We recommend students also bring an ATM card, in the event they need to withdraw additional funds.

Costa Rica uses the Colone, although the US dollar is also accepted in many places. However, to get the best rates, we recommend using Colones. Bringing $100 in Colones to Costa Rica is an easy option, although there are numerous ATMs that will dispense Colones at a better exchange rate in Costa Rica. There are several ATMs and a money exchange at the airport that students will be able to use. $100 should be sufficient for most participants, unless they plan to purchase many souvenirs for family and friends. We recommend students also bring an ATM card, in the event they need to withdraw additional funds.

How do we stay in touch?

Students should not bring a cell phone with the intention of making/receiving calls or text messages during the program. Typically about once a week, students will have an opportunity to email home, make a Skype call, use Facetime, etc. over a wifi connection. We will encourage all students to check in with family during these times. We will also maintain a program blog with photos and trip updates. We are usually able to update this every 2 to 3 days, but sometimes as much as a week will pass before we can access an appropriate internet connection. In case of emergency, family members will be able to reach our 24 hour hotline to communicate important information to their students in as timely a manner as is practical.

What vaccinations do I need?

Certain inoculations may be advisable, depending on the program. Please see your Program Preparation Guide in your MySummer account for specific recommendations from the CDC.

What should I pack?

You can download a packing list from your MySummer account.

Can I get in touch with other participants before the program?

Yes. Login to your MySummer account to join our online community.