South America is a massive continent with twelve amazing countries for high school students to explore. It's popular for those wanting to learn Spanish, spend time in nature, and live the laid back life. From Ecuador to Chile to Argentina, there's no shortage of destinations for students to uncover.
As a high school student abroad in South America, you’ll have the opportunity to live with a host family, learn a new language, and even earn college credit. It all depends on where you go and what you do.
South America is great for students who are interested in learning a new language, volunteering, experiencing unique cultures, eating phenomenal food, and making new friends.
Students interested in doing a high school abroad program in South America can choose from:
- A semester or full year exchange
- A summer study abroad program
- A study / travel program over spring, winter, or summer break
High School Exchange
Semester or year-long high school exchanges in South America provide the time to make lasting friendships. You will meet other study abroad students and local high schoolers. These new relationships will broaden your understanding of the world at large.
ch high school has different opportunities for students interested in studying abroad, but a semester or a year is not uncommon. You may even be able to arrange for a direct exchange of credits when you return home.
Youth Travel Tours
High school students with a brief amount of time to spend abroad can benefit from youth travel tours. Through these well-organized trips, students get the benefit of learning about a new culture while having a blast. Tours focus on various themes like community service, environmental conservation or adventure, while including educational elements like language or history.
Summer Study Program
Students who are only free during their summer break can find numerous summer programs in South America. Spanning from several weeks to two months, many of these summer programs partner with universities, so students are able to receive college credit. Starting college with credits is a great way for high school students to think ahead and jump-start their education!
If you're more interested in completing a few service hours, rather than studying, South America is also a great destination for high schoolers to learn more about communities abroad while helping out on a volunteer project. The types of programs offered are pretty diverse, but as a high schooler your options may be slightly limited (since you have fewer skills and qualifications as an older volunteer).
For that reason, it's ideal to choose a program that has experience working with high schoolers. They'll be able to point you in the right direction.
Spanish / Portuguese Immersion Programs
Forget period one Spanish class, get out there and speak it with a Spanish immersion program. Or, challenge yourself to learn a new language and head over to Brazil for a Portuguese immersion program. Spend your days studying the language, exploring nearby areas, and getting to know your host community by living with a local host family.
Planning Your Trip
Visa requirements differ depending on what country you’re from and which South American country you’re visiting. If you’re from the United States, Canada, Australia, or the UK and are staying less than 90 days in a South American country you can usually obtain a tourist visa upon entry. Brazil is an exception, requiring a visa in advance for countries that demand a visa of their residents.
Students planning to stay longer than 90 days in South America will need to look into a student visa. Students traveling with a program can get help with visa applications and requirements from the program.
The type of high school abroad program will determine your housing options in South America. Homestays are commonplace in yearlong or semester exchanges and language immersion programs, allowing students to immerse themselves in the local culture. Family units are an important part of most cultures in South America and you’ll be taken in a new son or daughter.
Those participating in teen travel programs will typically share a hotel room with fellow travelers, an easy way to make new friends! High school students enrolling in intensive summer programs often live in university dorms with other students.
If you’re flying from North America, flights to hubs like Quito, Ecuador; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile can run in the $500 - $1,000 USD range, while those coming from Europe can expect to pay $850 to $1,200.
The cost of transportation, food, additional expenses, and evenings out will vary depending on your study abroad country and how much is included in your program fees. Cheaper destinations like Ecuador and Peru will see you spending $15+ USD a day, while Argentina and Chile can cost $30+ USD daily.
Your program price will also fluctuate based on country, type of housing, length of stay and included amenities. It can range from $3,000 for a two-week trip in Peru to $5,000 for a semester program in Buenos Aires to $14,000 for a year-long exchange in Ecuador.
More tropical South American destinations like Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia have temperate weather year-round, requiring you to pack fewer layers and more shorts (yay!). Countries farther from the equator like Chile and Argentina are more likely to have seasons, so you’ll want to check the weather for the time of year you’re visiting. Regardless, it's always good to have a warm coat / jacket just in case.
- Breathable and UPF (sun resistant) clothing
- Solid walking shoes for outdoor explorations
- Sunscreen and bug repellent
- A power and voltage converter
Health & Safety
Staying Healthy in South America
It's recommended travelers receive hepatitis, yellow fever, typhoid, tetanus, and rabies vaccinations before traveling in South America’s developing countries. Mosquitos in South America can transmit diseases like Dengue Fever, Chikungunya Fever and Malaria. Students are encouraged to take proper precautions by researching high-risk areas before traveling, covering the skin, using insect repellant and taking preventative medication. Be especially vigilant of mosquito born diseases in rural areas of most South American countries and especially in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Stay away from animals you don’t know and only drink bottled or boiled water in South America. Check that your food is properly and carefully cooked. Traveler’s diarrhea is common, especially when first arriving to a new country, so stay hydrated and see a health care professional if symptoms don’t subside after a week.
High school students traveling in South America should follow general safety guidelines to have a happy and safe experience. As with anywhere in the world, being aware of your surroundings is an important way to stay out of trouble. Avoid local demonstrations, as they occasionally turn violent.
Petty theft and pickpocketing is known to happen in crowded, touristy areas of larger cities and on public transportation.
Male and female students should refrain from walking alone at night as theft and assault have been reported in South American countries. Always follow local government laws and stay away from illegal drugs and underage consumption.