Guide to Hosting International Visitors

Arranging the Visit

Initial Planning and Preparation

  • Determine who at the U of M will make the formal invitation to the visitor. This person should sign the invitation letter.
  • Determine who will coordinate the visit and who will sponsor the visit. Be clear on who is paying for what and who is making which arrangements.
  • Communicate with the visitor to acknowledge the request and suggest or confirm the timing of the visit. Determine appropriate dates for the visit considering the academic calendar, weekends, holidays, conflicting events, and availability of people to meet with the visitor.
  • Determine visa requirements, insurance, and restrictions on payment for honoraria or other services. Contact International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at 612-626-7100 as soon as possible. Due to homeland security initiatives, the process to obtain some types of visas can be complicated and lengthy—sometimes taking several months. Visitors from Cuba require special approval.
  • Determine the importance of the visit and the “level” of the visitor. The protocol involved will vary greatly between the visit of a researcher and the visit of a high-ranking cabinet member.
  • Consider in advance what events and activities are possible, e.g., lecture, presentation, reception, dinner, lunch, breakfast, meetings, site visits, etc.
  • Get biographical information from the visitor for use in introducing the visitor to U of M participants.
  • Determine if anyone will be accompanying the visitor and the University’s responsibility for those accompanying.
  • Determine any special needs of the visitor—diet, transportation, disability issues, escort, and language or interpretation issues (see section on Cultural Information and Protocol).

Who Pays for the Expenses of the Visit?

Estimate the expenses of the visit and make sure it is clear who pays. It is best to obtain a budget from the host department prior to sending out any confirmations to the visitor. Consider what it means to “invite” someone to campus. Are there assumptions that an invitation includes hospitality beyond the arrangement of an itinerary? If the visitor is responsible for lodging expenses, but you offer to make hotel reservations, make sure the visitor’s financial obligations are understood.If the host department pays for lodging, make sure to clearly define what items are covered (e.g., breakfast, mini bar, incidentals). Make it clear to the U of M participants who are having meals with the visitor or accompanying the visitor to other events how expenses are to be covered.

When considering what expenses the University will cover during the visit, the host department should determine the type of visa the guest will use to travel to the United States. Certain visas carry restrictions on payment and reimbursement. Check with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at 612-626-7100 for exact regulations and terms of the visa status of your guest.

Letters of Invitation

Prior to issuing the invitation to an international guest, you should first determine the financial obligations of the University and the responsibilities of the guest. Many departments may consider paying for the visitor’s local expenses including lodging, transportation, and food. They may also wish to provide the visitor with an honorarium. (Note: Certain visa types do not allow for the visitor to receive either a reimbursement for expenses or an honorarium.) The formal invitation letter is an appropriate format in which to clarify some of these issues. An invitation letter should indicate the dates a guest is expected to come to the University, the length of stay, expectations of what the guest is to do while at the University, and what the University’s financial obligations are for the visit. See Sample Letters of Invitation.

Responsibilities of the Unit Coordinating the Visit

  • Establish the visitor’s itinerary in writing (see Sample Itineraries)
  • Arrange for meals, special events, escorts, transportation, and perhaps lodging
  • Consider the responsibility for providing access to cultural and other “extra-curricular” opportunities
  • Select and obtain gifts for visitors prior to arrival, when appropriate
  • Prepare briefing packets for the visitor and U of M participants
  • Translate documents when appropriate

Arrival and Departure

Determine whether a U of M representative will meet the visitor at the airport and provide an escort to the hotel, the host department will send a car, or if the visitor must find their own transportation. Your decision will depend on the visitor’s status and familiarity with the Twin Cities and the availability of an escort at the appointed time. The same considerations would apply to departure from the Twin Cities.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is symbolic in every culture. In the U.S., giving a gift to business associates and colleagues is often a sign that you respect the effort made to visit you and to signify something about the relationship—its beginning, the continuity, or the forging of a new aspect to the relationship. While these underlying motives can apply across cultures, the actual gift given is often quite symbolic, thus creating a great deal of anxiety for hosts of international visitors. What is the right gift? And what do you do if you receive a gift? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Some cultures place emphasis on numbers and colors. For example in China, giving gifts in single or odd numbers can imply loneliness or separation, while gifts given in pairs are highly appropriate, as it equates to good luck. Colors and the way a gift is wrapped can also hold a great deal of significance.
  • Some categories of gifts may offend certain cultures. For example, a letter opener looks like a knife and implies severing a relationship to a visitor from Japan or Latin American countries. Cows are sacred in India, so you should avoid leather gifts. The word for clock in Mandarin sounds like the word for death, so clocks are generally not given to Chinese people. Remember that not all visitors from these cultures will be offended; use your best judgment or ask someone from the same culture for advice.
  • Keep in mind that the recipient will have to transport the gift back home. It is best to avoid heavy, burdensome gifts.
  • Don’t expect that the visitor will open the gift in front of you. Cultures vary in the custom of whether a gift is given in front of the giver. Do not force a visitor to open a gift. You can encourage the visitor by explaining it is customary in the U.S. to open a gift right away. If you aren’t sure what to do with a gift given to you, ask, “Is this something I should open now?”

Planning the Itinerary

After evaluating the objectives and status of the visitor, you should determine which activities are most appropriate. Although your primary interest will likely be introducing the visitor to the University and its many academic programs and facilities, you may also want to consider community and business and government groups opportunities. The following are some ideas to consider.

Academic/Professional Interests

  • Meeting with faculty in specific fields
  • Observing classrooms, laboratories, or service units (Be aware there can be security limitations for visitors from some countries and in “sensitive” fields.)
  • Interacting with students, especially those from the same country as the visitor
  • Meeting with deans or central administrative officers
  • Meeting with vice presidents or the president
  • Meeting with faculty in interdisciplinary research centers
  • Meeting with civic groups or political leaders
  • Tours of local businesses (Medtronic, 3M, General Mills, etc.)
  • Determine other interests of visitor—for example, a visitor who is a president of a university abroad may be interested in meeting with other administrators as well as with academics in his or her field
  • Tour of specific facilities on campus
  • Government offices (Minnesota Trade Office, Sister City relationships)

Social and Cultural Interests

Visitor Contributions to the Visit

Many times, either the visitor or the host department will want the visitor to give a lecture or speak in a class. If the visitor is to give a public lecture, the host department will need to make appropriate arrangements. Tasks might include room reservations, publicity, equipment reservations, and catering. In addition, someone should plan to introduce the speaker and moderate a question-and-answer period.

Scheduling Tips

Consider whether an all-day escort from your office is needed. (This would depend on the status of the visitor and the availability of staff.) If you do not assign a permanent escort, make arrangements for a staff person from each appointment to accompany the visitor to the next meeting and make appropriate introductions, or confirm that the visitor can find the meeting place on his or her own.

Be careful not to overload the daily schedule. Consider the following:

  • Make sure the visitor has a chance to recover from the flight before beginning appointments. For example, it is not desirable to take the visitor directly from the airport to a meeting with the dean. It is also a good idea to give the visitor a break between the end of the business day and any evening events planned.
  • Leave enough time to get to the next appointment. You should assess the visitor’s ability to walk the required distance or should consider arranging transportation. Weather considerations should also be factored in.
  • Allow some unscheduled time in the initial itinerary so the visitor will have the opportunity to follow up on any further connections. During the visit, someone may make a referral that would be an important link for the visitor.
  • Allow enough free time for the visitor to enjoy the surroundings. This could mean a guided tour of campus, a chance to sit on a bench and watch people, or an opportunity to attend an organized academic or cultural event. The University Bookstore is a popular destination!
  • Allow time for rest stops.

Public Events and Receptions

In some cases your visitor’s status, research subject, or purpose of the visit will create wide public appeal. Upon securing your visitor’s approval, it is a good idea to arrange for a public event on campus. You might wish to involve other departments or non-University agencies as cosponsors to offset costs and to increase awareness and potential attendance. If your visitor’s status is high level, it is important to notify the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, University Relations, and the University Police about the visit and forward them a detailed itinerary. University Relations can be helpful in arranging any media visits or news releases. The University Police can be helpful with transportation and security issues.

Briefing the Visitor and Host

Provide the visitor with a detailed itinerary with contact information. Include addresses and phone numbers for each appointment. The visitor may want to follow up with further correspondence and will be grateful for the information. Distinguish between professional and social meetings and provide a brief sentence on the purpose of each appointment or the topics to be discussed (see Sample Itineraries).

Provide U of M participants with biographical information on the visitor and indicate briefly why you have chosen them to meet with the visitor. If appropriate, make suggestions of common areas of interest.

Host Briefing Packet

  • Visitor’s curriculum vitae/short biography
  • Background with information on visitor’s relationship to the University
  • Objectives of the visit
  • Itinerary, including information about escorts to and from meetings
  • Cultural information about the visitor and home country (as appropriate)

Visitor Briefing Packet

  • Itinerary with full information
  • Organizational charts
  • Specific academic information
  • General University information* and map
  • Tourist maps of Twin Cities
  • Cultural information
*The GPS Alliance has produced an overview "facts and figures" brochure for international visitors. The brochure is available in hard copy for free to departments or as a PDF, upon request. Send requests to

After the Visit

It is a good idea for the unit that planned the visit to thank all of the individuals who met with the visitor. This can be done by phone, e-mail, or with a written note. It is also appropriate for the organizing unit to follow-up with the visitor with any information that was requested. The organizer should also tie up any loose ends on the finances and billing for the visitor.