Using Personal Assistance Services Abroad

An African woman with a disability and her personal assistant walking.
Traveling with a PA allowed international visitor Hilda (left) to keep up with the busy schedule of her Washington Fellowship.
"Independent living is not doing things by yourself; it is being in control of how things are done." - Judith Heumann, International disability rights activist

Whether at home or abroad, personal assistance services (PAS) provide a way for some people with disabilities to fully participate in all areas of community living. Sometimes called a personal care attendant (PCA), a personal assistant (PA) assists a person with a disability to do the things she would do for herself if she did not have a disability or had other ways to accomplish the task without human assistance. This could involve:

  • Domestic tasks, such as housecleaning, cooking, laundry, and shopping, reading, or notetaking
  • Personal care, such as transferring, skin care, positioning, bathing, range of motion exercises, dressing, grooming, and toilet assistance
  • Transportation, such as pushing a wheelchair, guiding someone, assisting with transitions and transfers

Besides the types of personal assistants who provide intimate care services for people with mobility disabilities, the information in these pages also applies to other types of services used to provide access during international exchange. Examples include: note-takers, scribes or mobility guides for a participant who is blind; support people or advocates for participants with developmental, intellectual, or communication disabilities, and others. Think creatively about the options that will work best in your (or your participant's) new environment.

Tips for Working with PAs Abroad (in a Nutshell)

  1. Begin planning at least several months in advance before you plan to go abroad. Finding a great PA in a foreign country or one who is willing to travel internationally takes time.
  2. Identify the areas where you require PAS and how much assistance in each of those areas you will need.
  3. If you receive funding or benefits in your home country that cover PAS costs, research whether those benefits will remain available to you when you travel internationally.
  4. Think about any special training the PA may need to learn with you before the program, such as dressing, bathroom assistance, transferring, medications, etc.
  5. Make sure your PA has time off. If you require someone to be with you 24 hours a day then consider having a second PA available.
  6. Allow time for the two of you to get to know each other. Have the PA start a few weeks before the program if traveling with the PA, or arrive a few weeks before the program begins if you're finding a PA in the location, so you can both get used to the routine and make any adjustments along the way.
  7. Be patient. Traveling internationally presents intense experiences that can be very emotional, especially when working with a PA.
  8. Set clear expectations both verbally and in writing. Make sure you and the PA are very clear on what is expected of each other.
  9. Know each other's emergency contact person, just in case.
  10. Make sure PAS take priority over the need for a friend. Make time for both a personal and professional relationship either by having clear on-duty hours, or by using cues such as “this is work time” to distinguish roles.

Need more than just the nutshell version? Continue reading the Table of Contents to get down to the nitty gritty, download planning tools, and hear from other travelers who worked with a PA internationally.