The notes here are based on the trip that 'i c robotics FRC Team 5584' operations team made in April 2015 to the FIRST Championship.
The figures here are in Australian Dollars and relate to a small operations team 3 students and one mentor travelling from Melbourne Australia to St Louis, MO, USA.
These notes won't provide all of the answers you seek but hopefully they will provide some pointers and also mention some items that you may not have thought of at all. If you find any glaring omissions then be sure to let us know so that we can add to the notes to benefit future rookie teams!
If you are planning to take an FRC team to the FIRST Championship then my first piece of advice has to be - take a team of at least 10 students. We took 3 students (and met two more at the venue) but it really is not enough to cover everything that needs to be done, more importantly we found that the team members did not get much free time to take advantage of the many activities available to them (e.g. conferences, visit the non-frc programmes, etc).
The next piece of advice - yes it is possible to raise $10000 in 4 weeks, we have done this a couple of times (once for FLL and again this year for FRC) but it is not easy and we now have to work out how to achieve this year-on-year in a proactive manner. You certainly can not do this alone so make use of the entire team, your existing and potential sponsors and local government sources.
All travellers will need a passport that is valid for the period of travel, you will also need a US Visa or US Visa Waiver for each traveller. When we travelled it was recommended that passports should be valid for 6 months beyond the travel period. Visa Waivers are available for passports from a number of countries and are quicker to obtain (a few days), Visas can take a few weeks so get onto this for all potential team members! For those without a native (Australian in our case) passport make sure their Australian Visa does not expire before your return date otherwise they may have difficult returning home.
The planned journey departed MEL airport at 09:15 on 20-April-2015 arriving at STL airport at 17:46 on 20-April-2015. The return journey departed from STL at 16:20 on 26-April-2015 arriving at MEL airport at 07:25 on 28-April-2015. Our actual itinerary was disrupted by mechanical faults on bot the outgoing and return trips but that is another story.
Based on our itinerary it is going to cost in the region of $2000 to transport, accommodate and feed each student.
There will be team costs too: registration for the FIRST Competition is $5000 (USD, approx $6571.37 AUD) and there will be crate construction, shipping, handling, customs and agent fees. Bank fees for international transactions can add up too.
The primary concern for us taking a FIRST team overseas is where this money is going to come from.
You need to make some major decisions quickly and commit within a couple of days of the invite notification so working out where the funds were coming from was critical for us. Some things to consider:
- Do you have enough in the team account already (unlikely if you are a rookie team)?
- Do you have a pool of existing sponsors that you can tap into (possible but may not be a very deep or wide pool if you are a rookie team)?
- Can all of your team members contribute to the costs?
- Will they contribute different amounts?
- If so, how will you determine how much each team member will be subsidised?
- How many mentors will be travelling in your party?
- If you have a large team, do you need to take some chaperones too?
- Will the mentors or chaperones be self-funded, fully funded by the team/sponsors or will they be part subsidised?
Potential sources are: existing sponsors, local fundraising through an open day with at one of your industry sponsors factories, robo camps, helping lions / rotary events, chocolate fundraisers (e.g cabury), local government and industry grants (e.g. Cadbury "Learn Grant")
Watch out for: lead times: big corporations typically take ages to process your application, for example, if you are thinking of approaching "the flag carrier airline of Australia" then finish reading this article and get on to it right away!
Watch out for: cashflow: there *will* be a time when your income lags your expenditure, how will you handle this? One option is to find a benefactor who is willing to underwrite your trip, another might be to approach long standing teams to see if they can provide a three month microloan. This year we were able to use good will in the team member families who provided microloans to the team until the fundraising caught up. Not sure haw many more times I can stretch this good will though!
Spending money overseas? I am no financial advisor but the best USD rate I could find was with VISA, take care if you use a credit card rather than a debit card as your normal (55 day?) interest free period does not apply to "cash advances" which is what ATM withdrawls are on your credit account. Travel money cards are extremely convenient, they can be pre-purchased from most banks and travelex stores but do watch out for poor exchange rates and re-loading fees. If you are fortunate enough to have accounts in the USA and Australia in a common name and you consolidate your entire team's exchange transactions then osforex is worth looking at.
Cost of primary items were:
- Flights: $6396.00 for 4 travellers
- Travel Insurance: $239.88 for 4 travellers
- Passports: $250.00 for anyone who does not have one already!
- Visa Waivers: $14.00 USD (approx $18.34 AUD) for each traveller (we applied online via the ESTA website)
Watch out for: connection times: there was no way that we could predict the delays that we encountered but a Travel Agent is worthwhile rather than booking online unless you can arrange direct flights.
Once you are there
Cost of primary items were:
- Accommodation: actual cost for all four of us for 5 nights $737.65 (USD, approx $966.32 AUD) including taxes, we were supposed to be there for 6 nights but the cancelled flight delayed our arrival by 24 hours :)
- Transfers and Ground Transport: we were able to piggyback another teams ground transport <REVISIT - add some indicative costs here>
- Parking: cheapest we found was $10.00 (USD, approx $13.10 AUD) a day per vehicle, this was only 5 minute walk from the venue
- Food and Groceries: this came in at 195 AUD per person
- Activites: $24.00 for the city museum (USD, approx $31.44 AUD); The Arch $10.00 (USD, approx $13.10 AUD); Weekly Metro Train Pass $20.00 (USD, approx $26.20 AUD)
Watch out for: Venue food: we found this to be expensive, we discovered that the hotel we stayed at provided a grocery shopping service - we made use of this by preparing a shopping list before we travelled and leaving with reception at check in.
Watch out for: expensive accommodation: the down town accommodation is very convenient but you will pay a premium for this. We stayed in the suburbs (30 minute drive) from the venue and the rates were way cheaper, of course you have to balance this with the cost of ground transport (including vehicle hire, insurance, fuel and parking)
Cost of primary items were:
- freight shipping may be covered by FIRST - FedEx/FTN sponsored this for the outgoing and return trips in the 2015 season so no cost here, this was a massive cost saving for us going to the FIRST Championship from Melbourne
- Australia Customs and Shipping Broker Fees were not covered by FIRST - this little suprise came to 490 AUD for our crate - suggest you ask your shipping broker for an estimate of these costs when you first make contact, watch out for terms like "at cost" (ask them for some typical examples if they won't give you a concrete quote). Our customs processing fees came to $490.96, the breakdown was:
- Customs Clearance / Agency Fees $125.00
- ICS / Tradegate Fee $6.60
- Document Retention Fee $10.00
- Customs Dispersement Charges $236.20
- Quarantine Inspection $90.00
- GST on Fees $23.16
- custom crate construction - if you don't have access to appropriately treated materials and someone handy enough to make a crate that is going to last the trip then you need to allow for some materials and labour costs here, same example costs are:
- <REVIST: provide some indicative costs and lead time here - TDU>
- <REVIST: provide some indicative costs and lead time here - Barker>
The crate itself:
- the wood that the crate is made from needs to meet strict standards - take a look here: <REVISIT>
- take care of the contents, if your robot has wooden parts then you might want to consider getting an un-bagging approval from FIRST so that you can remove these from your robot
- note that the US states have different import constraints to Australia
- Australian rules and regulations were here: <REVISIT>
- the crate has size limits, it may be loaded on to a vehicle and transported on its side, is this a problem for your robot?
- how will your crate be loaded / unloaded from vehicle at your pick up address - you will be asked about this (e.g. "do you have a docking bay" or "do you have a forklift" or "do you need a tailgate lift"
- you will be asked how much your crate weighs, if you do not have a lifting scale (and a strong support beam in your workshop!) then you may want to consider weighing individual items as you place them into the crate and keeping a tally.
By the way, if you are thinking of buying a scale that weighs up to 400 lbs that hangs from a ceiling joist then you need to know what to search for - they are called "crane scales".
I hope you have found some useful tips here. Good luck.
By the way, if there is anything you think we should add that will benefit future rookie teams then send us a message via the 'contact us' page.