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Coronavirus: Advice for Travelers

CDC illustration of covid-19 virus

Effective May 15, certain Harvard-related travel is permitted for fully-vaccinated affiliates. Review our advice for developing a safe travel plan if you decide to travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19: Travel Updates and Advice for Harvard Affiliates

The global pandemic will continue to affect the safety and feasibility of travel for the foreseeable future. As the University message on April 30 outlined, Harvard intends to gradually resume safer travel as conditions warrant. Harvard’s current travel guidance, which prohibits University-related travel—both international and domestic—is in effect through May 14.

For Harvard-related travel that begins May 15 or later, fully vaccinated affiliates will be able to travel within the US and to any country rated Level 1 or Level 2 for COVID-19 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Full vaccination is defined as two weeks after a final dose of either an FDA-authorized vaccine or World Health Organization (WHO)-authorized vaccine.
  • All fully-vaccinated travelers must attest that they are fully vaccinated at the time of travel.
  • All other Harvard-related travel is prohibited, but certain Harvard affiliates (regardless of vaccination status or level of COVID-19 in the destination) may petition for a travel exception.

The CDC reports that fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19; however, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants.

Everyone's risk tolerance varies. So, with all of this in mind, check out the video below and our considerations, sensible precautions, and resources to help you develop a safe travel plan.

Do Your Research, Plan, and Be Flexible

COVID-19 situation in your destination

Know the COVID-19 risk (e.g. cases, availability of testing, and vaccination rate). Most of the world’s population is not vaccinated yet and does not have access to vaccines yet. Check the CDC travel health notices.

Travel restrictions and requirements for entry

Can you get to your destination? Some countries are prohibiting or restricting entry. Know the testing, quarantine, location/app tracking, and other public health requirements for entering and traveling within your destination. Research if testing sites are available, and budget for testing costs.

Check the International SOS country-specific restrictions, screenings, and flight operations for COVID-19 (membership: 11BYCA774932). Also check with your destination's embassy or consulate; visa delays are expected due to closures and/or reduced hours of operation.

Assess your research, work, or study environment

Think through the setting where you’ll conduct your research, study, or work (indoors/outdoors, alone or in a group, etc.). What health, safety, and/or cleaning measures are in place? Ensure that the institutions, businesses, and sites you plan to visit are operating and available to you during your travel dates.

“Keep in mind that the situation can change rapidly and be prepared to do programs remotely with less in-person interaction.” – Harvard traveler, winter 2021

Have strong backup plans

Covid-19 cases, government restrictions, and public health measures can change rapidly, and you may need to adjust your plans or re-evaluate your trip. Are there alternatives that would enable you to achieve the goals of your trip in a lower risk location or remotely? Can the work be done by a partner in country?

Travel restrictions and requirements for your return

Know the testing, quarantine, and re-entry restrictions for your return destination. And make sure to budget for testing costs.

Booking Travel and Logistics

Transportation

Think through your modes of transit for getting to and traveling within your destination (air/land/sea travel). What health and safety precautions (e.g. mask wearing, hand washing/sanitizing, physical distancing) can you take during transit? If feasible for air travel, buy direct flights to avoid layovers. Many airlines still have reduced or suspended flights, so be sure to reconfirm all arrangements prior to departure.

Accommodation

Is your lodging private or communal? Ask about any enhanced health measures or cleaning protocols at your hotel/dormitory/rental home. Will you be able to self-isolate or quarantine in your accommodation if that becomes necessary? Reconfirm all arrangements prior to departure.

“Do your very best to prepare for every situation (borders shutdown, having to quarantine in a hotel for weeks, flights canceled) and then know that there will be many things that are out of your control. A hotel might have very good COVID policies on paper, but may not be enforcing them, so are there things you can do to change your behavior to make you safer?” – Harvard traveler, winter 2021

Contingencies for extended stay

In the event of border closures, business closures, mandatory lockdowns, or restrictions on travel, have contingency plans for lodging and access to food, water, medicine, and basic necessities. Budget for these contingencies.

Refundable tickets, cancellation policies, and travel insurance

If your travel is paid for by Harvard, consider using one of Harvard’s preferred travel partners, such as The Travel Collaborative, Egencia, or Milne Travel to book your trip. If there’s a high likelihood your itinerary could change, consider purchasing refundable tickets and/or travel insurance as budget allows. Know what your contracts and agreements with any in-country partners may allow, and what their payment deadlines and refund policies are.

Health and Safety Measures, and Emergency Support

Health and insurance

Talk with your doctor about your individual health and any vaccines, medications, precautions, or other medical necessities, particularly given the risks of COVID-19. Do you have the appropriate insurance (health, medical evacuation, life, etc.), either individually or through an external support organization? Understand the strength of the destination's medical infrastructure, including access to care and COVID-19 testing.

“Make sure to have a clear sense of how you will get groceries and basic necessities.” – Harvard traveler, winter 2021

Communication

Check-in with friends, family, or colleagues, especially if you're in quarantine or isolation. Will you have a mobile phone and consistent, secure internet access? Know who to contact in an emergency and arrange for any local contacts who could help you.

Register your trip

Register with International SOS and download the Assistance App to receive alerts. You should also register with the U.S. State Department (U.S. citizens) or with your country’s embassy. If conditions deteriorate in your destination, registering with your embassy may expedite access to support.

Emergency response program

International SOS, the University’s emergency response program, ordinarily is available to help you 24/7 during and after a medical, mental health, or security incident abroad, including certain approved medical and security evacuations. However, considering the current COVID-19 global pandemic, it is important to understand that the presence or resurgence of COVID-19 in a given location, and border closures due to COVID-19, are not covered causes for an International SOS evacuation. Even if an evacuation is approved, International SOS will be bound by the local government’s regulations and may not be able to evacuate you.

COVID-19 International Travel FAQs

The FDA has issued Emergency Use Authorization for several vaccines. See the FDA’s COVID-19 vaccines for the most current information.

The WHO has authorized Emergency Use Listings for several vaccines and continues to review others. See the WHO FAQ “Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?” for the most current information.

  1. If you have been fully vaccinated with either an FDA-authorized vaccine or WHO-authorized vaccine, see the instructions for submitting vaccine documentation on the HUHS website.
  2. Download and complete the vaccination attestation form, and then submit it either with your travel reimbursement request or with your other required pre-travel documentation.

Download the vaccination attestation form

For faculty, postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students, and staff: If you are not fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or WHO-authorized vaccine, you may petition for an exception to undertake Harvard-related international or domestic travel that is essential to your work.

For College, master’s, and professional students: University-related domestic and international travel is only permitted if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or WHO-authorized vaccine. At this time, you cannot petition for a travel exception.

Harvard’s travel guidance and petition process will evolve as the public health situation evolves. The University anticipates that other affiliates will be able to petition to travel when the global public health situation improves.

The University understands that certain Harvard affiliates (regardless of vaccination status or level of COVID-19 in the destination) may need to travel for work directly and immediately related to the COVID-19 pandemic, for work that enables critical research activity, or for an extended single-country stay to undertake essential work. The Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs (OVPIA) has established a petition process for these cases. See the criteria to petition for travel that begins May 14 or sooner, and the petition process for travel beginning May 15 or later.

At this time, only faculty, postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students, and staff may petition for a travel exception. Harvard’s travel guidance and petition process will evolve as the public health situation evolves. The University anticipates that other affiliates will be able to petition to travel when the global public health situation improves.

Harvard’s offices abroad are part of the campus community. Staff in those offices should follow the same guidance on international travel that all members of the University are asked to follow.

For domestic travel, office staff should follow local health and government travel advisories in the countries where they are based.

The reason that Harvard’s guidance applies to staff in offices abroad is, first and foremost, to protect the health and safety of all staff and those in our communities. In addition, the University’s effort to reduce travel is part of a broad effort to slow the rate of transmission and be part of the solution to this global pandemic. All members of the Harvard community in the U.S. and abroad are asked to help in this effort.

University-related international trips include activities that are part of academic or professional work at Harvard, including research, study abroad, attendance at a conference, academic study, travel with a student organization or trek, or a summer or January internship (or similar volunteer or work experience) if registered at Harvard the following term. An international trip is also University-related if Harvard is funding the trip or if it's at the request of a supervisor.

Harvard-related travel does not include personal travel, such as vacations or trips home.

Refer to Harvard's coronavirus website for information on campus access restrictions, return to campus policies, testing procedures, quarantine and isolation protocols, vaccine program, visitor guidelines, and more.

You can also contact our International Safety & Security team, international_safety@harvard.edu, with questions related to international travel or programming abroad.