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Coronavirus: Advice for Travelers

CDC illustration of ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses

The University is committed to facilitating travel under safe conditions, but travel still poses risks for which you should prepare. Review our advice for developing a safe travel plan if you decide to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19: Travel Updates and Advice for Harvard Affiliates

Although health conditions have improved in many locations around the world, travel still poses risks, and individuals should take appropriate precautions before deciding to travel. The global pandemic will continue to affect the safety and feasibility of travel, especially if new variants emerge and countries subsequently implement border restrictions and public health measures on short notice.

The University is committed to facilitating travel, which is critical to many of our academic and professional pursuits, under safe conditions. If you’re planning Harvard-related travel, do your research to determine your requirements, have contingency plans, and be prepared for the possibility of disruptions.

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. This includes infection rate, presence of new variants, availability of testing, vaccination rate, and hospital system capacity. Testing rates, availability, and costs vary by country. Availability of vaccines and vaccination rates continue to lag in some countries. Additionally, hospital systems in some countries are still overwhelmed. Check the CDC travel health notices.

Travel restrictions and requirements for entry

Can you get to your destination? Requirements may change quickly. Some countries are still prohibiting or restricting entry—even if you’re transiting through one country to another—while other countries have lifted all restrictions. Know the vaccination, booster, testing, quarantine, masking, location/app tracking, and other public health requirements for entering and traveling within your destination and any layover locations. You may need to budget for additional, required tests upon arrival.

Many airlines and countries have very specific requirements for the types of COVID-19 tests and vaccines they will accept and how proof of a negative test, vaccination status, and/or recent recovery from COVID-19 can be evidenced. These requirements can change on short notice.

Resources to Research Your Requirements
  • COVID Trip Planner: feature available in the International SOS Assistance App, Member Portal, and pre-travel advisory email (sent after you register your trip) that provides personalized information based on your passport and vaccination status, as well as travel rules by destination, quarantine mandates, and other COVID-related considerations
  • Pandemic Preparedness: country-specific travel restrictions, flight operations, and screenings tracked by International SOS (log in with membership number 11BYCA774932)
  • Your destination's embassy or consulate

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 or required? 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, new variants, government restrictions, and public health measures may change quickly. You may need to adjust your plans or re-evaluate your trip. Can the work be done by a partner in country?

Travel restrictions and requirements for your return

Know the vaccination, testing, quarantine, and re-entry restrictions for your return destination and any locations you transit through. COVID-19 testing availability and turnaround times vary by country and type of test (e.g. rapid antigen or PCR). Schedule tests in advance, if possible, to ensure you receive your results in time, and budget for testing costs.

In the event of border closures, be prepared to quarantine in other locations for up to 14 days prior to re-entry. For example, non-citizens may be prohibited from re-entering their return location if traveling from certain countries.

Resources to Research Your Return Requirements

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 masking is required during transit, practice the "consume and cover" and "quick sip rule" to eat and drink safely.

If feasible for air travel, buy direct flights to avoid layovers. Airlines still have reduced or suspended flights, and the emergence of new variants may result in short-notice flight cancellations. Reconfirm all arrangements prior to departure.

Accommodation

Is your lodging private or communal? Ask about any enhanced health measures (e.g., ventilation), cleaning protocols at your hotel/dormitory/rental home, and whether the facility is used by the local government as a COVID isolation accommodation. Will you be able to self-isolate or quarantine in your accommodation if you test positive for COVID-19 or are deemed a close contact? Reconfirm your 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 testing positive for COVID-19, make sure you have contingency plans for lodging and access to food, water, prescription medicine, masks, soap/sanitizer, and basic necessities and services. Budget for these contingencies. Quarantine and extended stay costs are generally not covered expenses under the International SOS program.

Also consider whether a delayed return would affect your ability to resume on-campus research, work, or study.

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 so you can determine a cutoff date for making a decision.

Visas

Make sure you have the correct visa and travel documents and that they’re valid for the duration of your trip. Will you be transiting through another location first? Check if you also need a transit visa for countries you stop in or pass through en route to your final destination.

  • From within the US, you have two options to apply for a visa—through your destination country's embassy/consulate in the US, or through a visa processing vendor.
  • From outside the US, apply through your destination’s embassy/consulate, which may be in another country since some embassies serve multiple countries.

Whichever option you choose, apply early; delays are expected due to embassy and consulate closures, backlogs, and reduced hours of operation. Processing is taking up to 12 weeks.

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? Consider the availability of medical care and access to COVID-19 testing at your destination.

Testing

Even if testing is not a requirement for travel, the CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test as close to the time of departure as possible (and no more than 3 days) before travel.

Masks

Mask when you need to during travel, and wear it correctly. Harvard encourages the use of high-quality disposable masks, worn in a way that minimizes air gaps around the edges. A surgical-style mask or a cup-style protective mask such as KN-95, layered under a form-fitting fabric mask, can ensure good filtration as well as an effective seal. ASTM- or FDA-accepted masks offer greater assurance of filtration quality.

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.

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

Register your trip—it's required

Register with International SOS and download the Assistance App to receive alerts. All Harvard affiliates—students, faculty, staff, and researchers—are required to register their Harvard-related international travel.

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 during COVID-19

International SOS, the University’s emergency response program, 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. You can call International SOS at +1-617-998-0000 or connect through the Assistance App. Case managers will advise you and connect you with appropriate resources.

However, considering the current COVID-19 global pandemic, it is important to understand that quarantine and extended stay costs are generally not covered expenses. Additionally, the presence or resurgence of COVID-19 in a given location, the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant, 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

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.

Quarantine and extended stay costs are generally not covered expenses under the University's International SOS membership. You will need to budget for these costs.

If your destination requires a formal report of negative COVID test, you can get tested using a Color PCR test or arrange for a pre-travel test at a healthcare facility (be sure to assess the required timeline and plan accordingly—Color tests are not processed on weekends/holidays). If you use Color, you can download your complete clinical report from the results page in your Color account.

Note: Harvard University Health Services cannot provide a monitored antigen or PCR test for travel.

If you used Color or reported a positive test result through Crimson Clear in the last 90 days, you can request a travel letter from contact_tracing_questions@huhs.harvard.edu.

Note: requests make take HUHS up to 5 days to fulfill.

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 facilitate safer 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.

Refer to Harvard's coronavirus website for information on return to campus policies, testing procedures, quarantine and isolation protocols, vaccine program, mask requirements, 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.