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Coronavirus: Advice for Travelers

CDC illustration of ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses

Harvard-related travel is permitted for affiliates who satisfy the University’s COVID-19 vaccination and booster requirements, 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

The global pandemic will continue to affect the safety and feasibility of travel for many more months, especially as new variants emerge and countries subsequently implement border restrictions and public health measures on short notice.

With the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases—now driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant—the risks of exposure and travel disruptions in the next few weeks are high. If you’re planning Harvard-related travel in the weeks ahead, University leadership urges you to reconsider those plans. Ask whether the travel needs to occur now or if it can be delayed.

The University is committed to facilitating travel under safe conditions. Harvard’s high vaccination rate—combined with mitigation measures like masking, testing, and government-mandated quarantines and proof of vaccination—significantly reduce the risk of infection, but travel still poses risks for which you should prepare.

For Harvard-related trips:

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. Most of the world’s population is not fully vaccinated and does not have equitable access to vaccines yet. Additionally, many hospital systems are now or will soon be overwhelmed. Check the CDC travel health notices.

Travel restrictions and requirements for entry

Can you get to your destination? Requirements are changing rapidly. Some countries are prohibiting or restricting entry—even if you’re transiting through one country to another. 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.

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. 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. These requirements can change on short notice.

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, new variants, government restrictions, and public health measures are changing rapidly. 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, at a later date, or remotely? 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.

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? Practice the "consume and cover" and "quick sip rule" to eat and drink safely during transit.

If feasible for air travel, buy direct flights to avoid layovers. Many 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 or cleaning protocols at your hotel/dormitory/rental home. 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 10-14 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. 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.

Do you have the appropriate insurance (health, medical evacuation, life, etc.), either individually or through an external support organization? Understand the strength and state 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 during COVID-19

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. 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

The FDA has approved or 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.

  1. Submit your vaccination and booster documentation to HUHS (if you received either of your FDA- or WHO-authorized doses outside of HUHS).
  2. Download and complete the attestation form, and then submit it either with your travel reimbursement request or with your other required pre-travel documentation.

Download the attestation form

If you cannot satisfy the University's COVID-19 vaccination and booster requirement, you may petition for an exception to undertake Harvard-related international or domestic travel that is essential to your work.

Harvard’s travel guidance and petition process will continue to evolve as the public health situation evolves.

The University understands that some Harvard community members who have an approved medical or religious exemption from the University's COVID-19 vaccination and booster requirement may need to travel for work directly and immediately related to the COVID-19 pandemic; for work that enables critical research or professional 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 how to petition for travel.

Harvard’s travel guidance and petition process will continue to evolve as the global public health situation evolves.

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.

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 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.