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University Undergraduate International Travel Policy and Procedures


Northwestern University encourages its students to participate in educational experiences abroad. To minimize health and safety risks, the University has adopted the following policies and procedures to govern undergraduate travel for education abroad opportunities and experiences.

The Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee (SARAC) administers this policy, under the direction of its chair, the Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security (OGSS). The Provost will review the Committee’s recommendations and make a final decision. The SARAC serves at the direction of the Provost and comprises six members: The Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security (Chair), the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Assistant Dean of Students, the Director of the Office of Risk Management, the Director of Counseling & Psychological Services, and the Medical Director for Health Services. A representative of the Office of General Counsel will advise the Committee.

Education Abroad Opportunities Covered by This Policy

This University Undergraduate International Travel Policy (“Travel Policy”) governs, but is not limited to, Northwestern, affiliated, approved unaffiliated and approved Non-NU Summer study abroad programs; internships; field studies; service learning; research; and volunteer, experiential, or work programs sponsored, endorsed, or administered by the University (collectively, “education abroad opportunities”). New study abroad programs in countries with U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings (“Travel Warnings” or “U.S. DOS Travel Warnings”) must be approved for affiliation by the Undergraduate Study Abroad Committee (USAC) prior to applying for permission to operate under the Travel Policy, and may not be announced or formally marketed until permission under the Travel Policy is granted by the Provost. No promotional materials (print or web-based) may be distributed to students until a program has been approved by USAC and/or SARAC (if required).

Sponsors of new study abroad proposals for programs located in countries with Travel Warnings are encouraged to work on the USAC and SARAC applications concurrently. However, new proposals have to clear USAC before being forwarded to the SARAC for review and recommendation to the Provost.

Permissible Travel

  1. Undergraduate participation in education abroad opportunities, as defined above, is permitted, provided that:
    1. The country in question is not subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, and
    2. The program location(s) has/have an ISOS travel risk rating of Insignificant, Low or Medium.
  2. Undergraduate participation in education abroad opportunities in locations subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, but with an ISOS travel risk rating of Insignificant, Low or Medium requires an application for special permission at least one quarter prior to planned departure (see Travel Permission Application Process). The proposed program’s sponsoring administrative unit or the program’s faculty director/sponsor must make any such applications. The Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee (SARAC) will review these applications and make a recommendation to the Provost, who will make a final decision.

Prohibited/Restricted Travel

In general, individual undergraduate students are not permitted to participate in unaffiliated study abroad programs, independent studies, research, or internships in countries with U.S. DOS Travel Warnings. Accordingly, the University will not grant academic credit for any such activities. However, exceptions may be made in certain circumstances when the student’s experience is facilitated, sponsored, monitored or controlled by Northwestern faculty or staff. First, the student must obtain a faculty or staff sponsor. Second, the student must meet with the Associate Director of Study Abroad at least four to six weeks prior to the standard study abroad application deadline corresponding with the proposed term of study to ensure the activity meets NU standards of academic integrity. Finally, the supervising faculty or staff applies to the Committee for permission to travel under the policy on behalf of the student at least eight weeks prior to the student’s planned departure. Individual student requests for permission to travel under the policy without faculty or staff support will not be considered. For more information, see Appendix B under Travel Permission Application Process.

Undergraduate participation in education abroad opportunities in locations with an ISOS travel risk rating of High or Extreme is prohibited without exception, whether or not there is an accompanying U.S. DOS Travel Warning. International SOS is Northwestern University’s external security information and service provider. For travel and security information, member log in is required.

Students can check the ISOS rating by following these instructions:

  • Using Firefox or Internet Explorer (some features do not work with Safari), go to 
  •  Log on to the Members' Website (left hand side of the homepage) by entering Northwestern's group account number (11BCAS000003)
  • Select the "Destination Country" and "Travel Safety" in the drop-down menu to the left and then select "Travel Advice," then review the color coded rating system in the center of the page

Program Suspension/Withdrawal

The University reserves the right to withdraw its approval at any time should the ISOS travel risk rating for a location change to High or Extreme or should conditions presented in an application for approval change materially. The Director of OGSS, the program directors (if applicable), and the students are responsible for monitoring conditions in approved travel locations. The Director of OGSS will communicate information and an assessment with affected individuals when there is a sudden change of condition (see Sudden Change of Condition). 

Sudden Change of Condition

In addition to reviewing applications for permission under the Travel Policy, SARAC is also responsible for recommending whether or not to suspend an ongoing or previously approved education abroad opportunity if a significant health, safety or security concern is raised regarding that experience. In making this assessment, the group will consider the risk management plan for the students, staff or faculty involved in the program or experience and the balance between the value of the academic experience in that specific location versus the risks associated with that location/activity.

Though uncommon, it is possible that a specific program, activities in a specific location (city, region, or country), or all activities abroad would need to be modified or suspended by the University due to a health or safety concern. This concern may arise if the ISOS security risk rating for a location changes to High or Extreme, if a new U.S. Department of State Travel Warning is issued for a location, or if conditions presented in a Travel Permission Application change materially.

In such cases, the Director of OGSS will make a timely assessment and recommendation to the SARAC. Typical recommendations may include, but are not limited to: no material program changes; modifications to program housing, activities, or schedule; or suspension and withdrawal/evacuation.

In circumstances where students are perceived to be in imminent danger and the window of opportunity for action is short, the Director of OGSS and/or the Director of the Study Abroad Office have the authority to suspend the affected program(s) immediately and initiate evacuation proceedings. If time permits, they may consult (though it is not required) with the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Director of Risk Management, the director of the relevant administrative unit overseeing the program - such as International Program Development, the Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies or The Global Engagement Studies Institute (if applicable) - the program leader(s)/resident director, and/or other appropriate individuals, as available, to determine an appropriate course of action.

Travel Permission Application Process

Requests for permission to engage in an undergraduate educational experience abroad in a location subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning (but with an ISOS travel risk rating of Insignificant, Low or Medium) must be made to the SARAC by a senior representative of the sponsoring administrative or academic unit at Northwestern. Requests for permission to create a new NU-affiliation should follow the guidelines provided in Appendix A (pdf). Requests for permission for individual student educational activity or participation in unaffiliated study abroad programs should follow the guidelines provided in Appendix B (pdf).

All review materials must be submitted at least one quarter prior to the envisioned start of the program to the Director of OGSS. The Committee will not review requests until all relevant materials have been submitted. Due to the limited number of times the SARAC meets each year and the complexity involved in making a quality travel permission application, applicants should plan on the entire review process taking 4-6 weeks. Failure to allow sufficient time for review may result in a denied application and/or a delayed program start. Please note that permission to operate a program will only apply to the specific program approved, not to a country or region.

In cases where a new Travel Warning is issued less than one quarter prior to an already approved program’s student application deadline, every effort will be made to facilitate an emergency meeting of the Committee to conduct a thorough and timely review of the situation.

Application Materials

Complete [electronic] applications should be submitted to the Director of OGSS. Most importantly, the application should discuss the academic value of the program and the necessity of its location (as opposed to an alternate location not subject to a Travel Warning) and how the structure of the program and the safety procedures in place on-site mitigate the concerns raised by the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning and ISOS.

Applications must include the following:
  1. Program overview/institutional context;
  2. Letter of endorsement from the academic unit likely to approve the course credits (e.g. Dean, Department Chair, etc.);
  3. Links to the relevant U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, Centers for Disease Control country profile and ISOS travel risk/security report;
  4. Summary of the risk management plan, including pre-departure health, safety, and security information/education;
  5. Additional materials in support of the application or otherwise requested by the Chair of the SARAC.
Detailed descriptions of these application elements can be found in Appendix A (pdf) or Appendix B (pdf).

Approval Criteria
The proposal must be strongly linked to academic program goals, and the safety issues raised in the application must be adequately addressed and documented. The SARAC will only recommend approval of applications when there is a compelling justification for the program.

In addition to the materials provided by the applicant, the Committee may also take into account in its discretion:
  • Relationships with partner institutions abroad
  • Consultations with on-site individuals, such as alumni, students, and staff and faculty of other programs or ISOS representatives
  • Consultations with representatives from government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Policies and decisions of other universities and colleges
  • Travel warnings or advisories issued by other countries
  • Other relevant material and advice

Approval Decisions
Applications for special travel permission are reviewed by the SARAC. Approval requires:

  1. An affirmative recommendation of a majority of SARAC members; and
  2. Approval of the Provost.

In addition to the expectation that all participating students will abide by the standard study abroad code of conduct/participation rules and regulations - including but not limited to submitting proof of HTH insurance coverage and completing a Travel Tracker profile with ISOS -  all students accepted to programs that operate under special travel permission are required to submit a signed SARAC Travel Warning Release and Waiver (pdf) at least four weeks prior to departure.

The leaders of any program that has received special permission to operate in a country with a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning (and an ISOS rating or Insignificant, Low or Medium), are required to schedule a meeting with the Director of OGSS at least four weeks prior to departure to review and update (if necessary) the risk management plan as well as establish a communications plan. Failure to schedule and attend this meeting may result in program suspension.

Types of Approval
After reviewing the application materials and conducting its review, the SARAC could make one of several recommendations to the Provost:

  1. Approve participation at the location for a one-time specific education abroad program opportunity only.
  2. Approve participation at the location for a specific student for a one-time specific project or program.
  3. Approve operation of an affiliated, USAC-approved study abroad program. Such approval would be granted for two years, absent any change in ISOS security ratings.  At least one quarter prior to the approval’s expiration, a representative from the sponsoring academic unit may request continuation.
  4. Conditionally approve in one of the three above categories, with recommendations for programmatic changes. (As soon as the Chair receives written communication affirming the completed changes, the recommendation to approve will pass from the Committee to the Provost).

The Provost will review the Committee’s recommendations to make a final determination or in rare incidents request additional information or clarification from the Committee. The Provost’s decision is final and is not subject to appeal.

Additions or Modification to Programs Approved by the Provost

If a study abroad program operating with special permission under the Travel Policy adds a new academic track or experience that materially changes the security profile of the program, an explanation of how perceived risks may be mitigated is required. The program sponsor should consult with the Director of OGSS to determine what parts of Appendix A are required for the Committee’s review and approval by the Provost.

Permission/Limited Duration

Absent a change of condition that warrants earlier evacuation, programs/experiences that operate with permission under the policy are valid for two years and upon expiration, the program's administrative sponsor (or the individual’s faculty/staff sponsor) must submit a renewal request.

Financial Responsibilities

Northwestern University does not assume responsibility for financial risks associated with participation in its education abroad opportunities. If the University cancels a program before departure or while the program is in progress for reasons beyond its control including, but not limited to, political unrest or danger to participant safety, changes in ISOS travel risk rating, or U.S. DOS Travel Warning, only those recoverable fees or tuition refunded to the University by service providers and/or institutions will be returned to participants. The University will make reasonable efforts to obtain refunds from applicable service providers and/or institutions, but no refunds are guaranteed. In addition to lost fees and tuition, participants may incur additional travel expenses in connection with program cancellation. Participants may or may not receive academic credit if a program is canceled. The University assumes no responsibility for the financial or other losses of program participants resulting from program cancellation. 

Supplemental Insurance

Students, staff, and faculty are encouraged to consider supplemental insurance options to cover losses if programs or activities are canceled. Supplemental insurance is also helpful if a student needs to cancel participation in a program or return early due to unforeseen personal emergencies. Such insurance is not required by the University and must be purchased on an individual basis.

Finalized by the Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee June 8, 2012.
Nomenclature adjustments made September 21, 2012.