Info About ▼
Info For ▼

University Undergraduate International Travel Policy and Procedures

ORIGINAL POLICY ENACTED SEPTEMBER 1, 2012
CURRENT (REVISED) POLICY EFFECTIVE MARCH 29, 2015
Note: the revised policy will be in effect for a two-year trial period, followed by a review and re-approval or amendment.

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

The International Risk Assessment Committee (IRAC) (formerly known as the Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee) 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 IRAC serves at the direction of the Provost and comprises of six members: The Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security (Chair), the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Dean of Students, the Director of the Office of Risk Management, the Executive Director of Counseling & Psychological Services, and the Executive Director for Health Services. A representative of the Office of General Counsel will advise the Committee.

International activities 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 undergraduate study abroad programs; internships; field studies; service learning; research; athletic competitions; arts performances or exhibitions; and volunteer, experiential, or work programs sponsored, endorsed, or administered by the University (collectively, “international activities”).

Newly proposed study abroad programs in countries under U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings (“Travel Warnings” or “U.S. DOS Travel Warnings”), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) Travel Notice Warning Level 3: Avoid Nonessential Travel (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices) (“CDC Warning”) must first be approved 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 IRAC (if required).

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

Permissible Travel

  1. Undergraduate participation in international activities, as defined above, is permitted, provided that the country in question is not subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning or a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) Travel Notice Warning Level 3: Avoid Nonessential Travel.
  2. Undergraduate participation in international activities in locations subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning or a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) Travel Notice Warning Level 3: Avoid Nonessential Travel requires an application for special permission at least one quarter prior to planned departure (see Travel Permission Application Process).
    1. For NU-sponsored non-credit group travel or new/existing study abroad programs/affiliations located in Travel Warning or CDC Warning countries, the proposed program’s sponsoring administrative unit or the program’s faculty director/sponsor must make any such applications.
    2. Individual travelers must work with a faculty or staff sponsor on their application.
  3. The Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security (OGSS) reserves the right to require, in her/his sole discretion, a Travel Permission Request of any group or individual in cases where an additional level of review seems prudent. Some examples of situations that might prompt such a review include travel destinations that are new to Northwestern, groups or individuals inexperienced in travel proposing to go to locations of heightened risk, higher risk activities (such as construction, open water, medical services, etc.), countries recently removed from either the U.S. DOS Travel Warning list or CDC Travel Notice Warning Level 3 list, or other specific locations of heightened risk that are not subject to either a Travel Warning or CDC Warning.

The International Risk Assessment Committee (IRAC) will review these applications and make a recommendation to the Provost, who will make a final decision.

Prohibited/Restricted Travel - individual activities

In general, individual undergraduate students are not permitted to participate in unaffiliated study abroad programs, independent studies, research, service learning, conference travel, athletic competitions, arts performances or exhibitions, or internships in countries with U.S. DOS Travel Warnings or CDC Warnings. Accordingly, the University will not grant academic credit or provide funds 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. As a result, all students must obtain a faculty or staff sponsor. If the student intends to obtain credit for his/her experience, 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. If the student is not earning credit, but applying university funds, the student is required to work with the OGSS to meet various pre-departure requirements. Finally, the student must apply for permission to travel under the policy 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 Travel Permission Application Process.

Program Suspension/revocation of travel permission/Withdrawal

The University reserves the right to withdraw its approval at any time should conditions presented in an application for approval change materially. The Director of OGSS, the faculty advisers or 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 Undergraduate Travel Policy, IRAC 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 Committee 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 a new/revised Travel Warning or CDC 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 IRAC. 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 unit overseeing the program or experience – any on-site faculty or staff, U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council staff analysts, Northwestern faculty/staff regional experts, peer institutions’ international health, safety and security specialists, consultants from security information service providers, and/or other appropriate individuals, as available, to determine an appropriate course of action.

Travel Permission Application Process

Note: the Committee reserves the right to adjust these procedures without notice.

Requests for permission to engage in undergraduate international activities in locations subject to a U.S. DOS Travel Warning or CDC Warning are made to the IRAC. Requests for permission to create a new NU-affiliation should follow the guidelines provided in Appendix A (pdf). Requests for permission for individual student international activity 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 IRAC meets each year and the complexity involved in making a quality travel permission application, applicants should plan on the entire review process taking six to eight weeks. Failure to allow sufficient time for review may result in a denied application and/or a delayed program start. Please note that Travel Permission will only apply to the specific program or experience approved, not to a country or region.

In cases where a new Travel Warning or CDC 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.

Special Note - Expedited Review: Certain requests for travel permission may qualify for an expedited review, such as:

  • Individual travelers who wish to return to a previously-approved location to continue a project or activity;
  • High traffic locations that have been recently reviewed by IRAC and involve low-risk activity (such as archival research); and
  • International students (J-1 or F-1 visa holders only) who wish to participate in international activities in their city of residence, which is located in a Travel Warning or CDC Warning country.

An expedited review requires a two-page memo outlining his/her travel plans. This document must be provided to the Director of OGSS at least six weeks prior to planned departure for email routing/review to the IRAC.

The Director of the OGSS, in consultation with members of the IRAC, will determine whether an expedited review is appropriate.

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 or CDC 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 or CDC Warning.

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 and Prevention country profile and/or other credible news/risk analysis sources such as security information subscription services.
  4. Summary of the risk management plan, including pre-departure health, safety, and security information/education; and
  5. Additional materials in support of the application or otherwise requested by the Chair of the IRAC.

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 IRAC 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 as well as the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate
  • 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 IRAC. Approval decisions are made by the Provost after review and recommendation by the IRAC, as described more fully below.

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 enrollment with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)- all students accepted to programs that operate under special travel permission are required to submit a signed IRAC Undergraduate Travel Warning Release and Waiver (pdf) at least four weeks prior to departure.

The directors/leaders of any trip or program that has received special permission to operate in a country with a Travel Warning or CDC Warning are required to schedule a discussion 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 revocation of Travel Permission.

IRAC Approval Recommendations: After reviewing the application materials and conducting its review, the IRAC, by majority vote, could make one of several forms of approval 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 material change in the Travel Warning or CDC Warning. 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 or from the travel permission applicant.

IRAC Denial Recommendations: After reviewing the application materials and conducting its review, the IRAC, by majority vote, could recommend that the Provost deny travel permission. In cases of a denied recommendation, the IRAC will share its written recommendation and rationale with both the travel permission applicant and the Provost. The travel permission applicant will then have 10 days from the receipt of the IRAC denied recommendation to submit additional written materials in support of the application to the Provost, should the applicant choose to do so. The Provost may also request additional information or clarification from the Committee or from the applicant.

The Provost will generally accept the denial recommendation of IRAC unless the applicant can demonstrate that:

  1. There was a procedural error in the initial recommendation (i.e. failure to meet quorum, incomplete review packet, etc.);
  2. There is new information that was not available at the time of the initial review; or
  3. The recommendation to deny permission was grossly unfair or manifestly contrary to the weight of the record.

The Provost will review all information to make a final determination. In all cases, the Provost’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Additions or Modification to TRIPS/Programs Approved by the Provost

If an approved international activity adds a new experience or academic track that materially changes the security profile of the activity, an explanation of how perceived risks may be mitigated is required. The applicant should consult with the Director of OGSS to determine what parts of Appendix A or B 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 to the U.S. DOS Travel Warning or the CDC 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 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.

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

Policy and procedure revisions approved January 23, 2015.