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Travel Guidelines


In general, all travel should be limited or delayed wherever possible to promote the safety of our community and to contain costs. This policy applies to all Northwestern community members regardless of whether or not they have received the COVID-19 vaccine. The policy was last updated on February 17, 2021 and remains in effect until further notice.


International Travel

All Northwestern study abroad programs offered by the Global Learning Office (GLO) during the Summer 2021 term (June-August, 2021) as well as all other University-sponsored undergraduate, non-credit international travel is suspended through August 27, 2021. This decision does not currently extend to Fall 2021 undergraduate, credit-bearing study abroad programs, including those slated to begin in July or August. Northwestern will continue to monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and update this page as decisions are made.

  • Faculty and staff international travel remains prohibited to countries with a CDC country-specific COVID risk rating Levels 1-4 with limited exceptions for essential travel (see definition below) that cannot be postponed. Requests for an exception must be made by petition directly to the Provost’s Office. Applicants must also include written approval from a supervisor, department chair, or unit director and dean. Without a travel exception from the Provost’s Office, any faculty or staff international travel will be considered personal. As a result, the University will not approve or reimburse any expenses incurred related to international travel. For more information, see personal travel below.
  • Graduate and professional student international travel remains prohibited to countries with a CDC country-specific COVID risk rating Levels 1-4. However, beginning 2021, graduate students may also seek an exception if the inability to travel will severely impede progress towards completion of their degree. This process requires approval from the student’s home school, the student’s funding source (if different that the student’s home school), and the Provost’s Office. To engage in the petition process, go to graduate student travel policies for more information and instructions. Students should plan to apply for an exception at least four-six weeks before preferred travel dates.

Domestic Travel

  • Faculty, staff and student – graduate and undergraduate – domestic travel is now permitted for essential purposes only. See definition below.
  • Travel to U.S. states or territories where COVID-19 cases are high or increasing should be avoided. Consult the COVID Warning System and avoid travel to areas where outbreaks are severe (burgundy), active (red) or at risk (orange).

Personal Travel

  • Due to an increase in COVID-19 case in the U.S. and most locations abroad, faculty, staff and students – graduate and undergraduate – are discouraged from any personal travel, domestic and international. Prospective travelers should also consult applicable local, state and county travel advice / restrictions before making any travel plans.
  • Faculty and staff who travel abroad for personal reasons are not permitted to conduct university activities during this time. As a result, airfare or other expenses cannot be billed directly and are not eligible for reimbursement.
  • Use of GeoBlue for Employees or GeoBlue for Students is not permitted during personal travel. For alternate coverage, see international health insurance for leisure travel.

Essential Travel

  • Essential travel includes travel for research, teaching or other mission critical activities. Specifically:
    • Essential travel for faculty and staff is travel that is critical to Northwestern-related employment, research or teaching responsibilities, recruitment, admissions testing, fund-raising, or other purpose as deemed mission-critical by the unit director, dean or department chair, and cannot be postponed or conducted virtually.
    • Essential travel for students includes travel to engage in research that is critical to the completion of one’s thesis or dissertation; to participate as a student (or instructor) in a Northwestern class or coursework, including those held at or in conjunction with all five U.S.-based* Northwestern campuses; to engage in educational or experiential activities at other institutions as invited or arranged; or to participate in other educational or experiential activity required for degree completion that cannot be postponed or conducted virtually.
    • Conference attendance, seminars, meetings and voluntary speaking experiences are considered non-essential travel for students, faculty and staff.


  • Travel to destinations and/or events where travelers cannot adhere to Northwestern’s guidelines for social distancing and health and hygiene should be postponed.
  • Travelers must adhere to pre-travel requirements including:
    • If several days of self-quarantine is expected at one’s destination or upon return and the trip cannot be postponed, the travel must be approved by a supervisor, department chair, unit director or dean.
    • All faculty and staff air travel must be booked through one of Northwestern’s two preferred travel providers. Reservations made through Egencia require approval by Northwestern within 24 hours of booking or the reservation will be cancelled. Egencia will alert designated Northwestern staff of the reservation; the traveler does not need to take action. However, to ensure timely processing, please do not book travel during the weekends.
    • All faculty, staff and graduate students who are traveling internationally for university purposes must enroll in GeoBlue, the University’s Global Health Insurance program.
    • Graduate students must also adhere to applicable international travel policies, including registering their trip with the OGSS and receiving travel approval from their sponsoring department, unit or school; travel-related funding will not be released, approved, or reimbursed without proof of registry.
    • All travelers or trip leaders must maintain a detailed itinerary, such as flight, rail and accommodations information; a participants list (if applicable); schedule of meetings / attendees, etc., for up to four weeks upon conclusion of the trip for contact-tracing purposes.
    • All travelers should review the appropriate resources available on the Office of Global Safety and Security website.
    • A new CDC order effective 1/26 requires all travelers arriving to the U.S. from international destinations, regardless of citizenship, to obtain a COVID antigen test prior to boarding. For more information, consult the Inbound Travel CDC FAQs.

*Travel to NU-Q requires approval the Provost’s Office and coordination by the Evanston-based Qatar Support Office (QSO).

Key Considerations

  • Due to the additional expense and/or disruption to one’s academic or employment responsibilities, short-term travel is not recommended to destinations where several days of self-quarantine is expected on either end. Such trips should be postponed.

Additional Resources