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COVID-19 Travel Considerations

International and domestic mobility during the pandemic should put health and safety first. Travel will require careful planning and flexibility to adjust plans as conditions change. Independent travelers should review the resources and pre-travel checklist below before they travel. Faculty or staff that are planning short-term group travel or are working to re-start study abroad programs, should contact the Office of Global Safety and Security to obtain a list of additional requirements.


In addition to adhering to Northwestern’s travel guidance / expectations, the following resources should be consulted when planning domestic or international travel:

General Travel Advice

Domestic Travel

International Travel

Furthermore, all travelers should review the following questions and other guidance. Independent travelers may contact the OGSS staff for assistance in assessing risk or planning mitigation strategies.

Faculty or staff that are planning short-term group travel or are working to re-start study abroad programs, should contact the Office of Global Safety and Security to obtain a list of additional requirements to be reviewed with host institutions, third-party providers or other on-site contacts. As a result, students traveling with Northwestern-sponsored groups and study abroad programs can assume that the trip leader / program director / sponsoring school, unit or department is considering issues that apply to all participants.

Pre-Travel Checklist

  • Necessity of Travel: Does the trip meet the university’s definition of essential travel? (See Northwestern’s travel guidance / expectations). If the trip is personal, such as an international student's return home, it does not need to meet the definition of essential travel. 
  • Access and Movement: Is the destination accepting visitors originating from the U.S. and/or from the country of the traveler’s citizenship? Is a visa required? If so, is it obtainable? Is proof of negative COVID-19 status required for travel or entry to destination(s)? Will any host- or government-imposed restrictions on local movement / free time limit your ability to accomplish stated goals? Do current travel restrictions prevent you from returning to the U.S. (or point of origination)?
  • Self-Quarantine/Isolation: Will a 14-day self-quarantine be required on arrival or upon return to the U.S. or point of origination (including traveling within the U.S. or its territories)? Is this feasible from an academic/employment, personal, financial and logistical standpoint? What are the arrangements and/or possible additional costs for housing, food, internet, laundry, forgotten or inadequate supply of  necessities such as toiletries or medication, etc. during quarantine or isolation? Do arrangements need to be made with an academic adviser, professor or supervisor to accommodate the need to self-quarantine? What is the process if you become symptomatic during this period?
  • Insurance & Alerts (International Travel): Have you enrolled in applicable GeoBlue coverage and signed up for alerts with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler program? If you are a student, are you enrolled in OGSS’s Travel Registry? Note this is automatic for undergraduate study abroad participants. Investigate whether trip / travel or flight cancellation (also called trip interruption) insurance applicable or appropriate for your circumstances? International students returning home are not required to purchase GeoBlue.
  • Health Care: Did you get your flu shot and other preventative immunizations?  For the best protection, get your flu shot in September or October, the CDC says. It takes about two weeks for the shot to start protecting you. What is the availability of medical care at your destination? Do you feel comfortable accessing care in the city/country? Identify the nearest hospital or medical center to your program or travel residence, develop an action plan of where to access care if you become ill or injured. Will a language barrier inhibit your ability to communicate your symptoms/concerns or to understand the treatment plan? Do you understand how to access care through GeoBlue’s medical assistance and insurance plan? Are you prepared with resources and a plan to isolate for 10 days and care for yourself in the destination if you are ill with COVID?
  • Change of Conditions: What preparations are necessary in case conditions change dramatically in the U.S. or abroad during the trip, and state, regional or international borders suddenly close or impose other restrictions, and you get “stuck” in the destination? (Note: Northwestern’s  “evacuation” insurance coverage excludes outbreak of infectious disease). What is the capacity of local, regional or federal government to manage an outbreak if “stuck”?
  • Financial Matters: Are you prepared to financially manage any last-minute change-of-plans involving air or ground travel, accommodations, etc.? Note that reimbursement of personal expenditures may not be available for certain type of travel. If your trip is university-sponsored, discuss reimbursement policies and procedures with an adviser, professor or supervisor to accommodate the need to self-quarantine.
  • Infection Mitigation: Are you willing to commit to routine COVID-19 mitigation practices, such as wearing a face covering at all times (or when social distancing is not possible), frequent hand-washing or sanitizing, staying “home” if ill, reporting symptoms to designated local health authority, etc.?
  • Vulnerable Traveler(s): Have you considered special risk factors associated with their destination, such as a) anti-foreigner or anti-local sentiment; b) personal health status of traveler (immunocompromised, 60 year of age or older, or a pre-existing condition tied to higher COVID-19 risk); c) geo-political concerns impacting stability of government (unemployment, supply chain disruptions for essential goods/services, such as food, water, petrol, electricity, communications, etc.); and d) other destination-specific risk(s) that could compromise access to care (civil unrest, natural disaster, terror attack, etc.)?

A traveler who feels unwell up to three days prior to departure should cancel their trip.

Additional Factors to Consider / Best Practices

Airline Travel / Aircraft Health, Accommodations, Food/Meals/Dining and Public Transit
  • Review and adhere to all COVID-19 protection protocols (face coverings, etc.) for carrier and airports or other transportation hubs, including train and subway stations and consider for all legs of a journey, including layovers and connections
  • Utilize no touch access or limited contact for assistance, check-in, ticketing and boarding
  • Establish preferences for a single room, outdoor dining and/or take-away meals and confirm social distancing available in accessible shared spaces
  • Inquire about the frequency of deep cleaning / professional cleaning / availability of supplies for self-cleaning
  • Ensure seating restrictions promote social distancing
  • Expect enforcement of face covering requirement if mandated by host entity or government