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.
Some countries may not admit travelers without proof of an approved COVID-19 vaccination. It is up to the traveler to determine whether or not they can access their planned destination. Countries permitting travel by unvaccinated travelers will likely require pre- and post- negative COVID tests, quarantine upon arrival, mask-wearing, social distancing and periodic testing while abroad. Unvaccinated travelers should plan carefully in order to adhere to these requirements and expectations.
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
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance: before and after travel
- Illinois Department of Public Health’s travel guidance
- U.S. Department of State (DOS) Travel Advisories and COVID-19 Country Specific Information
- CDC Travel Health Notices map
- International Air Transport Association (IATA) COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map
Pre-travel COVID Testing Resources (outbound int'l travel)
- Northwestern University: Northwestern will provide a Rapid Antigent or PCR (molecular) test for NU students, faculty and staff for the purposes of personal or University-related travel; tests are offered at the Jacobs Center in Evanston or 345 E. Superior in Chicago. Open M-F, 9am-4pm. No appointment necessary.
- Passport Health: Pricing varies depending on insurance from $80 to $135; located in downtown Evanston at 1712 Sherman Ave. Suite 211 and open M-F, 9:30 am – 6:15 pm. You must schedule an appointment on-line or by phone; results in 48-72 hours.
- O'Hare Airport: Current test price is $145; located at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport at the Shuttle Bus Center - Open 8 am to 8 pm / 7 days a week – offers appointments & walk-ins.
- COVID of Chicago: Current test price is $375; located in the Chicago, on Halstead and Scott, just north of Division. Offers PCR / Fit to Fly Test (also a Rapid Test option). Results available in 48 - 72 hours and open 7 days a week, 8 am to 6 pm weekdays, 8 am to 5 pm weekends – appointments required.
- In alignment with university policy, all members of the Northwestern community (students, faculty and staff) are expected to follow University guidance on vaccinations, which are required for all community members with limited exceptions, prior to commencing any university-affiliated travel.
- 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