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Sabbatical Leaves Abroad

Planning a sabbatical leave abroad can be an unexpectedly complex process involving legal contracts, extensive document gathering, obtaining travel documents for you and your family, which may require an in-person visit to a diplomatic consulate, and more. We strongly recommend starting to plan at least six months in advance. 

Woman with face mask on arrives at international airport.

This resource has been developed to address some of the unique challenges when planning sabbatical leave abroad. For Cornell's full policy and definitions, please see Leaves for Professors and Academic Staff, Policy 6.2.1.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a sabbatical abroad. Every foreign country has its unique requirements. Below is an outline of things to do and/or consider. 

Required Sabbatical Agreement 

A sabbatical agreement must be executed between the faculty member and the host organization. Full-time members of the faculty, tenured or non-tenured, have obligations which must be taken into consideration in any external contract related in any way to your work for the university, or your position as a faculty member, including your research, your knowledge gained as a result of your work for the university, or work done using university resources. Faculty of units on the Ithaca campuses do not need to file their sabbatical agreements with Cornell. However, one must disclose all external relationships and confirm that any contract one has with the external entity includes the agreement and/or addendum. Learn more and download the agreement here

Hosting Agreement

Connect with your host university or institute contact several months before traveling to ensure you understand their requirements. 

  • Host universities or institutes typically require a signed agreement between the visiting scholar and the host. A fully executed hosting agreement is usually required for the host institution to issue your invitation letter, which will be required to apply for your visa. We recommend initiating this process as soon as your visit has been approved by the host institution.
  • Should the host university or institute provide a three-party agreement where a Cornell representative is asked to sign the agreement as well, a two-party agreement should be requested instead. While Cornell faculty are required to comply with Cornell policies related to faculty conflicts of interest and commitment, patent and intellectual property, and scientific or research misconduct during sabbatical leaves, sabbaticals are considered independent activities between the host institution and researcher. 
  • At times faculty have reported experiencing delays in response times from host administrative support, which is one of the reasons we recommend starting early.  
  • We have heard about agreements that resemble labor contracts—even when no compensation is being offered. To avoid local employment tax obligations, your agreement may require outside legal advice, with a direct cost to you, your department, or your college. 
  • Documents you may need to collect before your host can provide you with a formal invitation letter:
    • Employment contract from Cornell (outlining position, employer, salary, and other terms as needed)
    • Letter from your health insurance company confirming that you are covered while abroad
    • Letter confirming liability and travel insurance
    • IP agreement

Visa/Resident Permits

If you or your family members are not legal residents of the host country, you will need to apply for the appropriate visa or resident permit to legally reside in the host country for the duration of your sabbatical. 

  • A signed contract or invitation letter (as outlined above) will generally be required to apply for the visa or residence permit. 
  • Most visas require extensive paperwork, fees, photos—and a waiting time of weeks (if not months) to be issued. 
  • Your host university or institute may be able to provide assistance with your visa process. If not, consider reaching out to Cornell's visa processing provider for assistance. Note that some countries (e.g., France) do not allow agents to apply for visas on your behalf, and will require you to work directly with the local consulate or embassy. Also, certain countries require visa applicants to visit the respective consulate or embassy in person (e.g., Spain). 
  • Faculty traveling with families will often need to personally handle their family members' visa applications as host institutions will not provide assistance. 
  • If your visa application requires a copy of a MOA between Cornell and host institution, please reach out to your unit's contract administrator for guidance.

Proof of Insurance

  • If you need to show proof of medical insurance for routine and pre-existing conditions, contact your personal health insurance provider and ask them to issue you a proof of coverage letter. Some personal policies also include coverage for evacuation and repatriation. For example, Cornell's Aetna coverage for endowed employees is outlined here.
  • Some countries (e.g., Spain), require a medical insurance plan with no co-pay or deductible. It's important to review your current policy to see if it meets the host country requirements. If your policy is not compatible, be sure to research which policies are accepted by the host country. In Spain, faculty have purchased a personal policy with Sanitas, which has reportedly been accepted by the Spanish authorities. 
  • If you need to show proof of urgent and emergent medical insurance and/or evacuation & repatriation coverage, and your personal policy does not provide coverage, please reach out to Risk Management and Insurance. You will need to provide proof of registration in the Cornell International Travel Registry, your full name as it appears on your passport, destination, and dates of travel. Please note that coverage for extended travel periods may be limited under this policy. Check with RMI for details.
  • If you are required to show proof of your family's medical insurance and/or evacuation & repatriation coverage, you will need to contact your personal health insurance provider and ask them to issue you a letter. 
    • If covered under Cornell's Aetna plan, please review this information and contact Aetna to see if additional coverage is available under your plan.
    • If covered under the Empire Plan, connect with the provider for proof of insurance letter. 
    • In the event your family's health insurance plan does not provide adequate insurance, HTH Travel Insurance is licensed to sell insurance in New York State. They offer plans for up to 180 days. For trips exceeding 180 days, a long-term "ex-pat" plan may be required. 

FBI Background Checks

Some countries require a FBI background check. The background check may also need to be apostilled and translated into the local language by an official translation service. If your host country requires the apostille and translation, we recommend budgeting 14-16 weeks for the whole process. There are private apostille expeditor services available for a premium fee.

The FBI background check can take 3-5 days to process electronically, or 2-4 weeks by mail. The FBI background check must be current (e.g., country dependent, issued within 4 or 6 months) when you apply for your visa. The timing of this process will be important to make sure you apply for the FBI background check in plenty of time, but not too early that it will expire before you are ready to apply for your visa. You can find out more about the process on the FBI website. The Cornell University Police offers paper fingerprinting services at their office in Barton Hall.

Traveling to France?

Some of our faculty have found that France, in particular, requires documentation that can take extra effort to put in place. Learn more about visiting France as a researcher.

Cornell Benefits

Understand your Cornell benefits coverage while on sabbatical.

Financial Considerations

Cornell's Travel Expense Policy 3.2 provides details for sabbatical and other extended travel, such as what may be considered business versus personal expenses as well as tax implications. 

If you receive income from a foreign source while abroad, speak with your personal accountant to determine how to report income. If you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien, your income is subject to U.S. income tax, including any foreign income, or any income that is earned outside of the U.S. It does not matter if you reside inside or outside of the U.S. when you earn this income. In addition, even if you do not receive a Form W-2, a Wage and Tax Statement, or a Form 1099 from the foreign payer, you are still required to report this income.

Family Considerations

If you are taking your family abroad for a long-term sabbatical, there are other details to work out:

  • Where will your children go to school? If they do not speak the local language, your contact at the host institution may be able to recommend local international schools.
  • If your partner is accompanying you on your sabbatical and is employed in the U.S. and would like to work abroad, please ensure they check with their employer to see if there are any restrictions or special requirements to consider.

Register Your Travel

Remember to register your sabbatical in Cornell's International Travel Registry. When you register your international Cornell travel in the Travel Registry and are traveling outside of your home country, you are covered by international travel insurance for accident/sickness and emergency evacuation. Cornell provides a host of other benefits, so be sure to check them out.

Additional Support

Often times the contact at your host institution is a good resource with visa and on-the-ground logistics, but there are so many things to sort out that the process can be overwhelming. 

  • Your college or school may have its own sabbatical web page (e.g., CALS).
  • Your local HR contact is one of your best points of contact at Cornell.
  • If you have colleagues who have taken sabbaticals abroad, reach out to them for advice, especially if they have spent time in the country where you plan to travel. 
  • If you still need help, Global Operations may be able to assist. We are not a substitute for your college's support system, but we will try to find answers to questions you have not been able to have answered by your host institution contact or your college.

Please note: These general guidelines have been prepared as a courtesy for faculty who are contemplating a sabbatical outside of the U.S., and may not include all requirements. Please also refer to original source information (e.g., college or university policy (6.2.1), consulate or embassy, host institution, host country laws).