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Pandemic Travel Policy, Guidelines, and Recommendations

Visit International Travel Guidelines, Policy, and Recommendations for current Cornell travel information. Visit Cornell's Coronavirus Resources and Updates for campus-wide information.

Updated 12/10/2020

For the foreseeable future, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the safety and feasibility of international travel. Because there is so much uncertainty about the future course of the pandemic, Cornell intends to keep travel to a minimum until conditions change.   As the situation evolves, these policies will as well. Please check here anytime Cornell-related international travel is anticipated and contact Cornell's International Travel Health and Safety team (ITHS) at with any questions.

  • University Travel Restrictions: All university-related international travel is prohibited until further notice regardless of whether or not a community member has received the COVID-19 vaccine. Though expected to be rare, faculty, staff, and graduate and professional school students may petition for a travel exception in accordance with the process described below if they believe the proposed university-related travel is essential for Cornell or essential for the continuation of their educational or scholarly program. All Cornell students, staff, and faculty engaging in approved essential international travel on Cornell business are required to register in the travel registry. 

What happened to the CDC-level benchmarks?

The CDC has adjusted its COVID-related travel notices from a 3-tier system to a 4-tier system. While this new system increases the number of countries among the lower end of tiers, there is an inherent virus-risk in all travel, both to the traveler and the community to which they visit and return. Accordingly, to curb the potential spread of the virus, Cornell-related travel for all members of the Cornell community will remain restricted, even if the proposed itinerary is limited to countries designated as Level 1 or 2 under the CDC’s revised COVID-related travel notices

What is considered essential travel?

Although decisions about what constitutes essential travel are at the discretion of the relevant dean/vice president/vice provost, here are guidelines that may be helpful.

Essential travel ...

  • is university mission-critical.
  • is necessary to meet academic requirements without delaying graduation.
  • is urgent (must happen now).
  • cannot be accomplished through virtual means.
  • cannot achieve its mission through others already at the destination.

We provide two further definitions of essential travel, listed below. Declaration of essential is expected to be rare and approved in very limited cases.

A. COVID-19 work

  • The traveler is a medical, public health, or other professional who will be traveling for work directly and immediately related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are no alternatives to travel.

B. Critical research activity

  • The travel is essential to the long-term viability of significant research activity or academic work; the research activity is a substantial component of the traveler's academic or professional work at Cornell, and there are no alternatives to travel.

What is considered international travel?

Travel outside of the United States, its possessions and territories, and between any two countries.

What is the petition process?

Step One: Administration Petition

  • Potential travelers must first obtain permission from their dean (Senior Associate Dean or higher) or vice president/vice provost regarding the essential nature of the travel.  Graduate students in the Graduate School should contact Graduate School Student Services ( for guidance, and all other students should reach out to their respective Student Services office.
  • The dean's rationale for the approval must be provided to ITART in an email to (for a suggested email template, please email  If the final determination of essential is given by the Graduate School, an additional note from the host college/school dean must also be provided. This note should attest to the essential nature of travel per each of the guidelines above and acknowledge the responsibilities for potential exceptional and unexpected costs.  ITART reserves the right to evaluate the justification for designating travel as essential.

Step Two: Travel Health and Safety Petition

  • After receiving approval outlined in step one, the travel health and safety petition can be submitted via the travel registry. This petition is where the traveler provides information about and rationale for their travel. Questions or documentation showing the travel has been declared essential should be directed to
  • If possible, petitions should be filed between six and two weeks prior to departure. We understand that travelers may need to plan for travel much further in advance and so ITART can grant conditional approvals ahead of time based on conditions at that time. These conditional approvals will be re-assessed approximately four weeks before travel. If conditions remain safe, approvals will stand. Travelers will only be notified if there is a change in the decision.
  • The International Travel Advisory and Response Team (ITART) returns decisions as promptly as possible.
  • For details on how petitions are evaluated, please review the travel considerations chart below.

Step Three: Upon approval

  • If travel is deemed both essential and receives approval from ITART, the traveler may commence with booking travel in accordance with any contingencies outlined in the approval letter.
  • ITART may rescind approval due to changes in the health and security environment at any time and with no responsibility for financial loss. Any travel right now inherently risks last-minute cancellation, and the sponsoring unit should take this into consideration.
  • All travelers are expected to seek out and follow all health and safety guidelines while traveling, including relevant social-distancing policies. Travelers must adhere to any restrictions or safeguards required by the local jurisdiction to which they are traveling. It is incumbent upon the traveler to be aware of these requirements.

What does ITART consider when reviewing a petition?

ITART will take into consideration a variety of elements associated with the proposed travel. The following presents the factors and considerations travelers should make before submitting a petition. This list should not be considered comprehensive as every proposed travel is unique and more information may be requested of the traveler. Travelers are advised to utilize the resources linked below to research their destination before submitting a petition to travel.

Elements considered for ITART approval

Travel Considerations

Notes on ITART evaluation

International SOS advisories
Cornell's travel assistance provider, International SOS (ISOS), provides detailed destination-specific information on medical and security infrastructures and current travel recommendations.

Outside of the pandemic, ITART risk ratings are Cornell's primary marker for elevated-risk travel.
ITART will utilize International SOS ratings to evaluate the proposed travel

Department of State advisories
U.S. Department of State issues destination-specific travel advisories on a scale of 1–4.

ITART will consult this information and consider any relevant information in light of the itinerary provided.

CDC Travel Notices
CDC has implemented a 4-tier COVID rating system for all countries based on case incident rate and a number of other factors.

ITART will consult with this information and consider any relevant information in light of the itinerary provided. Travel to Level 4 countries is reserved for only the rarest of cases.

Cornell-imposed restrictions/regulations
Cornell reserves the right to impose its own regulations and restrictions on travel.

 If Cornell sees a need to impose additional restrictions or regulations to fulfill its duty of care, these will be considered in ITART's recommendations or decision.

"Stay home" restrictions
Stay home or curfew requirements in the host destination may impact the success of the proposed travel.

ITART will consider these factors in its recommendations or decision.  

Quarantine and testing upon return
Depending on their itinerary, activities abroad, and person to person contact, travelers must be willing and able to self-isolate upon return if advised to do so by Cornell or New York State. Travelers should consult the daily check website upon return.

In the event a traveler is returning to the Ithaca area there may be implications regarding quarantining and testing. ITART will obtain additional information from the traveler as needed.

Host country quarantine
Countries around the world have varying quarantine requirements for arriving foreign nationals and citizens.

ITART will evaluate how such conditions may impact a traveler's planned itinerary.

Entrance restrictions
Restrictions on reentry into the U.S. and on entry to the host country vary and change based on citizenship and travel itinerary.

ITART will evaluate how such restrictions may impact the proposed travel and what precautions should be considered.

Travel is Essential
Cornell is currently restricting travel to essential travel only. Approval for essential travel must be obtained from traveler’s dean or vice president/vice provost before an ITART petition is filed.

Essential designation is required for ITART petition evaluation to commence. ITART will verify the relevant sponsoring unit has given approval.

Pre-Departure orientation

Online predeparture orientation to the fundamentals of international travel and resources available to travelers has been developed by ITHS. Completion of the course is required of all students who receive ITART approval. Completion is not required of faculty, but they may find the material useful.

Travel is Registered

All students, faculty, and staff engaging in international travel on Cornell business must register in the Cornell Travel Registry. The ITART petition is incorporated into the registry and approved travel can be considered registered. Travel that is not approved will be removed from the travel registry.

Commercial flight options
A reduction or elimination of commercial flight options to or from a country is a primary strategy employed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

ITART will consider the trends and forecasting of flight availability to and from the proposed destination in its recommendations or decision.

Planned itinerary
Where one is planning to find accommodation, how one is planning to commute, with whom one has established relationships, and the activities planned during one's travel all contribute to a risk analysis of the proposed itinerary.

ITART will consider these factors in its recommendations or decision.

Duration of travel
Short-term travel is inherently riskier than long-term travel during the pandemic. Curtailing travel to and from campus lessens the introduction of new sources of COVID-19 infection. An increased reliance on hotels and dining out coupled with meeting quarantine or testing requirements while under a constrained timeline could increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Likewise, should planned arrival or departure be disrupted, there is less time to make suitable and safe alternative arrangements.

Longer-term stays are deemed safer than short-term stays; ITART is less likely to approve short-term travel.

COVID-19 Considerations

Case/death/hospitalization rate
Data on the case numbers, death rates, and forecasting models can indicate the risk associated with visiting a destination at a given time.

ITART will analyze these data, considering the itinerary provided.

A host country's capacity to or requirement for testing may have an impact on the proposed travel.

ITART will analyze the situation in the host country to determine any impact on the traveler.

Traveler is COVID-19 negative

We bear a responsibility to do all that we can to protect the host country and not introduce more virus or tax their healthcare system. Travelers are expected to self-monitor for symptoms 14-days before departure, take precautions against infection, and cancel travel should they become symptomatic or test positive for the virus. Travelers should consult the daily check website upon return.

Traveler Considerations

Risk awareness and mitigation measures

Using the information provided in the petition, ITART will evaluate if the traveler is aware of all risks (pandemic related and otherwise) associated with the specific travel as proposed. ITART will then evaluate the traveler's plan to mitigate those risks. If there is a perceived gap in either of these factors, ITART may require additional research to be done or provide additional resources as appropriate.

Familiarity with destination
A traveler's familiarity with a destination, its cultures, resources, language, etc. are important factors in their ability to self-manage a crisis or incident abroad.

ITART will consider the frequency of visits to the proposed destination and language preparedness in its recommendations or decision.

Acceptance of responsibility

Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.  Cornell’s ability to assist travelers abroad during a second-wave or due to border closures, local shut down of business or hotels, or entry/exit bans is limited. Travelers must be prepared to remain abroad indefinitely and understand that doing so could impact their employment or academic momentum.  Individuals who choose to petition for travel authorization must understand that travel at this time is particularly risky and be willing to assume responsibility for such risks.

Returning from Travel: New, under COVID-19

Cornell cannot guarantee any traveler will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. as planned. Entrance restrictions and travel bans are unpredictable. Travelers and the units that support travel as essential should be prepared for stays abroad to be indefinite.

Before returning to campus after any travel, the traveler must access the daily check website for guidance. The specific circumstances of travel will be evaluated to determine whether additional steps are needed to manage associated risks. These may include temporary remote work or reassignment of duties or other precautions to prevent contact with co-workers and testing for COVID-19. Positive test results will be reported to your county health department, which will provide further directions.

Travelers should review CDC safety guidelines, destination advice, and information on travel restrictions before travel.

When can Cornell-organized student programming abroad resume?

Not until further notice.