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Pandemic Travel Policy, Guidelines, and Recommendations

Visit Cornell's COVID-19 Response for campus-wide information.

Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is complicated and travel policies designed to protect our community change often. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest policy, process, and requirements for engaging in Cornell travel.

Sign staked in the ground pointing to a COVID testing site on campus.

Updated 6/15/2021

For the foreseeable future, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the safety and feasibility of international Cornell travel. A modified travel policy will remain in effect alongside Cornell’s existing Risk Management for International Travel policy. These policies will evolve as conditions change. 

Please check this page when you anticipate engaging in Cornell-related international travel, and contact Cornell's International Travel Health and Safety team (ITHS) at intlsafety@cornell.edu with any questions.

University Travel Restrictions

Cornell has adopted a less restrictive stance on allowable travel that emphasizes a travelers’ personal responsibility for understanding complex border restrictions and entry requirements. Loosening restrictions is an evolving process, with the Cornell community’s health and safety of utmost importance.

Approvals continue to be needed for all university-related travel in accordance with the process described below.

  • All Cornell students, faculty, and staff engaging in approved international travel on Cornell business are required to register in the travel registry. 
  • Participants in official and approved fall study abroad programs are exempt from the petition process while engaging in that experience. Registration in the travel registry is required.

Travel Restrictions at a Glance 

Undergraduate student decision tree for travel approval requirements:

Travel flowchart for graduate students

Is this Cornell travel?
If no, personal travel is not supported by Cornell. Traveler is responsible for all aspects of travel including emergencies and insurance.
If yes, check CDC COVID-19 Travel Health Notice. 
If CDC LEVEL 3, 4, or unknown, travel is not permitted.
If CDC level 1 or 2, check DoS Advisory.
If DoS advisory is level 3 or 4, travel is not permitted.
If DoS Advisory is level 1 or 2, check country-specific travel restrictions.
Option 1: I AM able to enter the country (this could change at any time) and am willing and able to satisfy all destination requirements and still accomplish the goals of my travel.
Seek expenditure approval from the relevant supervisor or unit official as needed.
If approved, petition ITART for travel. If denied, then travel is not permitted.
If approved, travel is permitted. 
Option 2: I am NOT able to enter the country (this may change at any time) or am not willing and able to satisfy all destination requirements and still accomplish the goals of my travel.
Travel is not permitted. 

 

Faculty, staff, and graduate and professional student decision tree for travel approval requirements:

 

Travel flowchart for faculty, staff, graduate and professional students
Is this Cornell travel?
If no, 

personal travel is not supported by Cornell. Please note, traveler is responsible for all aspects of travel including emergencies and insurance.

If yes, check country-specific travel restrictions.
Option 1: I AM able to enter the country (this could change at any time) and am willing and able to satisfy all destination requirements and still accomplish the goals of my travel.
Seek expenditure approval from the relevant supervisor or unit official as needed. 
If approved, petition ITART for travel. If denied, then travel is not permitted. 
If approved, travel is permitted. 
Option 2: I am NOT able to enter the country (this may change at any time) or am not willing and able to satisfy all destination requirements and still accomplish the goals of my travel.
Travel is not permitted. 
Note: While not required, the relevant DoS and CDC information about your destination is very important to be familiar with.


Travel Definitions

What is considered international travel?

International travel is travel outside of the United States, its possessions and territories, and between any two countries.

What is considered Cornell travel?

There are two types of Cornell travel:

  • Cornell Directed or Supervised Travel: Travel by a member of the Cornell community that is mission-related and organized and overseen by Cornell. Examples include, but are not limited to:
    • Cornell course activities and programs that are supervised by, and fully or partially supported by Cornell, such as international Cornell faculty-led courses.
    • Cornell study abroad programs.
    • Travel that fulfills Cornell grants or contracts.
    • Faculty, researchers, and officers traveling internationally on University business.
  • Cornell Facilitated or Supported Travel: This is travel by a member of the Cornell community for a specific activity that is not managed or overseen by Cornell but furthers academic or professional objectives related to Cornell, is meaningfully vetted by Cornell, and is either arranged or funded by Cornell.  Examples include, but are not limited to:
    • Approved study abroad or exchange programs, with another university or outside organization for which there is an active agreement in place.
    • Cornell-arranged internships for which there is an active agreement in place.
    • International travel by graduate or professional students to do independent research for their dissertations within absentia status.

What is considered on-Cornell or personal travel?

Travel that is neither Cornell-Directed or Supervised Travel nor Cornell-Facilitated or Supported Travel falls under the definition of personal travel. Personal travel is not covered by this pandemic policy. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Travel such as for spring break, vacations, visiting family or friends, or returning to one’s home country for purposes other than conducting research in said country.
  • Self-identified and self-organized summer study abroad programs with no oversight from Cornell, with or without the intention of transferring credit back to Cornell.
  • Travel organized by third-party providers for individuals or groups who are not current students, staff, or faculty at Cornell.

Suggested Predeparture Steps

We recommend following these steps as near departure as possible while allowing time to complete them all. Travel restrictions and advice change often.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Verify the CDC’s COVID-19 notice level for your destination and carefully read key information and travel recommendations on the country profile page.
  • Referring to the decision tree above you will either move forward or find that travel is not allowed.

Check the United States Department of State

Check Entrance Restrictions

  • Verify that you are, at the time of travel, able to enter the destination given your purpose of travel and traveler type (for instance, student, "tourist," critical researcher) and are able to obtain any documentation required to do so.
  • Verify that you are aware of, able, and willing to comply with all quarantine, testing, vaccination, and other requirements of your destination, transportation providers, and partner organizations and can still accomplish the purpose of travel.
  • This information changes often and can impact your ability to enter the destination, depart, and reenter the United States. It is your responsibility to stay informed of the most current information up to and throughout your travel. Cornell cannot assist travelers stranded or unable to travel due to government regulations.
  • There are several sources of information to satisfy this step. Here are a few we recommend.
    • Fragomen: Click “Download a summary of the latest key COVID-19 global immigration impacts and resources,” then choose your destination country.
    • International SOS (member I.D. 11BSCA827281): Click "Know My Risks," then select your destination from the drop-down menu under "Learn About Your Risks." The overview tab for each country lists restrictions.
    • United States Department of State: Most country information pages link to the embassy’s COVID-19 page.
  • Referring to the decision tree above, you will either move forward or find that travel is not allowed

Seek Expenditure Approval

  • The process for seeking approval in your academic unit or unit of employment differs from unit to unit. We recommend speaking with your student services office, supervisor, or unit representative to understand the process and appropriate contacts. Graduate students in the Graduate School should contact Graduate School Student Services for guidance.
  • Retain this written approval, as it may be requested by the International Travel Advisory and Response Team (ITART), a group of senior-level administrators that review petitions to travel to elevated-risk destinations and render approval decisions.
  • Referring to the decision tree above, you will either move forward or find that travel is not allowed.

File Your Travel Health and Safety Petition

  • Submit your travel health and safety petition via the travel registry. Through this petition, you provide the International Travel Advisory and Response Team (ITART) additional information about, and a rationale for, your elevated-risk travel. Questions should be directed to intlsafety@cornell.edu.
  • The petition questions are incorporated into the registry form. Carefully read the help text as the requirement to answer can differ for different travelers.  Your answers to the petition questions will be saved with the rest of your registration after hitting "save" at the bottom of the form and they cannot be edited.
  • If possible, petitions should be filed between two and six weeks prior to departure. We understand that you 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 reassessed approximately four weeks before travel. If conditions remain safe, approvals will stand. You will only be notified if there is a change in the decision.
  • ITART returns decisions as promptly as possible. However, due to increased volume, a decision may take 2-3 weeks if there are not complicating circumstances with a petition.
  • For details on how petitions are evaluated, please review the travel considerations table below.

After Your Travel is Approved

  • If your travel plans receive ITART approval, you may book 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 risks last-minute cancellation. Both you and your sponsoring unit should take this risk into consideration.
  • Seek out and follow all health and safety guidelines while traveling, including relevant social-distancing policies. You must adhere to any restrictions or safeguards required by the local jurisdiction to which you are traveling. It is your responsibility to be aware of these requirements.

What Does ITART Consider When Reviewing a Petition?

ITART assesses a variety of factors associated with the proposed travel, including your vaccination status. The following presents key factors to consider before submitting a petition. This list should not be considered comprehensive, as every proposed travel is unique and more information may be requested.

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 rates 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.
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.
Testing
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. 
Traveler's Vaccination Status Travelers should be aware that institutions, airlines, and U.S. or foreign governments may establish their own safety protocols, may require evidence of vaccination upon entry into the country, and may not consider medical or religious exemptions. Additionally, we know that vaccination is key to a more healthy experience abroad. ITART will consider the traveler's vaccination status in relation to their destination and overall travel plan.

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 Restrictions

Cornell cannot guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the United States as planned after travel abroad. Entrance restrictions and travel bans are unpredictable. Travelers and the units that support travel should be prepared for stays abroad to be indefinite.

You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have symptoms, but you can still be infected and spread the virus to others, posing a risk for 14 days after you travel. For this reason, Cornell strongly recommends anyone planning a return to campus after international travel get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel. Please refer to CDC guidance on the additional precautions Cornell expects you to take upon your return.

Short-Term Study Abroad Programming

If your unit is interested in running new or pre-existing short-term faculty-led programming, there is an expectation that such be reviewed and approved by ITART. This type of programming presents many unique challenges during the pandemic requiring significant planning and investment. Please reach out to intlsafety@cornell.edu if this is of interest or point others with interest to ITHS, and a time to talk through the logistics will be set up.