Each year, Harvard students, faculty, and staff travel internationally. It is important to take a few steps to prepare for your trip before you depart. This information will help you to be proactive, prepared, and protected when it comes to your health—and the health of others—while you are traveling.
Take steps to anticipate any new information about communicable diseases or possible travel restrictions that could be in effect or arise during your trip.
- Learn about your destination: The CDC and WHO offer up-to-date recommendations and travel alerts. The U.S. State Department also lists information regarding any travel limitations. Visit Harvard Global Support Services' Travel Tools for information about International SOS, a travel assistance program that also provides country-specific health and safety information.
- See your health care provider before you travel: Many countries recommend or require that travel vaccinations be administered up to 2–4 weeks before you depart in order to be effective. For instance, if you are traveling to an area that is endemic for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and will be engaging in activities where you could be exposed to TB, your clinician may recommend a baseline tuberculosis skin test prior to your departure.
- Think about your health status: If you are beginning to feel sick, public health authorities strongly advise that you stay away from class or work in an effort to not spread your influenza to others. Traveling on airplanes can also spread germs to other travelers. Travelers with other recent serious illness or special health needs such as pregnancy, disabilities, or serious chronic conditions, also may need additional care before traveling.
You may not be able to prevent every illness or injury, but you can plan ahead to be able to deal with them.
- Ensure personal hygiene: Bring along soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Cover your mouth when you cough. Try not to touch your face or eyes after coughing or sneezing.
- Share important information about your trip: Register your travel itinerary and contact information in the Harvard Travel Registry to make it easier to locate you and provide emergency assistance.
- Medication planning: Some medications routinely prescribed in the U.S. may be more heavily regulated in other countries. Make sure you have any prescription medication in its original prescription bottle. Bring appropriate documentation from your physician describing your condition, the necessity of your medication, and its generic name. Notify your pharmacy and health plan if you will be traveling for more than three months and require a greater than three-month supply of medication. You will need a travel waiver.
- Pack smart:
o Bring your health insurance card and related information from the health plan about how to arrange for coverage in the county you are visiting (see below for more information for the HUSHP and HUGHP).
o Bring your International SOS card (see below for details).
o Pack basic first aid supplies, a thermometer, acetaminophen, Pepto-Bismol, and cold medications.
o Bring your vaccination record and any pertinent medical history such as allergies.
- Know what to do if you become sick or injured on your trip:
o You should see a physician as soon as possible.
o Contact International SOS if you have an emergency (details below); they can assist you in finding doctors and obtaining necessary treatment anywhere in the world.
o Contact your health insurance plan to arrange for authorization and payment/ coverage of services.
It is important to practice healthy behaviors during your trip and after you return home. It is your responsibility to keep abreast of changing developments through the CDC, WHO, or U.S. State Department websites.
- Stay informed: Be mindful of travel alerts and follow CDC and WHO guidelines for personal protection should there be a local or international infectious disease outbreak.
- Use common sense in order to stay healthy: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or alcohol-based cleaners such as Purell®. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, which can introduce germs.
- Be careful about food and water: Many illnesses from simple travelers’ diarrhea to parasitic infections can be acquired by eating foods to which your system is not accustomed. Travelers should be advised to select food with care. All raw food, no matter its location, is subject to contamination.
- Try not to take risks with your health and safety: If you are feeling ill when you come home, see your primary health provider immediately and mention your travel history. If you get sick while abroad, call the number on your International SOS card and ask for assistance.
- Review your health insurance coverage for care obtained outside the U.S.:
o Students with HUSHP Supplemental are covered for medical emergencies and urgent care anywhere in the world. All other covered services will be paid at the out-of-network level.
o Students who waived HUSHP Supplemental should contact their own insurance company to verify how their coverage works outside of the country.
o HUGHP members are covered for medical emergencies and urgent care anywhere in the world. HUGHP POS members may be seen for other services, but out-of-network levels apply.
Note that you may be required to pay out of pocket for your care and submit for reimbursement from your insurance plan; contact the plan to confirm these details.
Finding providers and confirming coverage:
Visit the Travel Tools webpage
Visit www.traveltools.harvard.edu and complete the recommended pre-departure steps, including registering your trip in the Harvard Travel Registry. Entering your travel and contact information in the Registry will help Harvard and International SOS locate you and provide assistance in an emergency. Remember to update your registration throughout your trip if necessary (e.g. local cell phone number, changed travel plans). This step is required for students, and strongly recommended for all Harvard travelers.
The Travel Tools webpage also contains useful information for planning a safe trip and includes links to important resources such as International SOS, which provides 24-hour worldwide emergency medical and evacuation assistance for Harvard employees and students traveling on University-related activities. Please note International SOS is not health insurance, it is a travel assistance program that can help you locate high-quality medical care if you are sick. Harvard travelers should maintain their own personal health insurance and determine if their health insurance program needs to be adjusted to accommodate travel out of the country.