Studying Abroad During COVID-19: 5 Things to Know

Jessica Allen, MPH, MSW


December 09, 2021

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 350,000 US college students studied abroad each year. These programs came to a grinding halt in spring 2020. Study-abroad programs are once again resuming but in a brand-new landscape of travel health concerns due to COVID-19. CDC is providing five important reminders for health care providers to share with their patients, be they students or faculty, who plan to study abroad. Full recommendations for institutions of higher education are available on the CDC website.

Five Things to Discuss With Patients Who Plan to Study Abroad

1. COVID-19 vaccination and the COVID-19 situation at their destination

Students and faculty should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before departing for a study-abroad program. Those vaccinated against COVID-19 are five times less likely to be infected and more than 10 times less likely to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19. Fully vaccinated travelers are also less likely to spread COVID-19 to the communities they visit.

Students and faculty who plan to participate in study-abroad programs should read the COVID-19 Travel Health Notice for their study-abroad destination to get information about the COVID-19 situation there.

COVID-19 travel recommendations can be found in two places:

Study-abroad participants should also check the Department of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health for the destination or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information page for COVID-19 entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers. Some destinations require digital health certificates or proof of vaccinations.

2. How to get health care while abroad

Your patients should know how they will obtain health care while abroad. If health care is not part of their program, they may need international health insurance. Encourage patients to purchase coverage that covers the costs of care overseas, as their US medical insurance plan may not cover care abroad.

Many health care systems have been strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it important that patients use the resources listed above to fully understand the health care availability and COVID-19 situation at their destination, and to make a plan in case they need medical care. Learn more about Getting Health Care During Travel.

If your patient takes prescription medications, they should make sure that they have enough medication for their entire study-abroad period or a way to get their prescription refilled. They should not count on being able to buy medicines at their destination because some medications may not be available, and if they are, they may not meet US quality standards. Learn more about Traveling Abroad with Medicine.

3. Travel insurance

In addition to international health insurance, travel insurance is an important layer of protection for study-abroad participants. Travel insurance can help cover costs if a program or trip is canceled or disrupted.

Students or faculty traveling to remote destinations may also want to consider medical evacuation insurance because it may cover the cost of emergency transportation from a remote area with limited healthcare facilities to a high-quality hospital. Medical evacuation costs can be extremely expensive. However, evacuation policies can be bought separately or as part of a travel health insurance policy.

See CDC's web page about Travel Insurance for more information.

4. Routine and destination-specific travel vaccination

In addition to COVID-19, there may be destination-specific health concerns. Students should be up-to-date on routine vaccination such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), meningococcal, meningococcal B, diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, and influenza.

Depending on the study-abroad program location and activities planned, other vaccines may be recommended or even required to enter a country. Some destinations may require vaccination against yellow fever, meningococcal disease, and polio.

CDC's Destinations page provides travelers and clinicians with destination-specific vaccine and medication recommendations.

5. Mental health concerns

Studying and living in another country requires adjusting to a new culture, which can be stressful. This can lead to new mental health issues or worsen existing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. More information can be found at CDC's Mental Health and Travel page.


Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) | CDC

Study Abroad & Other International Student Travel | CDC

Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status — 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021 | CDC

International Travel: Information for U.S. Citizens | CDC

How CDC Determines the Level for COVID-19 Travel Health Notices | CDC

NAFSA: Trends in U.S. Study Abroad

Destinations | Travelers' Health | CDC

Getting Health Care During Travel | Travelers' Health | CDC

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program | Department of State