Health and Safety

You should be aware of the risks and problems that can be associated with travel to unfamiliar places, and informed about ways to minimize risk and avoid problems. Harvard University requires all students who are traveling under university auspices (that is, receiving either credit or funding) to review, sign and return the appropriate Assumption of Risk form.

HLS students should review Harvard's Global Support Services' travel risk ratings. Students who are considering travel to an area that is categorized as high-risk must:

  1. Complete and submit the Questionnaire for Graduate Student Travel at least 30 days in advance of your expected travel date (Access to the document requires a Harvard University PIN.)
    AND
  2. Consult with Steve Taylor, Associate Director of International Safety and Security.

This is necessary for travel in conjunction with courses or clinics as well as independent travel. Please be aware that HLS may advise against -- and may even withhold support for -- travel that is deemed to pose excessive risk. Students should also review Harvard’s policy on high-risk travel by graduate students.

Below is health and safety information for Harvard students traveling abroad, pre-departure tips, and traveling suggestions. Also provided is a list of emergency contact people at Harvard Law School.

The challenges you may face will vary from place to place, and may depend on your degree of familiarity with the destination. Nevertheless, it is always important to carefully assess all manner of risks and to act accordingly. You should use this information for general guidance but tailor preparation and actions to suit your particular situation.

Health Insurance

You must have health insurance and you should be familiar with what is covered and what is not when traveling abroad. Also, before traveling, you should acquaint yourself with the health care system in your destination country including the quality of facilities and cost of services.

All registered Harvard students are automatically enrolled in the student Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) plan. All the benefits are based on the academic year, August 1 through July 31, and cover you while traveling abroad.

Important Travel Abroad Information from Harvard University Health Services

  • General information is available on the HUHS Member Services website.
  • BCBS’s BlueCard Worldwide Service Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Service Center will help you find a BlueCard Worldwide hospital or doctor. The BlueCard Worldwide Service Center may be able to facilitate cashless access for inpatient care.
  • Information on hospitals and doctors throughout the world is available on the BlueCard Worldwide portal or by calling 800-810-BLUE (2583) or +1 804-673-1177 (collect from outside the U.S.)
  • Be advised that you may need to pay for services up-front and file for reimbursement later. For international claims filing and payment information, please see the BCBS website.
  • If you have questions about your Harvard health insurance coverage while traveling contact BCBS’s Member Services at +1 617-495-2008 or by e-mail.

Important Health Insurance Contact Information
HUHS Member Services +1 617-495-2008 www.huhs.havard.edu
BCBS Massachusetts 800-257-8141 www.bluecrossma.com
BlueCard Worldwide 800-810-BLUE (2583) www.bluecardworldwide.com
+1 804-673-1177 (for collect calls from outside the U.S.)


Other Resources

Harvard Travel Assist Emergency Medical and Evacuation Insurance

Harvard Travel Assist provides medical and security advice and referrals and emergency evacuation services to Harvard travelers abroad. To ensure access to these services, it is crucial that all international travel be registered in the Harvard Travel Registry. See below for a summary of benefits, eligibility details, and Frequently Asked Questions, and visit the Harvard Travel Assist for country-specific information.

To reach Harvard Travel Assist in an emergency call +1 617-998-0000 (worldwide, 24/7/365). You may call collect. You can also use this number to access non-emergency assistance.

Summary of Harvard Travel Assist Benefits

These services are available for eligible travelers (see eligibility details below).

Medical Assistance Services

  • 24-hour access to physicians who provide emergency and routine medical advice
  • 24-hour access to medical information, referrals and emergency assistance
  • Emergency medical evacuation
  • Medically supervised repatriation
  • Assistance with documentation for insurance claims

The following medical assistance services may incur a charge to the traveler or their insurance if a third party is engaged to deliver services (health care providers, transportation, hotels, etc.).

  • Medical and dental referrals
  • Medical expenses guarantee and payment
  • Hotel arrangements for outpatient care
  • Arrangement of ground transportation and accommodation for accompanying family members
  • Dispatch of prescription medication and medical equipment

Security Assistance Services

  • Security evacuation assistance
  • Access to security crisis center

Travel Assistance Services

  • Legal referrals
  • Emergency message transmission
  • Lost document advice and assistance
  • Emergency translation services

Online Information

  • Country guidelines
  • Travel security reports
  • E-mail notifications

Eligibility Details

The following individuals are eligible for services from Harvard Travel Assist. Phone and online services are free to all eligible travelers.

Students traveling outside the U.S.

  • Harvard degree- or certificate-seeking students actively registered at one of the Harvard schools listed below, excluding travel of a purely leisure or personal nature
    • Harvard Business School
    • Harvard College
    • Harvard Divinity School
    • Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
    • Harvard Graduate School of Design
    • Harvard Graduate School of Education
    • Harvard Kennedy School of Government
    • Harvard Law School
    • Harvard Medical School
    • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
    • Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    • Harvard School of Public Health
    • ART Institute
  • Harvard Summer School and Extension School students traveling as part of their academic program

Employees and Fellows (including faculty, staff and other paid appointments) traveling outside the U.S.

  • Paid employees and fellows (on the Harvard payroll) traveling on University business
  • NOTES:
    • Employees and fellows who are not U.S. residents may not be covered while traveling in their home country
    • HMS off-quad appointed faculty employed by an affiliated institution (e.g., a hospital) are not normally considered eligible travelers

Other individuals covered while traveling outside the U.S.

IMPORTANT: Given the nature of these individuals’ affiliation with the University, it is of the utmost importance that their information is entered in the Harvard Travel Registry. Contact Global Support Services for assistance entering travelers who do not have an active Harvard ID.

  • Paid employees of Harvard-controlled entities traveling on business
  • Spouses, domestic partners and dependent children traveling with a covered Harvard employee or student
  • Fellows and scholars with Harvard appointments, including those who are unpaid, traveling for a University project or program
  • Non-Harvard students traveling with funding from Harvard or on a trip organized and/or led by Harvard
  • Certain other individuals traveling with Harvard-related programs, such as program volunteers and post-graduate fellows (please consult GSS for guidance on eligibility)
  • NOTE: Those included in the groups listed above who are not U.S. residents may not be covered while traveling in their home country.

Exclusions to coverage

The following exclusions apply to insured Harvard Travel Assist coverage. In cases when these exclusions apply, Harvard Travel Assist will still provide services to the best of their ability, but they may be at the expense of the traveler. This is not an exhaustive list, but is intended to cover the most commonly applicable exclusions.

  • Personal travel (i.e., for students, trips that are exclusively leisure or family visits; for others, trips not on Harvard business)
  • Travel within 100 miles of the traveler’s primary residence
  • Travel within the U.S. by U.S.-based travelers
  • Continuous travel longer than 365 days
  • Suicide, attempted suicide, self-inflicted injury
  • Travel against advice of a physician
  • Travel to obtain medical treatment
  • Travel in violation of government sanctions
  • Certain non-commercial, specialized, or self-piloted aviation
  • Incarceration post-conviction
  • Service in armed forces
  • Evacuation or medical care not approved by Harvard Travel Assist

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Travel Assist

What is "University business" or a "University-related activity"?

For this purpose, University business and University-related activities include any activity that can be broadly construed as part of academic or professional work at Harvard, including research, study abroad, attendance at a conference, travel with an officially recognized student organization, or even a summer or January job or internship if registered at Harvard the following term.

Personal travel, including vacations or travel home to visit family, is not covered.

Faculty traveling as part of an ongoing or long-term relationship with a non-Harvard organization should normally be covered under that organization’s evacuation and security procedures, services, and coverages. In general, travel by staff will be considered “University business” if it is at the request of a supervisor. Please contact Global Support Services (+1 617-495-1111 or globalsupport@harvard.edu) if you have questions about your eligibility.

What should I do before traveling abroad?

Review and complete the steps outlined on the Travel Tools page of the Global Support Services website, including registering your itinerary in the Harvard Travel Registry and familiarizing yourself with Harvard Travel Assist's services and resources. Be sure to review the country-specific information available from Harvard Travel Assist.

Is the Harvard Travel Assist program an insurance policy?

Harvard Travel Assist is a program provider for emergency medical and security evacuations, as well as a source of information for travelers; it is not an insurance provider. However, the services provided under the Harvard Travel Assist program are insured by Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. For eligible travelers (see details above), medical or security evacuations deemed necessary by Harvard Travel Assist will be covered by the Chubb insurance policy. This policy also provides coverage for costs associated with repatriation; proof of such coverage is required by some countries during the visa application process (see below).

Does Harvard Travel Assist replace health insurance?

No! Harvard Travel Assist is not health insurance. When necessary, Chubb Insurance, via Harvard Travel Assist (and the associated service providers), will pay a clinic or health care provider on the traveler’s behalf. However, these expenses will typically be billed to the traveler’s health insurance later; if uninsured, expenses may be billed to the traveler. Therefore, travelers should familiarize themselves with their insurance providers' policies on overseas coverage.

Are there situations where I would be charged for these services?

In some cases, yes. Harvard Travel Assist may refer travelers to third-party providers who charge directly for services. If Anvil Group/Chubb Insurance paid for medical care, Chubb may bill the traveler or his/her insurance provider for the cost of services provided. Note that phone and online services are always free to eligible travelers, so travelers are strongly encouraged to contact Harvard Travel Assist if they need medical or security advice or assistance.

I am required to show proof of coverage for repatriation in order to obtain a visa. How can I request such a letter?

If you are applying for a visa and required to document repatriation coverage, you must submit a letter request form to Global Support Services. (Access to the form requires a Harvard University PIN.)

Global Support Services will e-mail you the required letter as a PDF, unless otherwise specified. 

How can I purchase an International SOS plan for personal or leisure travel or for a traveling companion?

Since Harvard is maintaining a relationship with International SOS, you can still receive a 20% discount on International SOS services by calling 1-800-523-8662 or online by visiting the International SOS Harvard portal. Once you are on the I-SOS website, click the link at the bottom of the page, which reads "Inquire about/sign up for 20% discount on SOS services and assistance while traveling for leisure/on vacation." Next, select your country of residence, and click the "GO" button. Fill in all the required information under the "Get a Quote" column, and click "select my plan." Enter the required information, including the Harvard membership number (11BSGC000038) and click "See Plans Pricing." Following these prompts will give you a list of options regarding pricing and coverage, and allow you to purchase I-SOS directly from this screen.

 

Call Harvard Travel Assist worldwide, 24/7:
+1 617-998-0000

 

Immunizations

Many countries will require visitors to have immunizations prior to granting a visa or entry into the country, and you will also want the immunizations for your own health.  You may contact University Health Services at Holyoke Center for a travel consult, in order to determine the inoculations or other medical services you may need prior to departure, and to learn about relevant health conditions. During your pre-trip planning you should consider that some vaccinations must be administered up to 4 to 6 weeks before travel.  Remember to photocopy your immunization record and bring a copy with you when you travel.

If malaria is endemic in the country to which you will be traveling, start and follow your prophylactic malaria treatment conscientiously.

Important Immunization Contact Information
Harvard University Health Services
Travel Clinic
Holyoke Center
Phone: 617-495-5182
(for travel consults)

Law School Health Clinic
Pound Hall
Phone: 617-495-4414

 

Other Important Pre-Departure Planning

Prior to departure it is important for you to educate yourself about your destination country. You should review the country guides and security reports available from:

and be aware of any advisories and travel warnings regarding your destination(s).

Local news websites, guidebooks, or tourist bureaus can also provide good in-depth information on local services, rules, customs, and values.  Examples include Lonely Planet, Economist country briefings, and the CIA World Factbook.  Harvard University research centers and programs and the HarvardWorldwide website can also be helpful.  

If you are traveling to high risk or remote areas, where access to medical care may be hours away, you are encouraged to complete wilderness first aid training available through Global Support Services; please contact them for more information (+1 617-495-1111 or globalsupport@harvard.edu). Global Support Services can also assist you in obtaining a satellite phone, should you deem it necessary.

You should be aware of the prevailing national sentiment toward the U.S. and U.S. citizens in the countries that you will visit.  If you are a citizen of a country other than the United States, you should contact your consulate or embassy for travel advisories and other relevant information, and be aware of how your travel might be perceived.  You should be aware of the prevailing local sentiment toward people of your cultural background, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and be aware of the laws and codes of conduct that are likely to affect you.

In addition, you should:

Be sure to have the necessary travel documents.  Your passport should expire no earlier than six months after your return.  Your visa should cover the time of your stay and be appropriate for your activities (e.g., specific visas may be necessary for study or work.) Harvard University has identified two vendors that can assist with visa and passport issues for international travel. These firms can answer questions about visa requirements free of charge either via their websites or by phone. For a fee they will assist travelers with the application process (especially beneficial for rush orders) by reviewing and submitting the traveler’s application, passport, and any other required information or documents. Visa processing firms are often able to obtain visas more quickly than individual travelers.  If you place an order for services with either vendor, please do so via the Harvard portals so that you will receive the negotiated Harvard rates. For more information, see the Global Support Services website.

Register your travel.  You should register your travel with the Harvard Travel Registry and either the U.S. Department of State or your home country’s consulate if you are not an American citizen.

Consider the possible threats to your safety, when they might occur, and how you might react if you are faced with them.  These include, but are not limited to, physical violence or threats of violence, theft, assault, sexual harassment, traffic accidents, health risks, natural disasters, kidnapping / hostage situations, defamation campaigns, natural disasters, and terrorist activity.

Prepare a list of key telephone numbers you may need and know how to use them.  These should include Harvard Travel Assist, police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. (or other relevant) embassy or consulate.  Compile 24-hour contact information for your sponsor/organization, not only office numbers, even if they plan to meet you at the airport, as you or they could be unexpectedly delayed. Know how many digits of the entire phone number are needed to make a local call. Research in advance how to phone the U.S. from a pay phone or house phone from each country you will be visiting.  A good website is www.countrycallingcodes.com.   Please note that 1-800 numbers will not work from outside the U.S.  Check with your credit card company for the alternate number in case you need to report the card lost or stolen. 

Put together a health / first aid kit.  Include water purifying tablets and re-hydration salts for use in a gastrointestinal crisis. Add rubber gloves to protect you from blood-borne infections should you be administering first aid. If you are traveling to a country where hypodermic needles are routinely reused, ask your physician to provide you with a small number of needles and a note to explain they are to be used in the event of your needing intravenous treatment. Take supplies that may not be readily available, such as  contact lens solution and feminine hygiene products. If possible, take a first aid course before you go. If you are traveling to high risk or remote areas, where access to medical care may be hours away, you are encouraged to complete wilderness first aid training available through Global Support Services; please contact them for more information.

Establish an emergency communications plan. Choose an out-of-town contact (e.g., a friend or family member) who will regularly check in with you by phone or e-mail. Make sure your contact has a copy of your main documents such as passport, health insurance, Harvard Travel Assist evacuation services information, and Harvard Law School emergency contacts. Remember that sometimes during emergencies email can get through when calls don’t.

Familiarize yourself with the local language.  Learn some basic phrases and in particular at least the key phrases to seek help for an emergency.  It can also be useful to carry with you such phrases in written form so you can signal the need for assistance.  You should also know which non-verbal behaviors are considered rude or inappropriate and which are commonly used (hand gestures, greeting by bowing, kissing or shaking hands, etc.)

Take precautions to avoid HIV/STDs. Some countries may require an HIV test before allowing you to enter; check with the embassy or consulate. If you choose to be sexually active abroad, use a condom, preferably treated with a potent spermicide. Women as well as men should bring their own supply of condoms and store them in a dry place away from heat. Educate yourself on the customs, beliefs, and laws of your host country regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Basic Packing Tips

  • Don’t bring anything you would hate to lose, though you might consider purchasing traveler’s insurance for items such as a laptop or digital camera.
  • Be sure to have a safe place to keep your passport / visa / tickets while traveling.
  • Make two photocopies of important documents such as your visa, airline ticket, driver’s license, passport, and credit cards and leave one copy at home. Pack the second copy separately from the originals.
  • Scan a copy of your important documents and e-mail them to your own account.
  • Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport’s information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event that it is lost or stolen.
  • If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. 
  • Leave at home valuable jewelry, unnecessary credit cards, social security card, library card, etc.
  • Pack any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
  • To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines in their original, labeled containers.  Bring copies of your prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs.  If a medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug.  If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country before you travel.
  • Put your name, address, and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage.  Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality.  If possible, lock your luggage.
  • Bring a guidebook and map.
  • Harvard's Global Support Services can assist you in obtaining a satellite phone prior to travel, should you deem it necessary. Upon arrival, you may purchase a local cell phone or SIM card that allows you to refill minutes as needed. 

Precautions While Traveling

In addition to pre-departure preparations, you should continue to take active precautions after arriving at your destination. The advice below is intended to help you minimize health and safety risks while in-country.

Money and Valuables

  • Be careful with your passport and visa documents and do not give them to anyone who asks to view them without checking credentials. 
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash. Determine in advance whether you will be able to use credit/ debit cards or have access to ATMs.  Use credit/debit cards for most purchases if possible. Withdraw money only from well-lit ATMs and in “busy” places.  Carry the minimum number of valuables, and put them in various places rather than all in one wallet or pouch. 
  • Do not leave money and other valuables in a hotel room while you are out; use a hotel safe.
  • If you are confronted, don't fight back — give up your valuables.
  • Avoid handbags, fanny packs, and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves.  Keep cameras in bags or pockets rather than in plain view.
  • If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police.  Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight. After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or theft of:

⇒ travelers’ checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company
⇒ credit cards to the issuing company
⇒ airline tickets to the airline or travel agent
⇒ passport to the nearest U.S. (or relevant) embassy or consulate

Transportation

  • Determine which areas are considered unsafe in the city or country where you will be traveling and either avoid them or, if travel is necessary, take appropriate precautions.
  • Know how extensive, safe and reliable the public transportation system is in the country or region you will visit and which forms of public transportation are safest to use.
  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs. Also, avoid cabs where the cab driver’s friend is in the front passenger seat.
  • Travel with others and avoid traveling at night if possible.
  • If your internship or research requires travel within the country, leave a copy of your itinerary with your supervisor or other appropriate person.
  • If you are driving, make sure the car has a spare tire and a jack, and that you know how to change the tire on that type of car. 
  • Do not hitchhike and do not pick up hitchhikers.
  • If encountering checkpoints is a standard part of travel in the country:

⇒ assume the people staffing the checkpoint are armed
⇒ always slow down as soon as a checkpoint comes into sight and put on the car lights, both inside and out, so you are visible
⇒ when your documents are examined it is desirable that you maintain possession of them throughout the proceedings
⇒ whatever the procedures, and they may take a long time, maintaining patience and good humor is important; avoid arguments or confrontations

Accommodations

  • Check carefully to ensure that the area you will be staying in is considered safe.
  • Avoid staying on the ground floor and top floor of hotels and hostels to prevent easy access for thieves.
  • The U.S. Department of State also warns that in many communities fire equipment may not reach above the 7th floor. 

General Behavior

  • Be aware of body language and other non-verbal signs — both your own and those of others.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.  Be aware of other common ploys to distract tourists such as spills or requests for assistance.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about and be careful at all times.
  • Be cautious about discussing personal matters with strangers, including your itinerary, place of lodging, or mode of transportation.
  • Know which precautions to take when eating local food and do not accept any kind of food or drink from strangers, even if the container appears to be sealed.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Be aware of dress codes and what constitutes appropriate attire.  In some parts of the world anti-American feeling is strong, so don’t wear clothing that makes you an American billboard.
  • Your ethnicity may provoke curiosity or even mild hostility.  Be careful about discussion of political and religious issues, particularly in public places.
  • Remember that use of alcohol and drugs greatly increases risk of accidents and injury.

Local Laws and Customs

  • Remember that you will be subject to the laws of the country to which you are traveling; also remember that you are a guest in the country and a representative of Harvard Law School.
  • Though you may not agree with prevailing opinion in the country on various issues, remember to be respectful in expressing your views and bear in mind with whom you are speaking.
  • Be aware of and respect local norms in dressing, social relations between men and women, social consumption of alcohol, etc.  Tank tops, shorts, and tight-fitting clothes may be seen as inappropriate, disrespectful, or intentionally provocative.
  • Be aware that in some countries it is not permitted to take photographs of security-related institutions such as police stations, government buildings, and military installations.

Post-Conflict Countries 

  • Be aware that land mines are a continuing threat to life and limb in many places.
  • Wandering from paved roads or exploring abandoned military installations when you are sightseeing can be lethal.

Risk-tolerance tends to creep up. It is well known that expatriates over time get a little blasé about security and even start to take foolish risks. Be cautious and trust your own judgment even though an ex-pat may claim, “I do that all the time.”

Go to the U.S. Department of State Travel Tips Website for further information relating to travel and safety. The Overseas Citizens Services office at 1-888-407-4747 (+1 202-501-4444 from overseas) can answer general inquiries on safety and security.

Data Security for International Travel

In addition to taking the necessary steps to ensure your personal safety while traveling abroad, you should review and follow Harvard University’s guidelines on data security, and other useful tips on protecting your computer and your data. Visit the Data Security for International Travel page to learn more.

Crisis Preparedness

The U.S. Department of State provides information on crisis preparedness and emergency services it offers here.

Harvard Travel Assist also provides emergency information and services. Please see the Harvard Travel Assist section above for more information.

HLS Emergency Contact Information

If you experience an emergency while abroad, it may be necessary to first call local responders (i.e. police or fire department) or Harvard Travel Assist (for medical emergencies) and then notify the appropriate HLS contact person.

 Program/Type of Travel Contact E-mail/Telephone 
 Chayes Fellowship
Study Abroad
Winter Term International Travel Grants
 Sara Zucker, Director, International Legal Studies Programs szucker@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-9030 (office)
 
       
 Clinical Programs
[Students who received an international travel grant to do a clinical abroad should see the contact information for Winter Term International Travel Grants above.]
 Jill Crockett. Associate Director, Clinical and Pro Bono Programs jcrockett@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-5202 (office)
 
       
 Human Rights Program Mindy Roseman, Academic Director, Human Rights Program mroseman@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-6912 (office)
 
       
 Institute for Global Law and Policy Neal O’Connor, Administrative Director, Institute for Global Law and Policy noconnor@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-3145 (office)
 
       
 Islamic Legal Studies Program Ceallaigh Reddy, Program Administrator, Islamic Legal Studies Program creddy@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-496-3941 (office)
 
       
 Program on Negotiation James Kerwin, Assistant Director, Program on Negotiation jkerwin@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-9688 (office)
 
       
 Student Organizations Dean of Students Office dos@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-1880 (office
)
 
       
 Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF)
[For the Chayes Fellowship or Human Rights Program Summer Internships, see relevant sections above.]
 Natasha Onken, Assistant Director, Low Income Protection Plan and Summer Public Interest Funding, JD Student Financial Services nonken@law.harvard.edu
+1 617-495-0643 (office)
       

 

Post-Emergency Incident Reporting

Any Harvard traveler who experiences or witnesses a serious medical or safety incident while abroad should, after the emergency has been properly handled, report the event to help the University support the safety and security of the community. Please see Harvard's Incident Reporting webpage for more information.

Last modified: October 16, 2014

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