Personal Preparations

There are a number of steps that should be taken to ensure that you are personally prepared for a trip outside the U.S. Columbia travelers should review the sections above for University and online resources that can help you be prepared for your trip.

Passport and Visa


It can take several months to get a passport; apply now if you don’t have one. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after you date of return from travel.

To learn more about U.S. passports, visit the Passports page of the U.S. Department of State (or the website for your home country's embassy)

Need a Visa?

Many countries require a visa for entry. How this visa is issued, what kind of visa (or work permit) is required and the length of time that it could take for processing, depends on the country. Faculty and staff conducting research or teaching abroad should make sure to obtain business visas prior to traveling. Conducting research or teaching under a tourist visa could jeopardize an individual’s future ability to travel again to the particular country in which such activity occurred. Check with you University department as they may have in place a specific process for obtaining visas and may already have arrangements with a vendor, which could help you avoid out-of-pocket expenses. Additionally, some destinations or events may require official letters of presentation for business travel; should you require assistance with this type of letter, please email

The NYC Mayor's Office for International Affairs website includes a convenient list with links to Consular Offices in New York City

U.S. Citizens

The Travel section of the U.S. Department of State website includes a country-specific directory which lists pertinent information by country and includes a link to that country’s U.S. The site also has other useful travel resources. Keep in mind that each different country may have different required documents for their entry visas. For example, some countries require recent documentation of an HIV/AIDS test or a vaccination record. This is why it is essential that you research visa application processes well in advance of your travel.

Non-U.S. Citizens

Research entry requirements at your destination country’s embassy website and keep in mind that these may differ from your colleages that are U.S. citizens. If you are an international student or scholar, notify your  program counselor of your citizenship status and the type of passport you hold so you may be properly guided to acquire necessary visas for your time abroad. You should review the International Programs and Services website for available resources prior to applying for a visa to ensure that your immigration papers are in order (e.g. a valid I-20, I-94, etc.) and that you will be able to re-enter the United States at the end of your study abroad program.

All travelers, in researching visa requirements, should ask:

→ What type of visa do I need (tourist, student)?

→ How long will it take for my visa to arrive?

→ Will I need a transit visa (for a layover or travel through another country on the way to my destination)?

Visa service companies can provide information about any letters of support (generally from Columbia) and/or invitation (generally from an in-country sponsor) that may be necessary as part of your visa application. Please check their websites and/or call them to ascertain the requisite content of these letters. Provide this information clearly to the individual or organization when you request the letter. Providing a sample letter may expedite the process.

Either through arrangements by your University unit or for a fee, the following agencies provide assistance in obtaining passports and visas and will work with both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens for travel abroad:


Travel Health

Visit Your Personal Physician or a Travel Health Clinic

For international travelers, it is wise to have a general physical and dental exam before departure; women should also have a gynecological exam.

Additionally, travelers need to consider that many countries may require proof of vaccinations before visas are granted and that any destination will have health and dietary considerations for which they should prepare. Some vaccinations require a series of multiple visits to the doctor spread over several weeks; this is lead time that will need to be incorporated into your travel planning. In order to make sure you are well informed about any relevant issue regarding your destination in time to prepare, refer to the resources listed here and follow up with a travel medicine provider well in advance of your travel. Appointments should be scheduled ideally 4 weeks or more before travel.

Columbia University and Columbia Medical Center offer immunizations, education, and specialized medical expertise for people planning travel of all types — leisure, business, relocation, study abroad, volunteer service, and international adoptions.

Faculty, Staff, Morningside Campus Students and Those Coordinating Student Trips

Make an appointment either with your personal physician, with a travel health specialist of your choosing, or learn more here about the CU on the Road Travel Medicine Program, which provides both pre- and post-travel medical services.

Medical Center Students

Find more information on the Travel Services page of the CU Medical Center’s Student Health Services (SHS) and make an appointment.

If students do not have their records of a recent physical exam on file, SHS is likely to ask that they return to have a physical exam done prior to travel. In this case, if the student is not covered by the Student Health Insurance Plan, they will be subject to a physical examination fee.

All employees and students are strongly advised to verify their health care coverage prior to travel. Check with your health care insurance provider to ensure that pre-travel vaccinations and overseas medical care are covered, and to receive advice on health care abroad.

Refer to the Health Insurance Coverage page (link above) for additional information.

Consider Disclosing Health and Disability Needs

When and what to disclose

→ With your parents/guardian and physician, assess any physical or mental health conditions that may be adversely affected by travel abroad

→ Then consider self‐disclosing existing health issues to your group leader, the study abroad program, or your university abroad to help them be better prepared to assist you should the need arise


→ If you will require continued therapy, monitoring, or specific support mechanisms, self‐disclose the issues to the program leader well in advance so appropriate accommodations can be arranged

Understand Travel's Effects on Mental Health

Study abroad can have a significant impact on your mental health

Increased vulnerability to loneliness, depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts

Existing problems can become worse

Treatment for mental health problems can be hard to find outside the U.S.

→ Know that it is very common for students to receive treatment for mental health issues during college and study abroad

Consider disclosing voluntarily - Create a support network:  disclose mental health conditions to your group leader or advisor before you leave

General Resources for Travelers

The Travelers’ Health page of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, provides a list of required and recommended vaccinations.

Additionally, Fact Sheets on common diseases, responding to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents and other health issues, including pandemic influenza, can be found at the Travel page of the  U.S. State Department website.

Visit the web site of the World Health Organization for additional information about infectious diseases abroad. The International Society of Travel Medicine web site provides information about travel medicine providers in other locations.

Prescriptions and Medications

It’s recommended to take with you copies of all pertinent medical records, and a copy of all prescriptions, including vision (make sure your prescription includes the generic name of the medication). If a traveler regularly takes medication, they should find out if they can bring an entire semester or year of the prescription with them or if it is readily available in their host country. Also, make sure to know the generic name for the drug. Many countries have restrictions on how much of a particular drug can be brought into the country at a time. Medications you are traveling with should be in their original containers and clearly labeled. If you have an existing medical condition and have controlled substances or injectable drugs, it is a good idea to travel with a doctor’s note on official stationary. Keep in mind that some drugs may not be permitted in certain countries - contact your host country’s embassy if you have questions.

Health Insurance Coverage

All travelers, even for short trips, need to assess their coverage with their insurer prior to travel and determine if they would need to obtain additional coverage for their destination.


If traveling internationally for school-related purposes (study abroad, research at a Global Center, etc.) the health insurance policy must also provide coverage outside the US for routine, urgent, and emergent care.

For additional details, please refer to Enroll / Waive Student Health Insurance section of the Columbia Health site and click on Waive.

Faculty and Staff

Columbia University benefits (such as health insurance and retirement plans) generally continue for Columbia employees who are assigned overseas, and who continue to be paid through the U.S. payroll. Employees who are assigned overseas for six month or longer may be eligible to enroll in the Cigna International Medical Plan, which provides comprehensive health coverage overseas and in the U.S.

For additional details, please refer to the Policy on Faculty and Staff Working Overseas.

Insurance Card

Very important – Take your Health Insurance card with you!


All travelers should consider purchasing additional insurance for personal liability, property loss, trip cancellation, etc.

Copy, Print, Save and Take

Make Copies

When traveling internationally, it is safer to prepare for the possibility that you could misplace, lose, or someone could steal items or documents that you need. In order to mitigate the negative impact that such an occurence could have on your trip, it is recommemnded that you make copies of certain documents and that you:

→ share copies with family members, friends or trusted colleages (for students and group travelers, this also can include your trip leader)

→ you should submit a legible copy of your passport picture page (and visa page, if a visa is required) to your supervisor. This will help us locate you in the event of an emergency. Do not send electronic copies of confidential identifying documents or their contents via email as this may expose them to data breach.

→ keep copies securely with you, separate from where you carry the original documents at all times, particularly when the original is being secured elsewhere.

Documents that you should copy include:

Passport Identification Page and Visa

Driver's License

Insurance Card(s)

Credit Cards (front and back)

Flight and Other Travel Itineraries

Immunizations and Prescriptions; other
important medical history (e.g., surgeries,
severe allergies)

Traveler Prepardness Plan (see below)

Important Telephone Numbers (keep in mind that numbers for friends and family are likely programmed in your phone and you would not remember them if you lose it; write them down!)

Print and Take with You

It is very important that you bring with you and email yourself a copy of your Emergency Assistance Program card; take the cards for all the programs for which you are eligible

Refer to Emergency Assistance Coverage for additional details.

Program Into Your Phone

If you are either taking with you a mobile device or purchasing one in your host country, you should immediately program the telephone numbers for all the resources listed above, together with other important phone numbers, including the Important Telephone Numbers, as described above and the following:

→ Number(s) at your host country to reach your trip leader or emergency contact your your program's operation (whichever is applicable)

→ Number to your hotel or other lodging

→ Number to reach your airline, both in the U.S. and in your host country

→ U.S.  (or your home country's) Embassy in your Host Country (visit the website of U.S Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions from the U.S. Department of State)

→ Equivalent to "911" for your Host Country (the U.S. Department of States Students Abroad's Emergencies page includes emergency (Ambulance, fire and police) numbers for countries around the world)

→ Columbia ISOS members with a smartphone, download the ISOS Membership Application

Complete a Traveler Prepardness Plan

Use the Traveler Preparedness Plan template to collect the pertinent emergency contact information for your trip. Once completed, you should copy and share the plan, together with you contact list (all numbers previously described)

Share Travel Plans

Share a copy of your travel itinerary, pertinent contact information from above with family or friends. Provide them with a copy of your passport data page and any visas as well. This will make it easier for them to contact you in an emergency. It is also a good idea to share with them any changes in your plans as these happen. You do not want to find yourself in an emergency without others knowing where you are.

Frequent International Traveler?

You may want to consider enrolling in the Global Entry program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The Columbia University Office of Work/Life is facilitating faculty, administrative staff, and student access to a new program called Global Entry for International Travelers. This is a five year renewable program good for international arrival by air in the U.S. at 20 commercial international airports.

For more information, go to the Office of Work/Life's page on the Global Entry Program for International Travelers.

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