As travel disruptions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic continue into 2021, international students face uncertainty around when they will be able to return to their study destinations.
With near-constant updates and rule changes from country to country, it can be confusing to keep up with the most recent information on travel restrictions. This is especially true for international students, who have had to navigate online learning at the same time as staying on top of the latest travel announcements.
Below are the rolling updates on travel for international students enrolled at universities in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. This article will be updated as the rules change, so check back regularly.
The current US rules imply that international students can return to the US if they have:
A valid J1 or F1 student visa
Proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of their flight’s departure.
As of 25 January 2021, the US has a travel ban on any foreign nationals who have been in certain high-risk countries within two weeks prior to travel. These countries include the UK, the Republic of Ireland, all countries in Europe’s Schengen area, Brazil, Iran, China and South Africa.
However, the July 2020 proclamation of exemptions still stands, meaning that international students travelling from the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Europe’s Schengen area who hold valid M-1 and F-1 visas will be exempt from this ban. You do not need to visit a US consulate before travelling to be eligible for this exemption. Furthermore, students with a J-1 visa may be granted entry from these countries, but decisions will be made case by case. J-1 visa holders are therefore encouraged to contact a US consulate before travelling.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should get tested with a viral test three to five days after arriving, and you should self-quarantine for seven days after arriving.
It is also important to note that different US states have different requirements that you must follow upon arrival. You can use this travel planner from the CDC to get important information on travel restrictions and guidance for the US state you are visiting.
Under current rules, international students can travel to the UK, although some UK universities such as UCL are advising international students not to return until at least mid-February. It is worth noting that the UK government has ruled out in-person teaching for the majority of courses until 8 March 2021.
Previously, the UK had travel corridor agreements with other countries, which meant that travellers from those countries did not need to self-isolate upon arrival in the UK. As of 18 January 2021, however, all travel corridors to the UK are suspended until further notice. This means that all travel to the UK will involve getting a negative Covid test and isolating, no matter where you travel from.
To travel to the UK, everyone must fill in a passenger locator form and submit it within 48 hours before their arrival in the country. The form will ask for passport information, travel details and the address you will be staying at in the UK. You can complete the form online via the UK government website.
As of January 2021, you must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test to enter the UK, wherever you travel from. This test must be taken no more than three days before your departure. You must do this even if you have been vaccinated for Covid-19. Your negative test result can be shown at the border as a printed document, an email or a text on your device (make sure it’s charged!), and it must include the following:
your name, which should match the name on your travel documents
your date of birth or age
the result of the test
the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider
the name of the test provider and their contact details
the name of the test device.
Even with a negative test, you must self-isolate for 10 days upon arriving in the UK, either in a hotel or at a UK address that you must share upon arrival. You must also take further coronavirus tests on days two and eight of quarantine, at a cost of £210. If you test positive in these tests, you must self-isolate for a further 10 days.
On 25 January 2021, the UK government placed certain global covid hotspots on a travel ban list, including countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. You can find the full list of banned countries on the UK government website.
This ban, also known as the red-list, does not apply to British or Irish nationals or to third-country nationals with “residence rights”. If you are an international student with a Tier 4/new student visa or pre-settled/settled status under the European Union settlement scheme, you are exempt from this ban, because you have “residence rights”.
However, anyone travelling from or through red-listed countries to England who is exempt from the ban must only fly into Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham or Farnborough Airfield. Furthermore, all passengers flying to England from red-listed countries must isolate for ten days in a hotel, booked through this online booking system. Heathrow Airport has warned that red-list travellers may face suspended flights and long queues at the border.
In England, quarantining in a hotel will cost £1,750 per passenger travelling alone, to cover transport, tests, food and accommodation. Every additional adult costs £650.
In Scotland, arrivals from any country must isolate in a hotel.
Under the Test to Release scheme, you can shorten your self-isolation period to five days if you pay for a Covid-19 test upon arrival and the results are negative, but only if you are travelling from a country that is not on the travel ban list.
Apart from citizens and permanent residents, Australia has closed its borders to everyone, including international students, until further notice. There are limited flights available into the country, and the number of people allowed to enter is capped, even for Australian nationals.
At present, thousands of international students enrolled at Australian universities are still in their home countries and learning remotely.
Although international students may apply individually for an exemption from the border ban, it is unlikely that such a dispensation will be granted.
The idea of granting entrance to international students who have had the Covid vaccine has been floated, but the country’s education minister, Alan Tudge, has said it would be very difficult for large numbers of international students to be allowed to return to Australia in 2021.
If you are an international student currently in Australia and you wish to return to your home country, you have the option of continuing your studies remotely. However, you will need to ensure that you are able to actively participate in online learning in order to maintain a current certificate of enrolment (CoE), which ensures your student visa status for the future.
International students who wish to return to their home country and take a leave of absence can apply to have this assessed if they have appropriate circumstances and supporting documentation.
Australian universities should contact students directly when there are any significant policy changes. For any further visa enquiries, contact the Department of Home Affairs.
International students can travel to Canada under current restrictions as long as the following requirements are met:
You must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of the start of your travels
You must have a valid student visa, known as a study permit, or a letter of introduction that shows you were approved for a study permit
You must be attending a designated learning institution (DLI) with a Covid-19 readiness plan approved by its province or territory
Upon arrival in Canada, you must quarantine for 14 days, even if you have a negative test.
You can check if your university is a designated learning institution using this search tool from the Canadian government.
The Covid-19 readiness plan is the responsibility of your university, and it must describe how the institution will manage the mandatory two-week quarantine for international students. This includes where you will quarantine, travel arrangements to quarantine locations and support in procuring essential items such as food and medication. It is worth contacting your university directly to learn the specifics of their Covid-19 readiness plan.
If you are an international student in Canada and want to leave the country, you will be allowed to return only if your institution is an approved DLI.
As well as bringing your valid study permit or letter of introduction approving your study permit and a valid letter of acceptance from a DLI with you when you travel, you’ll also need to prove that you have enough money to support yourself once in Canada.
Under the current rules, one family member may accompany a student to Canada, but only if the student is a minor or the student has documents to prove that they need additional support from a family member to get settled.
This article was first published on 2 February 2021. We will be updating this article regularly as travel restrictions and guidance changes.