Can international students travel abroad over winter break and are there specific disadvantages to doing so?

Date: September 2020


Hello Deans,

I’m writing an email to ask some questions about international students’ travel after Thanksgiving. Can international students with F1 visas travel abroad from the end of November (when school goes online) until the end of the winter break? I understand that it’s strongly discouraged, but I want to clearly ask if it’s legally banned. Also, what are the specific disadvantages I might have to handle if I decide to go to my home country during that period?

Thank you, 

Hopefully Heading Home


Dear hopefully Heading Home,

After seven months of staying very close to home I’m starting to dream of travel again, too! Of course, I know that for international students travel takes on a very different significance when family and friends are far from Cornell. I’m sure that many students are eager to reconnect with their families later this year but there are several risks associated with personal travel, as you note. 

A primary consideration should be for your own safety and the safety of those around you. Cornell travel guidance currently strongly advises against personal travel because of the risks of transmitting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Not only are there risks associated with being on buses, trains, airplanes, and in crowded spaces, but travel can potentially introduce infection into areas where it is less prevalent. When considering personal travel it is important to check the CDC and WHO websites to assess the risks and follow all relevant laws and regulations regarding testing and quarantine. You will also need to comply with the terms of the Cornell behavioral compact.

There are also some logistical risks to consider. Over the last several weeks there has been a slight easing of border restrictions and airlines are gradually adding more international flights. However, if infection rates increase again over the winter it’s certainly possible that travel back to Ithaca could again become difficult or expensive. You should also anticipate that a 14 day quarantine (changed to a 10-day quarantine on 1/6/21) will be required when you return. Over the summer we heard from many students who left the U.S. in March or April and were frustrated to learn that it was very hard to find flights back.

Another consideration is the impact that leaving the U.S. may have on your academic or assistantship plans for both fall and spring. You should confirm with your special committee and assistantship supervisor that you can be fully remote for the period between Thanksgiving and early January. If you plan to return after January 6th, the first day of the spring assistantship period, you’ll also need to make arrangements to perform your duties remotely for that early part of the spring semester as well. It is also important to remember that the special exception that allows student to perform their assistantship fully from outside the U.S. this fall will likely not be extended for the spring semester. If you do find yourself unable to travel back to the U.S. by the start of the spring term you may not be able to receive support as a TA, GRA, GA, or RA. It would be important to evaluate that risk and have a backup plan in place before you embark on your travel.

Finally, it’s always prudent to consult with the International Services office in Cornell’s Office of Global learning.

Students must complete a Cornell travel form as part of the Daily Check tool to indicate the dates they are “out of Ithaca”. This will pause their Daily Check and surveillance testing schedule while they are away. If students have to enter quarantine upon their return, they will be expected to complete the Daily Check and remain in quarantine until the Daily Check indicates they can return to campus. Students traveling out of the greater Ithaca area for two weeks or longer may be directed to a consultation with Student & Campus Life staff after completing the Cornell travel form. 

Have a safe, productive, and enjoyable fall semester!



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration