The Effects of COVID-19 on Study Abroad

The COVID-19 pandemic has majorly affected future and current study abroad students. Read on to learn more about what to do if you're either one!

With the worldwide coronavirus outbreak having reached pandemic level, one of the most affected groups of people trying to figure out the best course of action for safety among the panic and closures is study abroad students.

While students planning to study abroad in the near future may be disappointed by having to cancel their plans, students currently studying abroad are facing a much larger issue of staying safe and getting home. The situation doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, as every country is taking different precautions and implementing various policies that are leaving some students wondering if they’ll even be able to get home.

We’re going to address both types of students here and share information we’ve gathered on the status of study abroad programs. If you were planning to study abroad or are currently studying abroad and haven’t already done so, we encourage you to get in touch with your school or program organization for the most pertinent information.

Students planning to study abroad

With the majority of countries now having confirmed cases of COVID-19, as indicated by the CDC’s regularly updated global map, planning any study abroad in the near future just isn’t possible. To any student planning to study abroad in the upcoming months, it’s recommended that you cancel or postpone your program for a later date.

The general need for safety and social distancing is of the utmost importance, and travel is one of the biggest proponents of spreading the virus due to the close spaces and recycled air experienced by passengers on flights. Because of this, there are some restrictions that countries have put into place in regard to travel.

The top situations majorly affecting plans abroad

  • President Trump’s Europe travel ban: As of Friday, March 13, travel restrictions were set specifically for the European continent. No US citizens are allowed to travel to Europe, and only US citizens are allowed to return from Europe if they were there when the restrictions were put into effect. This ban has some exemptions, as indicated in an article from USA Today.
  • China travel ban: There has been a US travel ban to China in effect since January, when the virus was initially spreading and causing concerns in the country.
  • Canada’s border closure: As of Wednesday, March 18, Canada and the US have decided to close the border between the two countries to anything considered “nonessential traffic.”

For a comprehensive list of all travel bans and restrictions for countries around the world, check out this article from CNN.

Postponing your plans

Experts are projecting that major effects of the virus could last at least until June or further into the summer, but it’s impossible for anyone to know for sure because it’s largely dependent on everyone doing their part to help quell the spread of the disease. So it would be smart to hold off on all study abroad plans at least until next fall—possibly even until next year.

With the future so unclear, it may not be the best course of action to make any major plans for studying abroad until we get over the height of the issue and can see where we may land on the other side.

Keep doing your research and make a tentative schedule so that when the dust does settle, you’ll be prepared with your documents and your plans, ready to have an incredible study abroad experience.

Students currently studying abroad

This is a very scary time for students who are currently studying abroad. Despite most bans and restrictions allowing students to return home from their host countries, flights home are difficult to come by at the moment. And if students are able to procure them, there’s a chance they could be very expensive as they’re now being purchased in an emergency situation.

It’s being recommended for students to return home from abroad programs by their schools and the CDC if they are studying in any countries that have now been labeled as a Level 2 or 3 warning area by the CDC.

Recommended course of action from the experts

  • If your program’s host country is still allowing flights for non-citizens, get home as soon as you can. It’s insisted by the CDC, if you’re able to get a flight home, to quarantine yourself for two weeks upon arrival regardless of whether or not you think you were exposed to the virus. Students are required to quarantine in their homes, not in dorms or other school housing. Caution in all scenarios is key.
  • If for any reason you are not immediately able to get home, communication is highly important. Communicate with your host school or family, communicate with your own family, communicate with your home school or program organization. Being trapped in another country amid such a crisis is not easy, but as long as you’re social distancing, taking precautions, and staying in touch as you would if you were home, you’ll be okay. And stay informed to wait for further news of potential opportunities to return home.

* Note: It’s important to remember while you as an individual can make the choice and take the necessary steps to get yourself home and safe whether your program or school calls you home or not, you should still keep an open line of communication with your school and/or study abroad program organization as they maintain a level of responsibility for you as a student.

How to go about returning home

As mentioned before, the best thing you can do right now is stay informed and research what your options are. Look into flights that are still allowing travel to return to the US, and if you are an at-risk individual with particular concerns for your health, look into the possibility of securing a spot on a US rescue flight.

The important thing is to not panic and know that all countries are putting precautions in place to take care of not just their own people but anyone currently residing in their borders. Use online resources and your school’s and/or study abroad program’s representatives to help you take the best course of action to keep you safe and get you home.

Have questions or concerns, or just need a friend right now? Feel free to email us. We're all in this together.

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About Kelli Dolan

Kelli Dolan

Kelli Dolan is the Senior Assistant Editor & Counselor Communications Coordinator for CollegeXpress. Her day-to-day includes editing and writing CollegeXpress articles, running the CollegeXpress Counselors social media platforms, and basically just doing all things CollegeXpress. When she’s not editing other people’s work, she's writing for fun, favoring fiction stories and poetry. You could also potentially find her reading, playing video games, or hanging out with her dog, Athena; cat, Apollo; and red bearded dragon, Freya.


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