FAQs for travel during pandemic

This policy variation is effective for all travel during the pandemic. It is effective from 28 August 2020 and will be reviewed after three months or sooner should a change in any government policy so require.  

Can I travel on University business for study or work?

The University, at all its campus locations, follows the UK Government advice, as advised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in relation to travelling on University business. The FCO currently advises against all but essential international travel but travel to some countries and territories is currently exempted:

Travel on University business is therefore permitted based on the FCO list.  

If the FCO advises against all but essential international travel to a country or territory, then an exceptional case may be made based on travel being ‘essential’ i.e. academically or strategically business critical.

The safety of students and staff travelling is paramount at all times and it is for every individual, with the support of the University, to assess the level of risk that they personally face when planning to travel and whether those risks are acceptable. If anyone travelling has any concerns about their trip, then they should speak to their line manager (staff) or academic supervisor (students) in the first instance.

How do I apply for travel approval?

In order to apply for travel approval, a Travel Declaration Form must be completed for all students and staff planning on travelling. The link to the Travel Declaration form can be found via the Travel Declaration tile in the Student and Staff Portals. The processes have been updated in order to allow assessment of Covid-19 risks arising from travel on University business.

Depending on the level of risk associated with your trip, you may be required to also complete a Travel Risk Assessment form which will need to be approved by your School or Directorate prior to approval of your trip. The Travel Risk Assessment is required to be fully completed for any travel to any countries or territories where the FCO advises against all but essential travel. 

What is an exceptional case?

If, in exceptional cases, travel is deemed ‘essential’ then a full justification will need to be submitted in support of this. This is in addition to the Travel Declaration and Travel Risk Assessment (see above)

The justifications should detail the requirement for travel. It will be necessary to demonstrate all other feasible options to avoid travelling have been considered but are impractical.  

Some examples of what might be deemed exceptional cases are:

  • The necessity for language immersion to achieve the Programme Learning Outcomes;
  • Where the university holds a time limited research contract with a funder (e.g. UKRI, ERC, EU, industry, etc) to undertake research and the international travel is essential to discharge our obligations against the contract; and
  • The need for physical presence to complete legal or regulatory requirements associated with a Strategic Project.

These examples are indicative, but each justification will be considered on its own merits. 

In the case of students, the justification will need to be completed by the relevant academic (e.g. Placement Co-Ordinator / Research Supervisor). For staff, all justifications should be signed off by the line-manager.

A single justification can be submitted for a group, e.g. Placement Students, but anyone intending to travel must fully complete the Travel Declaration and Travel Risk Assessment in relation to their own destination, planned activity and personal circumstances.

What is the process for approval?

The Travel Declaration and Risk Assessment will be reviewed by Assurance Services (following the standard process). Where the only reason for denying travel is that it is to a country or territory where the FCO advises against all but essential international travel, then a full justification will be requested (if not already provided).

The justification will be reviewed by the relevant Provost (Scotland / Dubai / Malaysia) for academic staff and students or the relevant COO (Dubai / Malaysia) or Secretary (Scotland) for professional services staff. The Principal will review the justification for his direct reports. 

The outcome of the review will be:

  • Travel Approved
  • Travel Approved (with conditions)
  • Travel Denied

This decision will be final. The applicant will be advised of the outcome by Assurance Services.

When can I book travel?

If travel is approved, it can then be booked. The University travel insurance policy contains exclusions for cancellation and/or curtailment of trips due to future Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions being put in place, therefore all future trips must be booked to allow change on a priority basis (i.e. change would be prioritised over the vast majority of other travellers). Approval may be given for the booking of business class travel if that were essential to securing this flexibility, and it could not be achieved within a cheaper fare.

General travel advice

Please be aware that due to the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of changes to travel processes. Guidance and advice could change at very short notice. For the avoidance of doubt, if any of the below guidance conflicts with the most recent Covid-19 guidance, the Covid-19 guidance should be taken as accurate.

Travelling on University Business
The University has a duty of care to its students and staff, and in the context of students or staff travelling on University business, that means that the University will review every proposed trip via the Travel Declaration process detailed below. In most cases Assurance Services will respond with confirmation that there are no issues and that your trip is insured. In certain cases, the University may impose restrictions on trips and not allow travel to certain countries or regions that are classed as higher risk, or may not allow certain activities to be undertaken.
The University may also require a risk assessment of the proposed trip to be carried out and approved prior to travel. Such risk assessments must be approved by the School or Directorate where the traveller is based. In extreme cases, the University may not allow a trip to go ahead. Where this is the case, the student or staff member will receive an explanation in writing of the circumstances which has led to the decision being taken.
The University may also require students or staff to curtail their trip if a situation should develop on an ongoing trip which the University deems could impact on the safety of its students or staff.
Ultimately, every student and member of staff has a responsibility to ensure their own safety and security and act responsibly when travelling on University business.
Compliance with local laws and customs
It is the responsibility of every traveller to comply with the local laws and customs of the country or countries being visited. You should familiarise yourself with an understanding of the local laws and customs of destinations by reading the UK Government FCO Guidance for that country and any other reputable online sources, particularly focusing on areas where local laws or customs might be different to the UK and on your own personal circumstances (e.g. for LGBT travellers).
Please be aware that if you are detained or arrested when travelling, the University may have little or no ability to influence the situation beyond ensuring that you have appropriate consular assistance from your national government.
Travel Declaration

All students and staff who are travelling from their home campus on University business (or mainly on University business) will need to complete a travel declaration in advance of booking their travel.

The only exception is where staff and students who are travelling within Scotland (if UK-campus-based), within the Emirate of Dubai (if, Dubai-campus-based), or within Putrajaya, Selangor or Kuala Lumpur (if Malaysia-campus-based), and whose trip does not involve an overnight stay, and where no ‘non-standard activities’ are being undertaken (see below), then a travel declaration is not necessary - only when all 3 of these criteria are met. If there is any doubt, a travel declaration form should be submitted.

The University uses completed travel declaration forms to identify if there are any staff or students in a particular location in the event e.g. of a security emergency, to identify anyone requiring assistance and to confirm their safety - so it is mandatory that travel declarations are completed and that information provided is accurate.

The travel declaration form should be completed at least 5 working days prior to booking travel. The Assurance Services team is required to check travel prior to booking, as there are certain countries and travel that are prohibited for University business and the team need to verify this is not applicable to each proposed trip before travel can be booked. In very extreme cases travel may be denied and if a travel declaration was not completed in advance of booking then it may not be possible to claim back these costs through the University’s insurance.

Note that due to the requirements of the University's travel insurance policy, it is a requirement that the University seek prior authorisation from its insurer prior to travel to a small number of higher risk countries where travel is permitted but consent must be given. It is very important that travel declarations are submitted with sufficient time for all checks to be made and consent to be obtained where necessary.

The travel declaration provides the University with details of trips for safety and security purposes, and confirms that students and staff will be covered by the University’s travel insurance policy. Depending on the destination and the type of activities which will be undertaken, the University may require a risk assessment to be completed and approved to confirm that all risks identified during a proposed trip will be managed to an acceptable level and will allow the University’s insurance policy to apply. The Travel Declaration form and process will provide guidance on this.

Complete your Travel Declaration form.

Once a travel declaration has been submitted it will reviewed by Assurance Services. The team endeavour to review Travel Declarations within 1 working day of submission in most cases (but it can take up to 5 working days). Once it has been reviewed, the submitter will receive an email response from Assurance Services. For most people this will be confirmation that there are no issues and that the trip is insured. In some cases, we may request that further information be supplied before the trip can be confirmed, and in extreme cases, travel may unfortunately have to be denied. When travel is denied, the team will follow up with an email explaining the circumstances behind the decision.
Travel FAQs

Do I need to tell the University when I am away and where I will be?

Yes. If you are travelling on Heriot-Watt business (e.g. to a placement) then it is mandatory that you complete a Travel Declaration form for your trip. This allows the University to verify that you are properly insured before you go, and it makes sure that we know where you are when you are away in case we need to get in touch with you. Note that due to the requirements of our new travel insurance policy, we are required to seek prior authorisation from our insurer, prior to travel, to a small number of higher risk countries where travel is permitted but consent must be given. It is very important that travel declarations are submitted with sufficient time for all checks to be made and consent to be obtained where necessary. You must also make sure you have downloaded the SafeZone app before you go.

In addition, you should make sure that your academic supervisor is aware of your trip, or if there are other localised processes within your School you should ensure that you follow these as instructed.


What does the University’s Travel Insurance Policy cover me for?

If you are travelling on Heriot-Watt business and your Travel Declaration has been approved, then you are covered by the University’s travel insurance policy. Full details can be found in the policy itself and you should make sure you take a copy with you when you travel, but the key points are below:


Travel arrangements

Generally if you have incurred additional costs because of travel delays or cancellations (which were not caused by you) then you may be able to make a claim for these costs*.


Lost/Stolen property

If you have property that is lost or stolen when you are travelling then you may be able to make a claim. If the property is stolen, you should notify the local police and get a crime reference number*.


Accidents / Medical emergencies

If you are in an accident or have a medical emergency when you are travelling then you will be able to access medical treatment (for most situations to a limit of cover*). Note that the University’s travel insurance policy is not full health insurance and will cover you generally to get emergency medical treatment to either resume your studies or return home. It will not cover any prior or ongoing non-emergency medical conditions that may require medical intervention to treat.


* Note that the University’s travel insurance policy does have restrictions and limits on its cover and you should check the detail, or ask for further information, if you think you might need to make a claim. All claims are at the discretion of the University’s travel insurer – Zurich Commercial whose decision is final on the merits of all claims.



If your placement is in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, then you should ensure you apply for a free EHIC card before you travel. This card generally allows you to access healthcare equivalent to local citizens in the country you are in. The University’s travel insurance applies in any event, however EHIC will cover you for a wider range or treatments, so we recommend that you take this with you. Please note that depending on the outcome of BREXIT, there is a risk that EHIC cover may end in the future for UK citizens and if this applies to you, we recommend that you monitor the news and the University will also send out information to everyone travelling.


Go Global

If your placement is to another Heriot-Watt Campus e.g. Dubai, Malaysia, then you will have access to student health cover whilst you are in country which is more comprehensive than the University’s travel insurance policy.


What am I not covered for by the University’s Travel Insurance Policy?

If you make any personal trips or take holidays whilst you are away, these are generally not covered by the University’s travel insurance cover and you should arrange to take our personal travel insurance for these trips.

In addition, if you undertake any risky activities (e.g. skiing, diving,), these are generally not covered and you will need to arrange for specific insurance to cover you when undertaking these activities.


How do I make a claim?


In case of a medical or travel emergency, please call the Zurich travel assistance helpdesk on +44 (0) 1489 868 888 and quote ‘Heriot-Watt University’ and the policy number 7114834. This desk is manned 24/7 365 days per year and provides medical assistance and security assistance.

In relation to medical claims, if it’s possible, please call the number prior to obtaining medical treatment to ensure that cover is in place and that treatment is approved. Obviously if it’s an emergency then the main priority will be to get treatment as soon as possible and a claim should be made as soon as practical afterwards



For non-emergency travel insurance claims, e.g. delayed travel or lost luggage, these claims should be made to Zurich directly by yourself by calling +44 (0) 800 0260 184 or emailing a&


Where can I get more information on Travel?

To get more information about travelling on University business, access the Travel Declaration form, and to get a copy of the University’s Travel Insurance Policy, please access the Travel Tile on the Student Portal where all this information, and more is held.


Risk Assessment
As outlined above, if travel is being proposed to higher risk destinations and/or will involve taking part in higher risk activities during the trip (any non-standard activity as listed in the Travel Declaration), it will be a requirement that the proposed traveller complete a Health & Safety risk assessment (located here). For the avoidance of doubt, a trip involving fieldwork and/or research activity is generally considered higher risk and requires a risk assessment to be completed prior to travel.
Full guidance on completing risk assessments should be sought from School Health & Safety Officers, or from central Health & Safety, however some brief guidance on what should be covered in the risk assessment (where applicable) is provided below. The risk assessment must address all applicable risks which are relevant to the trip and the following risks should be considered when completing the risk assessment (this is not an exhaustive list):
  • Specific risks associated with the activities being undertaken (e.g. research, fieldwork)
  • Safety and security risks (robbery, attack, kidnap)
  • Health risks associated with the areas being visited (outbreaks of disease, availability of healthcare)
  • Terrorism risk
  • Lone working risk
  • Communication risk (how reliable are communications e.g. Wi-Fi, mobile networks in the event of an emergency)
  • Any difficulties unique to the individual, due to Health conditions, disabilities, etc.
  • Accommodation risks
  • Travel and transport risks
The information provided by the FCO website for the country or countries being visited should assist in completing the risk assessment. As well as identifying the risks, the risk assessment must also be able to explain the steps that are being taken to reduce the risks identified to an acceptable level. Once the risk assessment has been completed, it must be approved by the Health & Safety Officer within the student or staff member's School or Service prior to travelling. It is the student or staff member's responsibility to ensure the risk assessment has been satisfactorily completed and approved prior to completing their travel declaration. It is important to note that insurance may not cover the proposed trip if this has not been done.
Before travelling

Students and staff must visit the UK Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice site and inform themselves of any issues in relation to the proposed travel by looking at the country advice for the relevant country or countries they intend to visit.

Holders of non-UK passports holders must also check their own Government's travel advice in relation to the country or countries they are visiting, and they cannot travel against their own Government's advice (even if travel is allowed by the UK Government). Travel advice can usually be found on the relevant Government's website.

Personal trips/vacations during University business trips

From time-to-time, students and staff may want to incorporate short personal trips or vacations as part of their overall University business trip. These are known as 'incidental holidays' in insurance terminology. All personal trips and vacations must be declared during the travel declaration process and these may be covered by the University's travel insurance policy, but a number of conditions apply generally and our insurer will make decisions as to coverage on a case-by-case basis. In general terms insurance cover is likely to be granted when the following conditions are all met:

  • The personal trip remains in the same country as the business trip;
  • The total time of the personal section of the trip is less than one week (7 days);
  • The personal portion of the trip is not longer than the business portion in number of days;
  • The trip does not involve travel to any areas which are marked by the Foreign Commonwealth Office as advising against all or all but essential travel; and
  • The trip does not involce any high risk activities.

Students and staff will be advised whether their trip, including any personal trips, is covered when their travel declaration is reviewed and assessed.

Note that participation in any high risk activities undertaken during personal trips e.g. skiing, snowboarding, diving etc. are not covered by the University's travel insurance policy.

If students or staff take any personal trips or vacations during their University trip which are not covered by the University's travel insurance policy, it is their responsibility to ensure that they have taken out adequate personal travel insurance cover for the personal elements of their trip.

Group trips
Organisers of trips involving multiple students or staff travelling in one party can make use of the facility in the Travel Declaration for members of the party to use a common reference. The trip organiser should create a reference that is unique to their group or trip i.e. Trip Organiser initial/date of trip and share it with all participants. The trip organiser should ensure everyone in the travel group completes ‘’Reference Code for Trip (if applicable)’’ box with this reference. The unique reference code is used to by HWU SafeGuarding Services in the event of an incident abroad to identify all parties that are travelling together.
Travel Handbook
On successful completion of the Travel Declaration, an automated acknowledgement will be emailed containing a link to a Travel Handbook (Student Link) which students and staff should read thoroughly prior to travel and make sure they have access to while travelling. This provides useful information in relation to the University’s insurance policy – what is covered and how to claim.
Consular letter
Certain countries may require travellers to obtain a visa to allow them to travel on business. This is dependent on both the traveller's nationality and the country or countries intended to be visited. If a visa is required, then the student or staff member must request a consular letter when completing the Travel Declaration form. Assurance Services will then provide a signed consular letter for travel which will be provided in PDF format by email. This letter should be taken by the traveller to the relevant embassy or consulate in order to obtain a visa for travel.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Students or staff who are UK or European Union (EU) nationals, or those who are ordinarily resident in the UK, who are travelling within the EU or European Economic Area (EEA), must apply for an EHIC card, which is free of charge.
The EHIC card allows access to free or discounted healthcare whilst travelling within the EEA/EU. If students or staff require medical treatment while abroad, then they should present your EHIC in the first instance. If there is still a cost of treatment not covered by the EHIC card, then they will be covered for emergency medical treatment abroad under the University’s travel policy (within the terms of the policy).
Details of how to claim are contained within the Travel Handbook. If the UK leaves the EU, and dependent on the nature of the Brexit deal agreed, EHIC cards may or may not be applicable in the future, however the University will provide updated guidance at that time if the policy should change.

Key information

Assurance Services