COVID-19 pandemic update – current as at 15 December 2021

With the impact of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, countries including Scotland are reviewing their current travel restrictions and requirements and guidance is being regularly updated. It is important to note that travel restrictions and requirements can change at short notice. You should check these prior to travel, and whilst away, to ensure you are aware of any regulations in place at destinations and for returning home which you will need to comply with.

If you have any queries in relation to the current restrictions in place and compliance with them, please contact the Assurance Services Team.

Please note that if you are travelling, it is your responsibility to comply with relevant COVID-19 and travel regulations at both your destination and when returning home. Many of these regulations have legal enforcement in place and you may be breaking the law locally or may be denied boarding to travel if you do not comply with them.

If you are not on the UK campus, you should also check your own government’s rules about travelling abroad and returning home.

Planning travel internationally

If you are planning to travel domestically (in the country you are based in) on University business – please refer to the domestic travel section below for advice.

If you are planning to travel internationally on University business, you should do the following things:

Current Government Guidance on Travel - Familiarise yourself with the current restrictions in place, and actions you should take in order to travel to your planned destination, using the UK Government’s Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office’s (FCDO) travel advice website. This website provides useful travel information for every country globally, including current restrictions and actions you should take when travelling to that destination. The University uses the UK Government advice to inform its travel approvals for students and staff.

Note: If your destination is classed as ‘advise against all but essential travel to’ on the FCDO website then your trip would need to be approved as ‘essential’ for it to proceed. Please contact Assurance Services for further advice.

  1. Arriving in your home country from abroad. Familiarise yourself with the current regulations and actions you should take for returning home at the end of your trip. Depending on where home is, this may include the requirement for booking PCR Covid tests and self-isolation. This can often be found on your home country government website which for Scottish staff is the Scottish Government.
  2. Travel Declaration. Complete a University Travel Declaration form as soon as possible even if your precise travel dates have not yet been finalised. This helps the University to assess and approve your trip in good time and to enable you to book your travel confident that your trip is approved and insured.
  3. Travel Risk Assessment. You now only have to complete an additional Travel Risk Assessment document if one or more of the following criteria applies:
    1. You are travelling to a higher-risk country (currently: Israel, Nigeria, Mexico, Colombia, Pakistan). Plus any countries advised by UK Government as ‘advise against all but essential travel’. 
    2. You are undertaking higher-risk activities during the trip. These may include activities like research fieldwork, placement activities in an industrial workplace, diving, mountain climbing etc.
    3. You have an underlying medical or health condition or illness that requires disclosure and consideration from a risk perspective.

      Note 1: If none of the three criteria above applies, you do not have to complete a Travel Risk Assessment and the Travel Declaration will be sufficient. This should be signed by an appropriate member of staff in your School or Directorate and if you are unsure, please contact Assurance Services who can provide advice.

      Note 2: The Covid Age Risk Assessment that had been required in 2020 has been discontinued and is no longer required to be completed or submitted.

  4. Only book travel once your Travel Declaration has been approved. Consider booking travel on a flexible basis to allow for cancellation and curtailment of trips if required.
  5. Continue to regularly check travel restrictions and actions required for your trip and for returning home as per points 1 and 2 until the date of your trip and when you are away as rules are changing frequently.
  6. When your Travel Declaration is approved, you will receive a link to the University’s travel insurance policy. Please keep a copy of this with you when you travel. It includes details of cover provided and how to make a claim.
  7. Download the University’s SafeZone app. This app is required for all students and staff travelling on University business and contains useful safety information, as well as allowing you to contact the University in an emergency and the University to contact you.

Short holidays

Sometimes University travellers want to extend their business trip to add on a short holiday to the beginning or end of business trips, these can be permitted and insured generally if they are: in the same country as the business element of the trip, less than a week in length, and if they are not longer than the business element of the trip. If you intend to do this, please contact Assurance Services to confirm if this will be permitted. If permitted, the full trip including holiday element should be recorded in the Travel Declaration.

Impact of BREXIT on travel to/from the UK

The UK has left the European Union, and this has changed some of the requirements for UK travellers travelling to EU destinations and for EU travellers coming to the UK. Please ensure you have familiarised yourself with entry and visa requirements using the UK or EU country websites and it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct visa and travel documentation to gain entry to your destination, and this may include ensuring your passport has at least six months validity at the end of your trip. If you have any queries relating to travel and BREXIT, please contact Assurance Services who can provide further information.

Visas/Consular letters

Certain destination countries require you to obtain a visa prior to travelling. This may require you to obtain a consular letter which shows that you are a member of staff or student at Heriot-Watt University. Depending on the country involved, you may either obtain a visa by post or by attending the relevant embassy in person and possibly having an interview. You should check the specific requirements of the destination country. If you require a consular letter, please tick the appropriate box in the Travel Declaration. 

Is Travel Insurance the same as Medical/Health Insurance cover?

Please note that our Travel Insurance cover is not equivalent to private Health or Medical Insurance cover. This policy is a travel insurance policy only and so provides cover for emergency medical treatment as part of the benefits provided. Our Travel Insurance policy is not as comprehensive as private Medical, or Health Insurance cover and the University does not provide Medical/Health Insurance Cover for students or staff in the UK. The element of emergency medical cover within the Travel Insurance policy is sufficient to allow students and staff to travel safely on University business.
If the destination countries or receiving institutions require students or staff to take out Medical or Health Insurance Cover to a specific level then this will need to be arranged privately.

Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and EHIC cards

If you are travelling to a European destination, you should consider whether you should take an EHIC card if you already have one or apply for a GHIC card. If your travel has been approved, you will be covered by the University’s Travel Insurance policy which includes an element of emergency medical cover. However, the EHIC and GHIC cards provide comprehensive and easy to use access to healthcare when visiting European destinations.

Post Brexit, the UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) has been replaced by the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). UK-issued European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) are still valid and offer the same cover as GHICs in the EU. GHICs and old UK EHICs only provide cover in EU countries. They do not provide cover in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. Specific rules are stipulated for students travelling to the EU and Norway/Iceland/Liechtenstein/Switzerland respectively as detailed on their website. Once your EHIC has expired, you’ll be able to replace it with a GHIC. If you're planning to study in an EU country, you need to apply for a GHIC that’s time limited to the length of your course. You cannot apply for this online. You’ll also need a letter from the University confirming:

  • name and address of the UK educational institution (if you’re going as part of a UK course)
  • address of where you're studying in the EU
  • details of the qualification you're studying for
  • dates your course started and is due to finish
  • Complete a GHIC application form (PDF, 678kb) and post it along with your university/college letter to:

    Overseas Healthcare Services
    NHS Business Services Authority
    Bridge House
    152 Pilgrim Street
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    NE1 6SN

It is important to remember that Travel Insurance is not an alternative to a GHIC. Travel Insurance will provide support and response to emergency treatment. It is not intended to support routine or ‘everyday’ medical treatment. 

Planning travel domestically

If you are travelling domestically (i.e. within Scotland, Dubai, or Malaysia when you are based in one of those countries) then you only need to submit a travel declaration where your trip involves an overnight stay, or where you are engaging in a higher-risk activity i.e. not meetings, conferences, studying, etc.

If you are unclear about whether you need to complete a travel declaration, please get in touch with Assurance Services to discuss your situation.

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 where required and that information provided is accurate. The travel declaration form should be completed at least 5 working days prior to booking travel.

Key information

Assurance Services