Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
18th Mar 2020

Adjusting to the new normal of international travel

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Travel restrictions are mounting in major study destinations and source countries alike, with many countries now closing borders to all foreigners for the time being
  • All such measures are under active review by national, regional, and local governments and may be eased or extended in the weeks ahead

As the global response to the COVID-19 virus continues to mount, the situation with respect to international travel is anything but normal. The landscape is very fluid at the moment with new restrictions being introduced daily. In some cases, these take the shape of mandatory quarantine periods for travellers. In others, national borders are completely closed to foreign visitors or at least to non-essential travel.

At the same time, the world’s airlines are moving to dramatically reduce capacity, with large volumes of cancelled flights or even entire routes shutting down, and with carriers moving to ground significant proportions of planes and flight crews. The rapidly changing dynamic of government directives and airline capacity has left many travellers scrambling to find or re-book flights, and to navigate new screening procedures and other requirements on landing.

This is the new normal of international travel for the moment, much of which is focused on efforts to limit movement and promote social distancing in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 during this critical phase of the outbreak in many countries.

The steady stream of travel news at the moment can be overwhelming. But let us start with the observation that these are all emergency measures that we can expect will be in place for a period of weeks or perhaps months. All such restrictions are under continuous and active review and will be eased or extended by governments around the world according to the progress of the pandemic.

In terms of current conditions, CNN is providing a detailed (and updating) list of travel restrictions enacted by dozens of countries. As travel restrictions are changing by the day, all travellers are strongly encouraged to check official government sources for the latest information on individual destinations.

For the moment, we have highlighted restrictions currently in place – as of 18 March 2020 – for some of the world’s key study destinations below.

European Union

On 17 March, the European Union put in place the most significant travel limit in its history, with a ban on all non-essential travel by non-EU nationals. The restriction on non-EU visitors will be in place for an initial period of 30 days and is subject to review during that time. This blanket policy adds to individual limits placed on visitors from specific countries by individual EU members in recent weeks.

United States

The US has restricted all travel from Europe and the UK except for American citizens coming from these areas.

In addition, travellers who have been in China or Iran in the past 14 days will not be able to enter. Students from other countries (e.g., Canada and India) are still allowed to travel to the US, but they should know that the country is imposing stricter and stricter lockdowns of cities and restrictions on people’s movements and activities (as are many of the major destinations listed below). All people entering the US will disembark at one of 13 designated airports upon arrival, undergo rigorous screening, and then be required to self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive at their destination in the US. 


As of 18 March, all foreign travellers – with the exception, for now, of those from the US – are barred from entering Canada.

As in the US example, all international arrivals to Canada and now being directed to one of four designated airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.


Australia is not allowing visitors arriving from, or who have travelled through, mainland China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy for a period of 14 days following their time in any of those countries. Other travellers are allowed to enter but are required to self-isolate for 14 days from their arrival.

The Australian government provides this advice to students travelling to Australia:

“We recommend that students check with their airline and education providers before making decisions to travel to Australia, including via a third country. You should check any travel restrictions for other countries before you travel. If your education provider cannot assist, please see the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment website at www.dese.gov.au or contact international.students@dese.gov.au.

You can call +61 1300 981 621 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday AEDT, except public holidays.”

New Zealand

All travellers coming to New Zealand from anywhere in the world (other than China, Iran, and Italy, where there is a total travel ban in place) will have to self-isolate for 14 days, other than those coming from the Pacific region): “Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu & Wallis and Futuna.”

What does it mean to self-quarantine?

There is some confusion around the meanings of “self-quarantine” and “self-isolate”– many governments are using them interchangeably though this isn’t strictly right. In fact, to self-quarantine means to enter a period of personal lockdown where you separate yourself from other people so as not to make contact with someone sick or because you’ve been to a place where you might have been exposed to the virus but not yet know it.

Self-isolation is the right term to describe a more serious lockdown prompted by (1) testing positive for COVID-19, or (2) having been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the illness. In this case you would want to be 100% sure to avoid all contact with other people (unless, for example, you and your spouse have both tested positive in which case you could self-isolate together).

As US National Public Radio (NPR) explains:

“Quarantining means staying home and away from other people as much as possible for that 14-day period. People in this circumstance who don't live alone should do their best to retreat to their room or find a separate area in their home, and they shouldn't go out shopping, eating or socialising.

‘Don't sleep in the same bedroom, and try to use a separate toilet, if you can,’ says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. ‘Be careful with dishes. They should go right from you into the dishwasher.’”

Meanwhile, “social distancing” is a broader idea that everyone should be doing now. NPR notes, “it means not shaking hands, avoiding crowds, standing several feet from other people and, most important, staying home if you feel sick.”

For additional background, please see:

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