It’s important to plan ahead in order to safeguard your health and well-being. There are many steps you can take before you go to set yourself up for success. While you are away, take precautions and pay attention to your mental and physical health. All participants receive health insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) for the duration of their program. The cost of CISI coverage is included in your program fee.
If you are a citizen of a country other than the United States and will remain/study in, or travel to your country of record (the location of your permanent residence), UW-System’s health, medical, and repatriation insurance will not provide coverage. You will have to obtain and provide documentation of alternative international health and medical insurance that will cover your needs both while in and during any period of transit to/from your country of record. This may include participation in a national healthcare plan or coverage provided under a personal healthcare plan in your country of record. If you have questions about this requirement, please speak with your Study Abroad Advisor.
All other students participating on an international program will automatically be enrolled in Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI), the university’s international health, medical and repatriation insurance policy.
Before You Go
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CISI Overview and Enrollment
It is important for you to review and understand your CISI plan and all exclusions to your coverage. Detailed coverage information and policy descriptions defining the coverage terms is available online. Your CISI coverage is in effect for the duration of your program and applies if you travel to other locations during that time.
CISI coverage can be used for emergencies, accidents, and illnesses that occur while away, as well as establishing necessary continuation of care for ongoing physical or mental health issues.
Your CISI coverage includes an online portal of tools and information as well as access to 24/7 medical, personal, travel and security support. Through this customized site, you can:
- View/print/email your ID card, coverage brochure, consulate letter and claim form
- Purchase an extra month of insurance for a period of personal travel
- View/update your online account profile information
- Obtain contact information for emergencies and benefit/claim questions
- Search for hospitals and clinics
You can also find valuable travel-related information, such as:
- Contact information for English-speaking doctors
- Travel advisories as issued by the U.S. Department of State
- Country-specific information and profiles for every country of the world
- Links to overseas U.S. Embassy web sites
- Health and vaccination recommendations compiled by the CDC
Once you are officially enrolled in your CISI coverage by our office, you will receive an email from CISI with a link and login instructions. Print out your ID card and carry it with you at all times when you are gone.
Students who are participating on programs run in conjunction with the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) or the University of Minnesota are enrolled in CISI through them directly and not by UW-Madison. IFSA and the University of Minnesota will provide policy information and online log-in information directly to you.
You should check with your current health insurance provider to see if you are covered internationally. We recommend that you arrange for continuation of your regular health insurance coverage while you are on your program. If you need a full-time enrollment letter in order to maintain your current health insurance coverage, contact your Study Abroad Advisor.
Some countries require that foreign students participating in study abroad programs purchase local health insurance in that country. You are responsible for purchasing this insurance if it is a requirement for the country where you will be studying. Students participating on these programs are still required to have the CISI coverage.
Health & Wellness Information
You are required to submit your Health and Wellness Information in your MySA account. This is confidential information and does not affect your admission into a program.
Sharing this information is designed to:
- provide you with information about steps you can take to prepare for travel;
- allow our staff to best support you during an emergency situation.
Mild physical or psychological conditions may become more serious under the stresses of life away. It is important to disclose any pre-existing conditions, past or current treatment, and medications in your Health and Wellness Information. You can also update this information before departure, if there are any changes. Sharing medical or mental health condition information during the planning process will make it easier for our staff and UW-Madison to assist you in case of an emergency.
Medical Examination & Immunizations
It is strongly recommended that you have a medical examination before you leave, especially if you are taking prescription medication or are in regular treatment for a pre-existing condition. Some locations may even require that you obtain certifications of health and/or immunizations in order to enter. Regardless of where you are going, below are some recommended steps to help you prepare for travel:
- Educate yourself about health and safety in your travel destination. Consult the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to learn about possible health issues, recommended and/or required immunizations, or precautions in the areas in which you will be studying or traveling. The World Health Organization also provides relevant health information.
- Consult with your personal medical and/or mental health provider for pre-departure planning, especially if you have any ongoing conditions. Work with your provider to develop plans in the event that any conditions worsen, reoccur or change while away. Make arrangements for any prescription medications, medical supplies, and medical care you will need.
- Do a pre-travel visit (sometimes listed as “travel clinic” or “travel education”) with your health care provider and receive required or recommended preventive immunizations and medications (such as malaria prophylaxis or for traveler’s diarrhea) for your area of travel. Some recommendations may be based on personal health history. It is your responsibility to ensure that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date and to ask if there are recommended and/or required immunizations or medications for the locations you will visit.
- Allow as much time as possible for immunizations, as some may require a series or spacing for protection (as long as three months for a series of shots).
- Have optometry and dental check-ups and address any potential problems before you leave.
University Health Services (UHS) has a travel clinic that provides health services for students who are planning international travel, including vaccines and immunizations.
Whether you are currently being treated for mental health concerns or if you have in the past, you should know that preparing for and participating in this new experience can bring about a return or an increase in symptoms. Disclosing mental health information helps you plan with others so that the necessary support will be in place when you are away. Our insurance provider, CISI, can provide you with options for mental health services in your program location. Some students may be able to continue receiving support from a current therapist or counselor online while they are away. For more information, review our Mental Health Abroad Page.
UW-Madison also offers different online tools that may be of assistance, including:
YOU@WISC is a student connection portal with tools, content, and resources specific to UW-Madison student life. YOU@WISC is designed to build resilience within students and foster campus connections. User information, activity, and results are confidential to foster an honest and effective experience.
Prescriptions & Travel Health Supplies
Think carefully about any medications and/or travel health supplies that you may want to bring with you. Consider making your own care package of the medicines you prefer when you are sick so you have some of those comforts from home easily available.
In addition, consider the following:
- Certain medications may be limited in the amount that you can transport into and out of the country. Some may be considered illegal substances in other countries, even if they are regularly prescribed in the U.S. Check with the country’s Embassy about any such restrictions and consult with your healthcare provider and CISI if you need to make arrangements to work within such restrictions.
- Bring all necessary medication with you for the duration of your program and bring it in your carry-on luggage only. For some medications, you may need to carry a letter from your physician stating why you need the prescription medication. Bring along copies of your medical prescriptions as well, including the name of the active ingredient(s) and keep medications in their original containers.
- If your insurance company asks for a letter certifying that you will be away, contact your Study Abroad Advisor.
- It is illegal to ship medication overseas and it will be rejected at customs.
- Consult with CISI about obtaining medication in your host country. In order to fill a prescription, you will need to see a healthcare provider to obtain a new prescription in that location.
- Review potential side effects of your medications with your healthcare provider, as your body may react differently because of adjustment to new sleep habits, time zones, altitudes, activities, and diet. Maintain your usual dosage and pattern of taking your medication while you are away or consult with your healthcare provider about any necessary adjustments due to significant changes in time zones.
- If you have a medical condition that is not easily identified (diabetes, epilepsy, severe allergies), you should wear a medical alert bracelet and consider having it translated into the local language. Be sure to develop a plan with your healthcare professional before you leave home. Individuals living with diabetes are encouraged to bring a sufficient supply of needles and syringes with a prescription or doctor’s authorization.
- You may want to consider purchasing allergy cards created specifically for travel. These are customized to your specific allergies and the local language.
- The CDC has recommendations for packing a travel health kit.
Students with disabilities have successfully participated in many study programs; however, not every program is a good fit from an accessibility perspective.
To properly prepare to travel, if you are a student with disabilities, you should start planning for accommodations a minimum of six months (preferably one year) in advance of travel, regardless of the type of disability. The key to success is early notification and planning. Learn more at Study Abroad for Students with Disabilities.
On-going Physical & Mental Health Conditions
If you have any ongoing health conditions, you should consult with your personal health care provider prior to departure regarding your health and safety abroad. University Health Services is a resource for students who would like to discuss any health issues and planned travel as well. Talk with your Study Abroad Advisor if you need to establish continuation of care while on your program. Your Study Abroad Advisor will direct you to more specific sources of information about which local support services you can reasonably expect to find in your location. Some locations may not be able to accommodate all reported individual needs or circumstances.
While it is important the program is aware of any physical or mental health conditions, past or present, which might affect you during your travel, the University is not responsible for assuring your medical well-being and safety while away. It is ultimately your responsibility to meet your medical needs during your travels.
Information on COVID-19 Vaccines for Students
Do I need to get vaccinated to participate in a UW–Madison study abroad/away program?
We strongly encourage all participants to be fully vaccinated with a CDC or WHO approved COVID-19 vaccine prior to their program start date.
The University of Wisconsin–Madison does not require that participants be vaccinated. However, countries may require proof of vaccination for entry, and some programs and partners may also require proof of vaccination prior to participation. Additionally, country and program protocols such as mandatory quarantines, travel policies, course and activity participation, housing options, and testing requirements may vary by vaccination status. Being fully vaccinated with a CDC or WHO approved vaccine will result in a less burdensome and safer traveling, living, and learning experience for you and those you interact with given dynamic worldwide conditions due to COVID-19.
It is your responsibility to understand and abide by the vaccination requirements (including acceptable vaccine types and verification methods) for your specific program and location(s), as well as any country you may travel through or visit during your time abroad. Note that restrictions and regulations may change at any time. Any related delays, penalties, quarantines, program status changes or cancellations, and associated costs are the full responsibility of the student.
We encourage you to bring your COVID-19 vaccination record card when abroad and to also have copies available as a back-up.
You will need to research and monitor your country and program requirements. The U.S. Embassy is a good source for the country/countries you are visiting. For program specific requirements, please read all of your program materials carefully or reach out to your Study Abroad Advisor if you have any questions.
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Protect Your Health
Missing a unique cultural experience because you’re stuck in bed with a travel-related illness or injury is probably not part of your plan for a great experience. Prepare for a safe and healthy experience by following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) travel health recommendations. Recommendations are available by destination or topic at the CDC website.
The CDC provides various recommendations, some of which include:
- Eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. An important part of maintaining your health is eating and drinking properly to stay hydrated.
- Try not to take risks with your health and safety. Respect your host location and its people by following local laws and customs.
- Do not use illegal drugs and use good judgment if you consume alcohol. Drugs usage can carry severe penalties. Alcohol may be legal in your destination, but it is important to consume it safely.
- Do not share needles for tattoos, body piercing, or injections, to avoid infections such as HIV and viral hepatitis.
- Use sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection and take precautions to prevent mosquito and other bug bites.
- Avoid animal bites by not handling or petting animals, especially dogs and cats. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and seek medical attention to determine if medication or anti-rabies vaccine are needed.
- Practice good hygiene by regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and staying home if you are feeling ill.
Jet lag can be a problem for travelers who are crossing several time zones. Although it is not a serious condition, jet lag can make it hard for you to enjoy your first few days. Here are a few tips you can take to minimize the effects of jet lag:
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. The air on planes is extremely dry and it is easy to become dehydrated when not drinking enough fluids.
- Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine during your travel.
- On long flights, get up and walk around periodically to stretch your muscles.
- Sleep on the plane if you can.
- After arrival, stay awake until the local bedtime. If you are sleepy during the day, take short naps (20–30 minutes) so you can still sleep at night. Eat meals at local meal times.
Food, Water & Dietary Conditions
Unclean food and water can cause traveler’s diarrhea and other diseases. Travelers going to developing countries are especially at risk. Reduce your risk by sticking to safe food and water habits, some of which include:
- Avoid uncooked food from street vendors.
- Avoid dairy products that are not refrigerated or pasteurized.
- Eat fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself.
- Do not drink water unless you know that it is safe for drinking; bottled water is recommended. Make sure the factory seal is intact.
- Avoid ice cubes in drinks unless you know that the ice was made from water safe for drinking.
- Do not leave drinks unattended or drink anything opened out of your sight.
- Wash your hands with soap and clean water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer before eating.
Vegetarians or students on special diets should be aware that their dietary needs might not be easily met in some locations. Discuss your needs in advance with your healthcare provider and your Study Abroad Advisor as necessary. You should list any special dietary needs in your Health and Wellness Information, as well as any housing or other program-specific forms.
Engage in Healthy Relationships
The “rules” of dating vary from culture to culture. It is important that you consider your behavior and inform yourself as best as possible about how dating and relationships generally function in the location. Students traveling should take appropriate precautions to avoid exposure to sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Some places in the world have a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. To protect yourself, do not have unprotected sex. Use a latex condom correctly, every time you have sex. Bring condoms with you, since those in other countries may not be up to the same standards as U.S. condoms, or be readily available. Overall, you are encouraged to be cautious about sexual activity while away.
You may want to talk with your healthcare provider or the UHS Sexual Health Clinic before departure for additional information.
Just as in the U.S., you should actively do things to help your wellness while you are abroad. Consider the following:
- Aim for roughly eight hours of sleep each night.
- Be physically active for 30-60 minutes each day.
- Eat a healthy diet and a variety of foods.
- Make sure you drink sufficient fluids each day.
- Think through stress reduction practices. Do at least one thing to calm your mind and body like: deep breathing, meditation, yoga, imagery work.
- Set up your support structures. Identify key people you can rely on both in country and at home to provide support and guidance. Your Study Abroad Advisor can also assist you with questions or concerns.
For more wellness suggestions visit UHS’s wellness page.
High-Risk Activities / CISI Exclusions
If you are going to be adventurous, do so carefully and at your own risk. Safety policies, standards, and infrastructure vary around the world. If these are lacking, high-risk activities may be even more risky. Injuries sustained while taking part in certain high-risk activities (including bungee jumping, parasailing, racing by motorcycle, mountain climbing, scuba, skiing, sky-diving, etc.) are NOT covered by CISI insurance.
Payment for Health Services
Doctors and hospitals outside of the U.S. often expect immediate cash payment for health services. You may need to pay up front for medical expenses and send a CISI insurance claim form along with the original receipt to CISI for reimbursement. CISI insurance claim forms can be found in the CISI coverage details online.
It is sometimes possible for CISI to pay bills directly on your behalf if you are receiving expensive or ongoing treatment. Contact CISI or your Study Abroad Advisor directly for more information.