Important reminders regarding international travel

October 24, 2022
Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research, 2013–2024 | Richard Lester, Associate Provost for International Activities, 2015–2023 | Ian A. Waitz, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education |

Dear colleagues,

The improvement in public health conditions is making travel throughout the world easier than it has been these past two years, presenting valuable opportunities for learning and research. To help you plan for a safe and successful trip, we are writing to remind you of important MIT policies and useful resources regarding travel safety, protection of MIT data and materials, and other travel logistics.

Please consult the site for future reference to each of these policies and resources when planning your travel.

  1. MIT community members have important obligations to protect MIT data and materials when traveling, as described in more detail below.
  2. MIT’s International Travel Risk Policy applies to all MIT-related international travel (i.e., excluding wholly personal travel not funded by MIT).
  3. MIT students, including graduate students, must apply for a high-risk travel waiver in order to travel to destinations with a US Department of State risk rating of level 3 or 4. Note that applying for a waiver to visit these countries is different from registering travel in the Institute’s Travel Registry.
  4. Before any travel outside the U.S., international students should be sure to have all appropriate documentation (visas) to both enter the destination country and to return to the U.S. The MIT International Students Office (ISO) has travel reminders and resources on its Visas and Travel webpage. International students may also contact their ISO Advisor if any questions arise.
  5. MIT’s Global Support Resources website provides additional information on travel safety, logistics, and cultural resources.

Plan ahead for international travel

Protect your data: You should always discuss your plans for international travel with your supervisor and/or MIT principal investigator (PI) before traveling abroad with MIT data. You and your PI must discuss appropriate protocols, including information security protections. This is especially important if your research or other MIT duties involve working with personally identifiable information, export-controlled data, or other confidential or sensitive information originating at MIT or elsewhere. You and your PI must take proper steps to secure your computer and its data. MIT Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) provides resources for you to prepare for both standard international travel and travel to countries with high risk ratings or that otherwise present increased risks to digital technology. For example, you should contact your local IT support provider before you travel, update your anti-virus software, enable whole disk encryption, and plan ahead for secure connectivity abroad. You and your PI must also ensure compliance with any commitments you may have made to third parties regarding data confidentiality and use.

Protect your materials: When traveling on MIT business, take with you only what you need. You should not bring MIT research materials or specialized equipment (i.e., other than laptops and personal electronic devices) on your person while traveling internationally unless there is no alternative available. Instead, such materials should be shipped through third-party carriers to ensure proper compliance with environment, health and safety regulations, export control clearances, and other procedures. On those rare occasions when traveling with hand-carried research materials or specialized equipment is required for your work, you must have authorization from your PI and the MIT Export Control Office. Please be aware that traveling internationally with research materials or specialized equipment risks unnecessary damage to your equipment and is also likely to increase your chances of being subjected to a prolonged border stoppage by government officials.

Carry an authorization letter: Once your international travel with MIT data or materials is appropriately authorized and secured, you should obtain written documentation to present to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials, if requested, to minimize the chances of travel disruption. We suggest that this be in the form of a letter on institutional letterhead from your PI (or if you are the PI, your department head or supervisor). The letter should describe: (1) the traveler’s name and date of birth; (2) the traveler’s area of research focus/MIT duties; (3) the dates and destination of travel; (4) the exact data and materials being carried; (5) the purpose for traveling with these items; and (6) contact information for the person issuing the letter. Additional guidance regarding your rights and obligations when subject to a search or questioning at the U.S. border, along with a template authorization letter, is available from MIT’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC). If any of your devices or materials are retained by government officials during transit, you should immediately inform your PI and department head, who should then contact OGC for further assistance.

While MIT’s international travel policies apply broadly for all destinations, we do urge particular vigilance when traveling to or from China, Russia, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, due to increased risks in-country and at border crossings.

We also suggest that you share this communication with anyone in your department who helps you with scheduling or booking international travel, so that they can be aware of proper travel protocols and help factor in necessary lead-time for compliance.

We wish you safe travels.


Maria T. Zuber
Vice President for Research

Richard K. Lester
Associate Provost for International Activities

Ian A. Waitz
Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education