The Student health and Counseling travel team offers travel consultations, travel immunizations, and completion of travel-related forms. We also see patients for evaluation of illnesses related to travel and routine testing for an exposure that may have occurred during a trip.
We offer group and individual travel consultations. Students can schedule individual appointments 2-4 weeks before departure by calling 215-746-WELL (9355).
Please bring a copy of your complete travel itinerary to your visit. Make sure to upload any travel vaccines you have received in the past to your Wellness Portal prior to your visit. We will also ask questions regarding any ongoing medical conditions and any current medications.
Travel Medicine: Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I need a travel consultation?
In most cases, you do not need a consultation for travel in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan. The CDC Destination Tool can give you more information about your destination(s), including vaccine recommendations, food and water safety, insect and animal precautions, and safety concerns. CDC also has a helpful Before-You-Go Traveler’s Checklist.
Student Health and Counseling's travel staff can help determine if you need a travel consultation. Please call 215-746-WELL (9355) and press option 1 to speak to the medical team.
- How soon before my trip should I come in for a travel consultation?
We recommend scheduling your travel consultation 2-4-weeks before your trip. This gives us enough time to have you fully vaccinated—especially for trips longer than 30 days. It also ensures that you will be able to have your travel appointment with us. Waiting until the last minute may make it difficult to be seen at Student Health and Counseling due to high demand for these appointments.
- Can you fill out my study abroad forms and visa forms?
We can complete some of the many study abroad and visa forms. Penn Abroad uses an electronic health form that is sent to Penn students traveling with Penn Abroad. We will review the form and reach out to the student if we have any concerns. We can also complete Penn Global health forms. Please bring a copy of the form with you to your travel consultation. A provider can also complete Wharton Leadership Ventures forms at your travel consultation, although many of these forms do not require you to be seen by a healthcare provider. Again, please bring the form with you to your appointment.
Outside study abroad agencies have their own forms. We can help with completion of these forms in most cases. Please call and ask to speak with a travel nurse for help scheduling, especially if your form requires a physical. Do not wait until the last minute to schedule. Depending on the time of year, we may not be able to schedule you on short notice. Please bring any outside forms with you to your appointment. We do not have access to study abroad forms at our office. Visa forms that require completion by a “civil surgeon” cannot be completed at our office. We are happy to help with other official forms, but you must bring the form with you to your appointment.
- How can I find out which vaccines I need?
Visit the CDC Destination Tool and type in your destination. You will see a list of recommended vaccines. Compare the recommendations to your own vaccine records that you may view through your Wellness Portal. We are happy to help if you are unsure about your vaccine history or the length of effectiveness of a particular vaccine. Please call 215-746-WELL (9355) and press option 1 to speak to the medical team.
- What is the difference between routine, recommended, and required vaccines?
Routine vaccines are scheduled vaccines given to everyone in the United States based on their age, health condition, or other risk factors. Many of these will fall under your university immunization requirements. A required vaccine is one that travelers must have in order to enter a country, based on that country’s regulations. Sometimes yellow fever, meningococcal, or polio vaccines may be required. Recommended vaccines for travel are those that we give to protect your health, even if not required for entry.
*Remember: Penn has immunization requirements for all full-time students. Before our team administers travel-related vaccines, you should be up-to-date with your University requirements. For information on how to upload your vaccine documentation, visit Wellness' Immunization Requirements page.
- What is the Yellow Fever vaccine?
The Yellow Fever vaccine provides immunization against Yellow fever, a virus transmitted by mosquitos in parts of Africa and South/Central America. The vaccine is a live virus vaccine that has a proven record of safety and effectiveness. Because it is a live vaccine, it cannot be given to pregnant travelers or some travelers with immune system deficiencies such as cancer, HIV, age > 70, or medications that suppress the immune system. There is an increased risk of severe vaccine reaction in these patients. This vaccine cannot be given within 4 weeks of other live virus vaccines (MMR and varicella are the most common). This vaccine should be given 10 days or more before arrival at your destination. Proof of vaccination may be required at your destination (check the CDC Destination Tool). We will provide you with an International Certificate of Yellow Fever Vaccination or “yellow card”. The vaccine and the yellow card are good for the rest of your life.
- Will my insurance cover my travel consultation and vaccines?
If you are on the Penn Student Health Insurance Plan (PSIP), your travel consult and vaccines are both covered. If you are a full-time, undergraduate student at Penn or a graduate student and have paid the Clinical Fee, there is no charge for the travel consultation, but you will have to pay for your vaccines. If you have outside insurance, you can submit the receipt to your insurer for possible reimbursement. Coverage for travel-related vaccines varies by insurance carrier.
View Student Health and Counseling's current vaccine costs.
- What do I need to bring to my travel consultation?
Please bring your complete itinerary and any updated vaccine information. Knowing your exact destinations helps us tailor our recommendations to your itinerary. This may include malaria prophylaxis or prophylaxis for altitude sickness.
- How do I know if I can drink the water at my destination?
In general, you can drink the tap water in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan. There are other countries where you can drink the tap water in major cities, but not rural areas (ie. South Africa). Drink bottled beverages if you are unsure (and make sure the seal is intact before drinking). You can check the CDC travelers’ destination page for information about the risk of traveler's diarrhea at your destination and other advice on food and water safety.
- How common is traveler's diarrhea?
Traveler's diarrhea is the most common and predictable travel-related illness. Eating street food, drinking tap water, using ice cubes, or eating uncooked foods like fruit and raw vegetables are common causes of traveler’s diarrhea. Don’t forget to wash your hands and watch what you eat and drink. A good rule of thumb: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
- What are some self-care techniques for traveler's diarrhea?
Self-care should include rehydration with fluids, including electrolyte replacement solutions (Gatorade powder packets). Eat bland easily digested foods, for example, the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. You can bring loperamide (Imodium) or Pepto Bismol for self-treatment of diarrhea. These are both available over the counter (no prescription needed). Use caution with Imodium—it may cause constipation. Pepto Bismol may temporarily turn the tongue and stool black.
- Do I need prescription medication for traveler's diarrhea?
If you are traveling to a country with a moderate to high risk of traveler's diarrhea, you should consider bringing an antibiotic for self-treatment. This prescription will be provided at your travel consultation.
- When should I seek medical treatment for traveler's diarrhea?
Seek medical treatment if your symptoms last more than three days and do not resolve with self-care or antibiotics or if you develop a high fever (temp >101 F). Penn travelers can always call International SOS (ISOS) for assistance. International SOS is available 24/7 to provide medical or security consultation and referrals. ISOS will activate your insurance coverage if needed, using the contact information below:
- What kind of insect repellent is recommended for travel?
If traveling to a region with many mosquitoes/insects, the CDC recommends using an insect repellent product with DEET 25% or Picardin 20%. These products are effective for up to 10 hours after applying to exposed, intact skin. You can also use permethrin, a chemical insecticide, on clothing to help repel insects. Spray permethrin on clothing or gear (not skin) 48 hours before packing. Permethrin is available in camping stores and will remain effective for at least 2 weeks even if you wash the garment. Mosquito precautions can also help prevent diseases transmitted by ticks, sandflies, and other arthropods. Try your best to avoid bug bites.
- What should I do to prevent malaria?
If you are traveling to a malaria endemic area (view the CDC malaria map), you should sleep indoors. If there are mosquitos inside your accommodations, you should sleep under a bed net. There may also be a recommendation to take malaria prophylaxis depending on your specific geographical location within a country. The kind of anti-malarial medication prescribed will depend on your destination and health history.
- When should I be concerned about animal bites?
Animals bites are common in many parts of the world. Monkeys and stray cats and dogs are especially problematic. Practicing avoidance of animals is important. Some countries may have shortages of rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin necessitating evacuation for emergency treatment of an animal bite. Use caution around strays. Do not try to pet them and do not offer them food. If an animal bites you while traveling, wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water and call International S.O.S for assistance. Penn travelers can always call International SOS (ISOS) for assistance. International SOS is available 24/7 to provide medical or security consultation and referrals. ISOS will activate your insurance coverage if needed, using the contact information below:
Do not wait until you return home. Rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin must be administered promptly to prevent spread of the virus.
- Should I get the rabies pre-exposure vaccine?
We offer rabies pre-exposure vaccine to those traveling to remote locations or those planning to live overseas in high-risk areas. The pre-exposure series is two rabies vaccines given one week apart. This can buy some time after a bite and may prevent the need for evacuation. If bitten, you will still need to see a health care professional for two booster doses of vaccine, but you will not need immunoglobulin which is expensive and difficult to find. The best treatment for animal bites is avoidance.
- At what altitude do I need to be concerned about altitude sickness?
Most people tolerate altitudes up to 8,000 feet. The risk of altitude sickness increases at elevations higher than 8,000 feet (approximately 2,500 meters). The most common form of altitude sickness we see is acute mountain sickness (AMS). The symptoms include headache, malaise, fatigue, and nausea and generally lasts for three days. The symptoms slowly improve as your body adjusts to the altitude. AMS can worsen into more severe forms of altitude sickness: high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The risk of becoming ill at high altitude is higher if you are sleeping at high altitude. The risk is lower if you are just climbing to high altitude and then returning to a lower altitude to sleep. There is no way to predict who is at risk for altitude sickness, but if you have had problems in the past, chances are you might again. If you have been to high altitudes without problems, you will likely be okay at a similar altitude.
- How can I prevent altitude sickness?
Ascend gradually, when possible. The biggest risk is a sudden change in altitude, such as flying from sea level to 13,000 feet as you do with travel to Cusco, Peru. Avoid alcohol until you have adjusted to the altitude. Avoid sedatives like sleeping pills. Do not over exert yourself until you have had time to adjust to the altitude. Stay hydrated. Consider taking a prescription medication (acetazolamide) that can help offset the effects of high altitude and help speed acclimatization.
- Should I be concerned about blood clots when taking a long flight?
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE) can occur with long flights—more commonly flights >8 hours. Certain risk factors put you more at risk: oral contraceptives, pregnancy, cancer, recent injury, smoking, and obesity. Symptoms include leg or ankle swelling, followed by pain in the leg (calf or thigh). Blood clots in the leg can become dislodged and travel to the lungs where they cause chest pain and shortness of breath. Try to avoid inactivity by taking walks around the airplane. You can also do foot/ankle movement exercises while sitting to keep the blood flowing. Keep your legs uncrossed while seated and wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing. Compression stockings can also decrease the risk and symptoms of DVT.
- What if I am traveling through different time zones?
Jet Lag is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones. Symptoms usually last 24-48 hours and include fatigue, daytime drowsiness, nighttime restlessness, and headaches. Circadian rhythms gradually readjust to new time zones after a few days.
- Is jet lag preventable?
Before departure, try to shift your body clock. If traveling west, go to bed later than usual for a couple of days before departure. If traveling east, go to bed earlier than usual for a couple of days before departure. Drink fluids during and after your flight to prevent dehydration. Once you arrive to your destination, expose yourself to daylight by staying awake during daylight hours and sleeping when it is dark. Melatonin at bedtime may be helpful in resetting your sleep cycle. The recommended dose is 1-5 mg at bedtime.
- Does the Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP) cover my medical expenses overseas?
Yes, you are covered under the Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP) worldwide except for countries that have an economic or trade sanction issued by the United States. Coverage abroad is on a reimbursement basis and uses the in-network level of benefits. For more information, call PSIP On Call International - US 1-866-525-1956 or call collect if overseas 1-603-328-1956.
- What should I do if I get sick or stranded overseas?
University of Pennsylvania students and staff are encouraged to use the Penn International SOS travelers’ assistance policy for medical and security problems when traveling on Penn affiliated trips. You can call for injuries, illnesses, or non-medical emergencies using the contact information below:
Helpful Travel Links and Information
- CDC Travel: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
- International Society of Mountain Medicine: http://ismm.org
- International SOS Traveler's Assistance (for Penn-affiliated travel:
- Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP) On Call International: US 1-866-525-1956 or collect overseas 1-603-328-1956
- Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP): 1-888-792-3862 is the contact number for vacation override for prescription medications needed with long term travel
- International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers: https://www.iamat.org
- INCB International Narcotics Control Board website and/or the destination countries embassy page if traveling with medications, especially controlled substances: https://www.incb.org/
- Register Penn affiliated trips with Penn Global: https://global.upenn.edu/travel-guidance/register-your-trip
- Register all trips at your embassy. U.S. citizens: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program - https://step.state.gov
- Wellness at Penn's Student Health and Counseling can help you navigate international mental health resources while studying abroad. Call 215-746-WELL (9355) and press option 2 to speak with the counseling team.
- International Suicide Hotline: https://ibpf.org/resource/list-of-international-suicide-hotlines/
- Student Health and Counseling Vaccination Costs