10 Tips for Navigating International Travel Risks During COVID

Our World Travel Protection General Manager of Global Security Services, Rodger Cook, shares his expert advice for navigating the new world of international travel and COVID travel risks.

International travel is slowly resuming across the world – particularly for business and academic travel – but the world as we know it has changed. Yes, COVID has left increased travel risks in its wake. As a result, there are new travel rules, unique laws and changed social customs that travellers should be aware of well before boarding call.

Rodger Cook – our World Travel Protection General Manager of Global Security Services – says travel risk management is more important for businesses (and those responsible for travellers) than ever before in order to keep personnel safe and healthy during these fast-changing times.

Here, Cook offers 10 expert tips to help navigate various COVID travel risks ahead of embarking on international business or leisure travel.

Tip #1. Be aware countries aren’t the same as they used to be

It’s important to understand a country’s COVID-journey and how it’s been impacted by the pandemic before touching down in a destination.

“A city you knew like the back of your hand may now be a totally different ball game; from airport operations and the nightlife, to restrictions on how to get around or do business,” explains Cook.

COVID has altered the risk profile for many parts of the world, particularly those suffering economically. It’s important to identify this during a general and COVID travel risk assessment – especially for business travellers – so the appropriate travel safety precautions can be put in place.

Tip #2. Increase vigilance to theft

When countries have a major economic downturn studies have shown there is a direct correlation with an increase in certain crimes. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in their Global Pulse Report that “Violent property crime types such as robbery appeared most affected during times of crisis, with up to two-fold increases in some contexts during a period of economic stress. However, in some contexts, increases in homicide and motor vehicle theft were also observed”.

“It’s more important than ever to maintain a low profile while travelling, and ensure that personal information and valuables are protected,” advises Cook.

Cook also recommends travellers and expats:

  • Maintain situational awareness, and be aware of how locals react to your presence
  • Leave unnecessary credit cards or valuables at home
  • Know the safest methods to withdraw cash at the destination
  • Establish points of contact with family and business connections
  • Make copies (digital and hard copy) of passport, ID, credit cards and travel documents
  • Use authorised taxis only
  • Be mindful of increased aggression or scams from touts who have been adversely affected by global travel restrictions

Tip #3. Guard against cybercrime

Studies by UK-based fraud awareness leader, Crowe, indicate cybercrime has soared by 90% during the pandemic.

“There have been reports of official-looking alerts from fake government bodies and health organisations requesting you to submit personal information, which can lead to hacking attempts or identity theft.

“While working on the road is commonplace, jumping on free Wi-Fi at a café or airport terminal requires a little more forethought.”

Cook advises travellers:

  • Never submit personal information to a source you don’t know, even if it looks official
  • Take care when using Wi-Fi hotspots: consider using a VPN when travelling
  • Ensure your phone and laptop have up to date protection, including antivirus, spyware and firewalls
  • Verify new apps before you download
Asian travellers at airport with COVID masks

Tip #4. Know the rules

The responses to the COVID pandemic – and the rules and laws put in place to help reduce its spread – drastically differ around the world. In many cases, they even differ between states and cities in the same country.

“Do your due diligence and research your destination to ensure you’re acting lawfully, and being culturally respectful too,” advises Cook.

“Follow the advice of local government and health officials, and consider all aspects of the trip, including any stopovers, and the implications should travel restrictions change.”

COVID rules to understand include:

  • Quarantine laws and recommendations
  • COVID entry-testing requirements
  • Social distancing
  • Mask requirements in both indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Curfews
  • Dining restrictions
  • Changes to public transport operations

Cook suggests businesses should also provide their travelling employees with a pre-travel safety checklist for their destinations as part of their COVID travel risk assessment.

Tip #5. Be sensitive to ‘COVID culture’

‘COVID culture’ has created a range of new etiquette and social norms we need to understand to avoid causing offence to locals and business associates while travelling.

Be sensitive to travel in areas that have been adversely affected by COVID-19; the appetite of the community for international travellers may affect how you’re greeted and treated.

How different communities embrace the restrictions for COVID varies greatly, too. Not maintaining social distance could be perceived as rudeness, as may reaching for a handshake.

Tip #6. Know the laws of the land

Many countries have introduced new laws around travel, social gatherings, and protective clothing requirements. It’s important to understand how the spirit of the law is enacted, and the ways this can make travellers more vulnerable to COVID travel risks, including being targeted for fines or bribes.

Tip #7. Be ready to respond quickly to changes

Closely monitor destinations as new COVID-19 hotspots can emerge within hours, meaning last-minute travel amendments may become the norm.

Borders between countries and states can be closed with little notice, or city-wide lockdowns and curfews put in place. Documentation, travel requirements and quarantine periods can also fluctuate quickly, all of which would significantly impact an international traveller and the risks they face during COVID.

“Our World Travel Protection team had a recent case where a business traveller was mid-flight when their destination country announced new quarantine measures for arrivals,” shares Cook.

“If our team had not contacted the traveller to stop them exiting the transit area upon arrival, they would have been detained for quarantine purposes. Instead, a connecting flight was arranged by our team to take them to their final destination.

“It’s now more prudent than ever for businesses to have ongoing travel risk management and gain the support of emergency assistance organisations like World Travel Protection.”

Traveller with COVID test result on app

Tip #8. Keep medical documentation on-hand

The ever-changing COVID travel environment includes variable travel bans, quarantine requirements, pre-travel testing, airline policies, and evidence of medical documentation in order to cross borders.

Transiting through certain countries or travelling through multiple destinations may require enhanced medical clearance for entry, so it’s recommended you carry all medical documentation in hard copy and digital form.

“This includes any required COVID vaccination or test result documentation,” says Cook.

Tip #9. Check in with your mental health

“One thing’s for sure: international travel during COVID is a lot more stressful than it used to be,” admits Cook.

“Whether it’s the increased time away from loved ones as a result of mandatory quarantines, reduced social interactions and ability to wind down with colleagues, or the fears and health risks of travelling during a pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be aware of anxiety.”

Recommending readings for managing general and business travel anxiety:

Tip #10. Be aware of the increased risk of political unrest and radicalisation

Travelling to a region with a greater risk of political unrest?

The redirection of police resources to support the COVID response may impact their ability to monitor segments of the community who are at risk from being radicalised.

“Organisations such as NGOs and universities with a travelling workforce in nations suffering from unrest often don’t have the information they need to identify threats and assess the travel risks,” explains Cook.

“Our clients can access up-to-the-minute information provided by our country analysts to incorporate into their travel risk management processes to ensure the health and safety of their personnel.”

Discover how we can help with international COVID travel risk assessments

At World Travel Protection, we can help you or your business manage international travel during COVID and beyond by helping you assess risks and stay ahead of potential issues during this ever-changing environment.

For more information, schedule a demo of our Travel Risk Management Solutions by filling out the form below. You’ll discover how our tools help provide business travellers and organisations responsible for travellers with all the support they need pre- and during travel via our portal, app, and in-house experts.