Required registration ensures support for international travel

A new policy effective Jan. 1 requires faculty, staff and students to preregister all Iowa State-sponsored trips they take outside the U.S. The change will ensure travelers are insured and connected with useful resources before they depart.

Registering international travel and enrolling in centrally funded medical and emergency insurance had been encouraged, but the new policy developed by the risk management office in consultation with academic leaders makes it mandatory, said Shaun Jamieson, international risk analyst.

An audit of fiscal year 2018 travel comparing reimbursements to registrations found about 75% of 1,284 employee trips abroad were registered, Jamieson said. (Nearly all student trips were registered because most are arranged through the study abroad center.) Auditors recommended that employees document international travel plans before departure, which prompted the mandatory registration policy.

The policy explicitly states that registering a trip doesn't give the risk management office authority to deny travel plans. It's about preparation, not approval, Jamieson said.

"It's not that we're trying to deny travel to high-risk destinations. We just want to be able to provide support to those travelers," he said.

Insurance and more

Registering automatically enrolls employees in international travel insurance, which covers emergency medical care, evacuations in the case of a natural disaster or political unrest, and the cost of delays and interruptions. Travelers also are signed up for custom safety and security alerts provided by AlertTraveler, which can be delivered by email or smartphone.   

Using information from AlertTraveler that considers health and security concerns, destinations are assessed by risk level. For trips to moderate-risk areas, travelers are encouraged to review their itinerary with the risk management office. For travel to high-risk areas, an itinerary review is required and will be shared with college or unit leadership. A required itinerary review for severe-risk destinations is shared with unit-level leadership and the respective senior vice president. No itinerary review is necessary for trips to areas with minimal or low risk.

Over the last nine months, 59 registered trips -- about 5% -- were high- or severe-risk, Jamieson said. Because most employee travel is to conferences, the bulk of those trips were to low-risk cities in high-risk countries, and the itinerary review was a simple briefing by phone or email, he said. Just a handful required a close review, typically in a face-to-face meeting.

"Most of those faculty traveling to high- or severe-risk destinations already know me, and we've had conversations," Jamieson said.

Registering trips gives the university a way to ensure compliance with federal export control law, which restricts what technology and materials can be taken to certain countries. It also offers a chance to provide employees with laptops designed for use abroad, satellite phones and translation apps, Jamieson said.

"It allows us to coordinate a lot of resources," he said.

Defining business travel

The policy outlines what qualifies as Iowa State-sponsored travel, a new definition that in some cases includes trips the university isn't funding. Employee travel is considered ISU-sponsored if:

  • It's paid partially or fully by ISU-controlled funding
  • It's part of an academic credit-bearing activity, such as study abroad
  • It's undertaken by a recognized student organization or an official ISU organization such as athletic teams, sports clubs, and academic or administrative departments
  • An employee or volunteer is exercising official responsibilities
  • A faculty member is engaging in research, teaching or other activity that's part of their ISU employment, scholarship or service

Self-sponsored travel that doesn't meet any of those criteria, such as tourism or visits to a home country, aren't covered by the policy. Travel as an outside consultant or for work on behalf of other institutions or companies is excluded, unless the work is connected to an ISU-sponsored project.

The policy covers trips to U.S. territories.

How to register

Trips are registered online at the international travel portal website. The main menu for Workday's expenses section also links to the registration site. Employees should register international trips as soon as they're aware of travel dates and destinations. 

Jamieson said the biggest concern he heard during development of the policy is that it would be an additional hurdle for employees. Anyone can delegate another employee to register trips for them, however. He thinks the registration shortfall identified in the FY18 audit is due to a lack of awareness.

"I suspect the vast majority of that 25% just didn't know about it," he said.

New role

The policy came about in part because of a new focus on international travel risks, an emerging concern in higher education. Jamieson was hired in fall 2018 as Iowa State's first international risk analyst. There were about 20 full-time international risk positions at universities seven years ago, and now there are 120, he said. 

"It's starting to grow pretty fast," he said.

Jamieson said he's available to speak to classes or other groups on topics such as traveling safely in other countries or researching areas to visit. Contact him at or 294-6916.