In February 2022, Gap Year Solutions surveyed ten international Gap Year Programs. Our objective was to understand the current state of spring 2022 travel and to look ahead to the fall. We were happy to see that as expected, Omicron’s impact was declining rapidly. Most countries are open to Gap Year travel. This post covers the current situation, and a quick view into fall 2022.
Spring 2022 Status
Regardless of what individual countries require, most Gap Year programs require ALL students to be vaccinated. Masking up is still common this spring, especially when the students are in public places and outside their program HQ or shared housing. Many countries require a negative COVID test for entry which adds to the logistical challenges for students and programs. Fortunately everyone has become pretty familiar with navigating testing at this point. Some programs self-enforce quarantine when students arrive.
Some comments from programs:
“We are only running programs where there isn’t an extended quarantine, Covid levels are under control, communities are excited to host us, and the medical system isn’t tapped. We’ve found that we can run programs that are close to normal times now.”
“We brought 22 students to France on Jan 24th. The hardest part was definitely getting them all to make their flights because many of them had Covid and were recovering and couldn’t secure a negative test to fly. Once they got here we felt very confident because we can be a bubble here in France but we are still being very diligent and testing anyone who comes in from outside.”
“Travel has been limited to date, but we have had a small number of students on the ground over the past 6 months. Each country is different with regards to rules, but overall we are requiring all participants be vaccinated (no exceptions) ensuring masks are being used in public spaces and sanitation protocols are in place.”
“Things are mostly back to normal and we had 5 completely full programs that went out. The biggest change is masking and lots of testing.”
“Our programs haven’t been affected so far as there hasn’t been any rule or regulation changes in our destinations and students have all tested negative to arrival.”
“Many countries have lower Covid rates than the USA at this time, and since Omicron, the number of hospitalizations has dropped to the point where there are no issues with healthcare provisions in country. Restrictions are being reduced a little every week now, and those in place don’t affect us too much – wearing mask, reduced capacities in bars and restaurants, etc.”
Even during the earlier stages of the COVID pandemic, many programs were running. While some programs created U.S.-based itineraries when more borders were simply closed, others chose to accommodate the tighter restrictions and still give students an international experience. According to one program, “It can be hard to envision traveling right now, but we have been able to do it safely, responsibly and meaningfully over the last 2 years. Last year running programs was 10x the amount of work, but students had amazing experiences.”
The following are countries grouped into status based on level of restrictions from feedback provided by the programs we surveyed. This is a representative list, and not intended to be exhaustive. Check local restrictions, since the situation may have changed by the time you read this. (US State Department: COVID-19 country specific information)
Countries Operating Close to “Normal”
Negative PCR test to enter country, vaccination requirements, no extended quarantine, mask wearing at indoor public places (not student housing or program buildings).
Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Jamaica, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ireland, Germany, Kenya, Senegal, Morocco, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Eswatini, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania
Stricter Restrictions But Still Open
May include additional restrictions such as quarantines upon entry, need for triple vaccination, health pass for attractions and N95 mask requirement (these vary by country).
Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Israel, Italy, France, Greece, Austria. Most places in Asia still require mandatory quarantine. Double vax + booster required for all travel within EU.
Closed borders, extended quarantine, higher levels of COVID-19 and/or more difficult requirements making student travel problematic.
Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, China, Indonesia, Bhutan
COVID’s Mental Health Impact
As with other parts of student and college life, Gap Year programs are also seeing the mental health effects of COVID. One program told us that:
“We also are seeing students cite COVID as a source of increased anxiety and depression. Before and on course, we are offering counseling services from a provider not on our program staff to students that would like that extra layer of support throughout the program. As many students have gotten used to an isolated lifestyle, we also are incorporating more reflection, break, or solo time. We have seen this addition as beneficial to a smooth transition to a group style program.”
Looking Ahead to Fall 2022
Programs are universally optimistic about fall itineraries, based on the continuing decline of COVID-19 levels and hospitalizations, and fewer border and in-country restrictions. Australia and New Zealand are improving, and Australia is opening now. New Zealand has announced that it will be opening later this year.
Given what they just went through, programs know that things can change at any moment. One program told us that for the fall, “No decisions have been made yet. It is too early and one thing we as a staff have learnt is that anything can change or happen so we need to be ready and plan for multiple scenarios but not too far in advance.”
If you are interested in learning about specific country opportunities and individual programs, contact Gap Year Solutions for more information.