Health & Safety
Regardless of whether your study abroad program offers a high degree of on-site support or limited support, you are the person with greatest control over and responsibility for your personal health and safety while abroad. Although there are many factors outside of your control, your investment in making good decisions, avoiding unnecessary risks, and staying informed about what to do in case of an emergency will help to mitigate the problems you may encounter.
Take the time to research the political landscape and customs of your host country before you depart. Stay informed about current events and developing situations while you are away. In many cases, your program director or host university will share details if there is a safety or security concern. However, you should also take steps to stay informed through local and independent media, press reports, blogs, and other sources.
For current news, safety bulletins and analysis view:
Maintaining your regular diet and exercise regimen abroad can be a challenge. Foods readily available in the U.S. may not be available or easy to find in your host country and you may be surprised by locals’ reactions when you go for a run in the streets. In some locations, additional precautions may be necessary to avoid food poisoning, contaminated water, or exposure to insect-borne diseases.
For travelers’ health tips view:
Medline Plus – National Institute of Health (NIH)
Road accidents are the number one cause of death and serious injury abroad for people between the ages of 15 and 29. The majority of international road accidents involve cars, but nearly half of all road related deaths involve “vulnerable road users” including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycles. Regardless of where you study in the world, it will be important to recognize that vehicle and pedestrian responsibilities are different than in the U.S. Take time to observe and understand the driving and pedestrian culture of your host country; do not make assumptions and use extreme caution if you choose to drive a motor vehicle while abroad.
For international road safety information and reports view:
Road Safety Overseas – U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information
Building Safety Standards
Building safety standards vary dramatically between countries and are frequently below the standards required by U.S. law. Even in highly developed and modern cities, you will find many buildings lacking common safety features such as egress windows, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and/or lit stairwells. This is particularly true in older buildings, but can also be the case in newer construction. When you first arrive at your overseas residence, develop a building escape plan in case of earthquake, fire, or other emergency. If there are no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in your building, consider purchasing them.
For more safety information view:
Safety Tips from your Building Inspector – International Code Council
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Center for Disease Control
Earthquakes – Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA)
Crime can occur anywhere, but as a visitor in a foreign country you may be particularly vulnerable. You may stand out as different and be unfamiliar with your new environment. This, combined with the fact that you may not be be able to interpret the verbal and non-verbal potentially dangerous cues in your environment, can place you at a disadvantage and make you a target for crime. Nevertheless, there are simple steps you can take to significantly reduce the chance of being the victim of crime:
- Situational awareness – be aware of what is happening around you at all times.
- Trust your instincts – take immediate action to remove yourself from situations that feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Avoid behaviors and situations that put you at risk – if you consume alcohol and drugs, don’t walk alone, and never leave a club or get into a car with someone you don’t know.
A Safe Trip Abroad – U.S. Department of State
Country Specific Information – U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information
Sexual Assault and Harassment
Sexual assault and harassment are sadly common on both U.S. college campuses and in study abroad. As is true in the U.S., most victims of sexual assault and harassment abroad are women, but men can also be victims and should take the same personal safety precautions. Taking common sense precautions (see Crime and Safety) can reduce your risk.
Sexual assault and harassment prevention links:
RAINN – Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Sexual Assault – Australian Government
Although it is true that in some countries laws concerning drug use and possession are less restrictive than in the United States, in many countries these laws are more severe. In some locations, possession of illegal drugs carries a mandatory prison sentence; in others, corporal punishment and even the death penalty are potential consequences.The safe and smart approach abroad is to avoid drug possession and use altogether. If someone asks you to carry a suitcase or package, no matter how small, don’t do it. You don’t want to become an unwitting drug smuggler.
For more information about illegal drugs and your rights abroad view:
Drugs Abroad – U.S. Department of State
When you travel to a foreign country, you are subject to its laws and penalties. In most cases, the laws are common sense but, in other instances, they may be much more obscure (e.g. taking pictures of government buildings, purchasing antiquities, or collecting biological samples without permits). If you violate a law, the consequences may be more severe than for a comparable offense in the U.S. Lack of familiarity with local laws is not considered an excuse and will not absolve you from prosecution or sentencing. If you are arrested overseas, the U.S. Department of State can provide limited assistance and support.
For more information view:
Local Laws – U.S. Department of State
Avoid Political Demonstrations
Whether you are passionate about the cause or a curious observer, do not attend any political demonstrations while abroad. Not only do these events have the potential to escalate from peaceful gatherings to violent clashes with police and government forces, but as a foreigner, your participation may also be illegal and can carry severe consequences. U.S. students abroad have been arrested, detained, subjected to fines and jail sentences, and forcefully deported due to their real or perceived involvement in demonstrations. If you know of a scheduled rally or demonstration, avoid the affected area of the city. If you come into contact with a demonstration by chance, adjust your route and leave the area.
Three American Students Arrested in Egypt – Reuters Article
In An Emergency
See our webpage entitled In an Emergency for information about emergency assistance abroad.