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Health, safety & insurance

Numbers to Save

  • International SOS: +1 215 942 8226
  • UW 24/7 Global Travel Health and Safety: 001-206-632-0153 (for emergencies only) or travelemergency@uw.edu
  • Your destination’s local emergency services (911-equivalent): Find yours here
  • Your destination’s nearest U.S. Embassy: Find yours here
  • The numbers of your program director or in-country contacts

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:

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)

U.S. State Department 

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

International SOS

You can always schedule a pre-departure call with UW Global Travel Health and Safety to discuss your upcoming study abroad, how to best prepare, and raise any questions you have. If you’re currently abroad and are experiencing an emergency, follow the information and procedures for emergencies abroad.

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:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

Medline Plus – National Institute of Health (NIH)

If you need to activate the insurance or schedule a medical appointment, you can do so with International SOS, our emergency assistance provider. Call ISOS using your app or use the “find a doctor” function in your app to locate the nearest ISOS partner provider. For more information regarding International SOS, see here.

Going abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences but it is also hard. Being in a new place can be incredibly exciting and stimulating, but you may also find many unexpected challenges. Some of the same sources of excitement may also create stress and uncertainty. Recognizing changes in your mental health and well-being, and knowing what resources are available to you while you are overseas, is a key part of your pre-program preparations.

For mental health resources for UW students:

UW Seattle Mental Health Resources

UW Bothell Counseling Center

UW Tacoma Psychological and Wellness Services (PAWS)

 

There are also a variety of mental health resources, specifically available for travelers while abroad. Consult the following list during your time abroad, if you’re needing extra support:

International SOS can connect you with free mental health support. Call the Philadelphia Assistance Center at: +1.215.942.8226

Husky Helpline: Free, same-day counseling, available via app, phone or online chat.

UW Hall Health: The Mental Health unit can provide more long-term counseling for a fee.

Crisis Clinic: 24-hour crisis line and community resource directory, +1.866.4CRISIS (+1.206.427.4747)

 

In the event of a mental health emergency, where you or someone else is in danger of hurting themselves or others, reach out to local emergency services, ISOS (+1.215.942.8226), and the UW Global Travel Health and Safety 24/7 line (001-206-632-0153).

Building new relationships in a different culture, and amongst your UW peers, will be some of the most rewarding parts of your experience but can also present challenges that are difficult and uncomfortable to navigate. How you expect to be perceived and how you are perceived, in any given country or culture, may or may not meet your expectations.

Gender Identity

Depending on your gender identity and the country that you’re going to, you may be met with different assumptions. You may need to be thoughtful about the way that you travel, given your gender identity.

Interactions between people will differ from culture to culture and some places may have a more marked segregation between men and women than many are used to in the U.S. Additionally, in some countries, locals may more openly initiate unwanted comments, attention or behavior towards travelers. Preparing yourself for a new culture and researching how to keep yourself safe can offer piece of mind as you prepare to go abroad.

  • Pay attention to dressing in a culturally appropriate way
  • Research the security situation and if it is safe to travel after dark, alone, or to certain parts of a city, given your gender identity
  • Think through gender roles in your host country and what may or may not be expected of you
  • Consider that the Study Abroad office or the US Embassy may be required to use the sex or name listed on your legal passport. If you have questions, or need extra support, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Specifically for female or female-presenting travelers, the following resources may be helpful as you think about health and safety related to your gender, while abroad:

Sexuality and LGBTQI+

UW Study Abroad and Global Travel Health and Safety respects the sexual orientation and gender identity of all people. We want every student to have a positive experience abroad; depending on your sexuality, that may involve some additional planning or thoughtfulness. Not everywhere in the world is as safe, respectful, or inclusive as we would hope.

  • Research LGBTQI+ issues and politics in the country. Use Department of State resources, online forums, blog posts, and articles to arm yourself with the knowledge of how sexuality is viewed in the area that you’re going to.
  • Understand the laws and regulations around LGBTQI+ issues in the country. There may be certain ways of dressing or behaviors that carry connotations that may be illegal or problematic. What could it mean to be fully out, or to closet parts of your identity?
  • Remember: once you are outside of the US, you are no longer protected by US rights and laws. In certain places, that may mean you are able to express yourself more freely. However, in others, it may mean that you risk legal repercussions if you engage in certain behaviors or demonstrate aspects of your sexuality. The US Embassy and the University of Washington will be limited in how we can help you, if you find yourself in trouble with the law.

The following resources may be helpful for you, as an LGBTQI+ travelers, in preparing for your study abroad:

  • ILGA – The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
  • IGLHRC – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Race and Ethnicity

In most cases, your interaction with host nationals will be among the most rewarding aspects of your experience abroad. In some situations, however, your race, ethnicity or other identity anchors may be read or interpreted differently than you are accustomed to in the U.S. You may also encounter different cultural norms related to race and minority status, where racism and other forms of discrimination are performed, viewed, and addressed differently than you are used to.

You may find that your racial or ethnic identity is seen in a new way. Understanding how cultural differences can impact perceptions of race, ethnicity, and identity in an international context is an important component of your preparation to study abroad.

Use the following resources, or other tools and relationships that you have, to prepare for navigating your racial and ethnic identity while abroad:

Disabilities

The UW Study Abroad Office encourages all students who meet program eligibility requirements to study abroad as part of their UW degree. While you will work with your Study Abroad Advisor, Program Manager, and Program Director on your accommodations, it’s helpful to think through the nuances of your disability and how that may be perceived, challenging, or unexpected, while abroad.

UW accommodations should be known and discussed with UW Disability Resources for Students Office.

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.

If you’ve planned to use a particular mode of transportation and when you show up, something feels off about it, trust your intuition. Don’t get into an unmarked car, don’t board a boat that doesn’t have lifejackets or evacuation signs, and don’t get on public buses if the Department of State advises against it. It’s better to arrive late to a destination or spend money to take reliable transit, then end up in a dangerous or life-threatening situation.

For international road safety information and reports view:

Association for International Road Travel (ASIRT)

Road Safety Overseas – U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information

If you are using transit services, whether public transportation or verified rideshare services, we recommend vetting them before travel. Certain countries have warnings or restrictions around certain kinds of travel, experience frequent transit interruptions, or have alternative modes of transportation that are not considered safe.

Check the Department of State‘s transportation advisory on the country that you’re going to for specific information about safe transit.

Use the Transportation Section of our vendor vetting checklist to help check your plans for the appropriate safety measures.

Search for your country in the International SOS UW Portal and read up on transportation infrastructure, including which public transit options are considered safe.

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.

Safety Features: Keep the following points in mind when looking for housing. If using a third-party to help book, make sure to ask about the safety features of the building and unit.

  • Building is in good structural condition
  • Access to fire safety resources (fire alarms, signage, sprinklers)
  • Multiple ways to get to each room, hallways and stairs are unobstructed
  • Exterior lights on buildings and surrounding area is well-lit
  • Proximity to transportation
  • Relative cleanliness of the area and access to refuse disposal
  • Unit can be locked from the inside, windows and sliding doors as well
  • Bedroom is not on ground floor
  • Bathroom facilities are private and can be locked
  • Unit has no visible fire hazards (exposed wires, damaged outlets, etc.)
  • Ideally, there are on-site staff or English-speaking staff who are accessible 24/7

For more safety information view:

Safety Tips from your Building Inspector – International Code Council

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Earthquakes – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Many UW Study Abroad programs provide housing, but in some cases (i.e. exchange programs, FRILA/independent learning etc.) students are responsible for finding their own accommodations. It’s important to choose housing where you will feel comfortable and where your physical and mental well-being are protected. Your housing should also have important safety measures in place (see above), such as smoke detectors, locking doors and windows, and emergency exits. It is also important to keep housing scams in mind and do everything you can to vet the accommodation so that you minimize the risk of being a victim of fraud.
Use the Accommodations Section of our vendor vetting checklist to guide you in asking the right questions related to a safe stay abroad.

The following questions can help you think through the different parts of choosing the right housing abroad:

  • Country-specific factors: Accommodation varies from country to country. What is realistic to expect in the city that you’ll be in? Will you be in an apartment or a house, in a solo or shared space? What are common features of housing; will you be without AC in the summer or heat in the winter? Keep these factors in mind when choosing where to alter your expectations and where to alter your housing plan.
  • Uncomfortable vs. unsafe: Think through the difference, both before you leave and once you settle in. Being uncomfortable because of a different living standard is not the same as being unsafe. However, if at any point it feels like your housing situation is compromising your health and safety, not just challenging your expectations, reach out to your study abroad contacts or Global Travel Health and Safety.
  • Online bookings: Using sites such as Airbnb, VRBO/HomeAway, or Couchsurfing can make it challenging to assess the safety and reliability of an accommodation beforehand. Going through a trusted network or vetted hotels/hostels/home stays is always preferable. If you do decide to use one of these online lodging providers, we recommend following these best health and safety practices:
    • Look for properties rented by Verified Hosts, use Airbnb Plus, or filter for Superhosts. Do your research with reviews and stick with properties that have a history of positive reviews that match the description of the place. Avoid properties with unverified hosts or with no/limited reviews.
    • Remember: if a deal seems too good to be true for what is comparable in the area, it probably is!
    • Consider arriving to your host country a few days early, especially for longer stays, to vet the accommodation. Have an initial stay at a hotel or short-term rental, while you visit potential places in-person or with local contacts.
    • Do not wire money from the US to unverified vendors. It’s always easier to dispute charges on a credit card than it is to recoup money that has already been withdrawn from your bank account or that you paid in cash.
    • Once you are given an address, use Google Maps to research the area. Reach out to a travel agency, local contacts, or look online for specific information about the neighborhood. Share the listing with your in-country contacts (host university, research partners, etc.) and get their feedback. Trust your instincts – if something feels unsafe, look for an alternative.
    • If scheduling a meeting with a host, only do so in a public place, during daylight hours. Make sure you have a charged cell phone, that others know where you are, and that you know how to navigate your way out of the situation, should you need to.
    • Let others know exactly where you are staying – the location, the name of the host, and when you can be expected to check-in when returning home in the evenings.
    • Never arrive at your accommodation for the first time after dark, particularly if you are alone or in an unfamiliar area. If your flight gets in late on the first night, stay at a hotel and check-in the next day, during daylight hours.
    • When you first arrive, check for safety features: look in closets, a lock on your door that cannot be opened from the outside, check for cameras/strange wires, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, etc. Again, if something feels off, trust your instincts. Losing a deposit or forfeiting cost of the stay is always a better choice than ending up in an unsafe situation!
    • Monitor your credit card for any unexpected/unapproved charges. This is a best practice when traveling abroad, regardless of what housing vendor you’re using. Make sure to save receipts and make sure there is nothing fraudulent showing up!

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:

  1. Situational awareness – be aware of what is happening around you at all times. Keep a low profile.
  2. Trust your instincts – take immediate action to remove yourself from situations that feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
  3. Avoid behaviors and situations that put you at risk – avoid consuming alcohol and drugs, don’t walk alone, particularly after dark, and never leave a club or get into a car with someone you don’t know.

Pickpocketing is the number one incident that is reported to UW Global Travel Health and Safety by students on study abroad. Pickpocketing and petty theft are a reality in nearly every major city and country in the world.

Taking a few simple steps can help reduce your risk of being a victim of petty crime – and even if you are, these steps can help minimize the effects:

  • Avoid large crowds or gatherings, including crowded markets or crowded transportation. If you do find yourself in a crowded area, keep a hand on your belongings at all time and maintain situational awareness. Have heightened situational awareness in tourist areas as well, including Western food and drink chains.
  • While on public buses or trains, move your backpack or purse to the front. Holding your belongings on your lap allows you to see them and prevents someone from rifling or cutting your bag from behind.
  • Don’t leave bags or purses hanging from chairs or sitting next to you and don’t walk around looking down at your phone; it’s easy for someone to come by on a bike, skateboard, or while running, and grab your things.
  • Don’t keep important documents or prescriptions in backpacks or front-facing pockets. Keep important items and valuables as close to your person as possible. When possible, leave them in your locked accommodations.
  • Keep multiple copies of important documents, including passport, visas, and prescriptions. Have the items and their copies in different locations and consider having copies secured somewhere digital.
  • Watch out for one another. One of the best ways to prevent petty crime is by not only maintaining awareness for yourself but for those you’re traveling with. You may not be able to feel someone reaching into your pocket, but you may be able to notice if it’s happening to a friend.

Country-specific Scams

Certain countries or cities have specific scams or petty crime schemes that target tourists and foreigners. These vary by city and are oftentimes dependent on where you find yourself, whether it’s a crowded mall, a tourist-heavy street market, or a local vendor’s shop. Most street scams are generally petty in nature – taking or refusing to give back small amounts of cash. If you destination country is known for a particular kind of scam, it will often be listed in the Department of State Travel Advisory.

Here are some common ones to be mindful about:

  • Vendors or shopkeepers taking or only accepting larger bills and then insisting that they don’t have change or that you aren’t owed any. Count your money beforehand and know how much change to expect.
  • Distractions: whether it’s a performer, someone insisting on talking, or “accidentally” bumping into you, street scammers have a variety of ways to get your attention, so that you’re not paying attention to your personal belongings, namely your wallet, phone, and passport.
  • “Free” gifts: a stranger on the street will offer you something – a bracelet, a ring, a flower – and insist that you take it, indicating that it is free. In the case of a scam, the stranger will then follow you around, insisting that you pay them, to varying degrees of intensity or harassment. When in doubt, don’t accept gifts from complete strangers, especially if this is a known trick in your destination country.

ATM, Credit Cards, and Cash Withdrawals 

ATMs and credit card security varies widely, from country to country, sometimes even within cities. While it may not always be possible to have your credit card in your sight when it’s being charged, so that no one is copying down your information, you can track your purchases. Save receipts and monitor your bank account for unauthorized purchases. Make sure your bank knows that you’ll be traveling abroad – and where you intend to be, so they can flag any purchases made in a different country. You may also consider setting withdrawal or purchase alerts, so that you get notified if someone spends or withdraws over a certain amount. If you detect fraud or that your credit card information has been stolen, freeze your account.

It’s always easier to dispute transactions on a credit card than it is on a debit card, where the money has already been taken from your account. Consider traveling with only a credit card, ideally one without foreign transaction fees.

ATMs, both abroad and in the U.S., can be targets of ATM card reader skimming or low-tech scams, such as people standing over your shoulder to watch you input a PIN. Before you withdraw money from an ATM, pay attention to your surroundings and feel around for any loose parts or plastic that seems out of place. Not all ATM scams are detectable, but it’s always a good idea to check.

Your Safety is Our Priority – U.S. Department of State

Country Specific Information – U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information

Long Distance: Friends and Family

While you are away, your friends and family will want to keep in touch with you. Managing communication expectations early with your loved ones will pay off during and after the program abroad. Be sure to tell your loved ones how often they can expect to hear from you and how often you will be available to talk with them. Before you leave, be sure to share your travel information and anticipated arrival time so your family and friends have an idea of when you will first be available to confirm your safe arrival.

In Country: Romantic Relationships

Becoming romantically involved in an international context, whether with someone of another culture or your own, has a specific set of complications to consider. You may also want to research common sexually transmitted infection rates and types in your destination site. You can find STIs in every part of the world, but you may not be able to find condoms. Arm yourself with knowledge and be prepared.

We would strongly discourage you from doing so, but if you choose to use an online dating service or app follow the same safety procedures that you would at home.

  • Do not meet with anyone who isn’t verified; they may not be who they say they are.
  • Only meet up in a public, well-lit, high traffic area and make sure that friends in-country know where you are.
  • Have a fully charged cell phone and know how to exit yourself from a situation, should you need to.
  • Trust your instincts; if something feels unsafe, don’t hesitate to remove yourself.
  • Do not leave your food or drink unattended.
  • On the flip side, when dealing with romance or new relationships while abroad, understand that your instincts may be dampened. Something may feel exciting, rather than unsafe.
  • Don’t neglect the basics – have friends and loved ones hold you accountable to making safe and wise choices.

Whether in the context of romance or friendship, if someone asks you for money while abroad, it is best practice to avoid sending money. Many countries have reports of frequent dating or finance scams, often targeting online dating or friendship apps.

If you choose to date while you are away from home, you may find some of the following links useful.

 

Long Distance Communication

Managing long distance relationships – from WVU

How to stay in touch when travelling abroad

Sexual Health Abroad

CDC Travelers Health

Safe sex and study abroad – from Healthy Travel Blog

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 can reduce your risk.

Sexual assault and harassment prevention links:

Behaviors to Watch For – SafeCampus

RAINN – Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

How Female Travelers Can Deal With Sexual Harassment and Assault Overseas

If you or someone traveling with you is the victim of assault or rape while abroad, activate the overseas emergency procedure for sexual assault cases while abroad. This includes:

  • Reaching out to local contacts/program director/host university to notify them of the situation
  • Getting any necessary medical assistance (including STI/STD testing, pregnancy prevention, open wound or head trauma care, etc.) – contact International SOS when scheduling medical procedures
  • Notify local authorities
  • Report the incident to the UW Office of the Title IX Coordinator, using the online reporting form
  • Reach out to Global Travel Health and Safety to notify us of the incident – this is especially important if the situation involves another UW student, staff, or faculty member or poses an ongoing threat to the safety of a program!
  • Use mental health, support, and survivor resources to assist you after the incident has occurred

The most important thing to remember if you, or someone traveling with you, has been involved in an assault, harassment, or rape incident: you are not alone. You will be listened to, believed, and provided with resources and support, including for incidents that happen outside of the US.

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. Each year, 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad. One-third of the arrests while abroad are on drug-related charges. Many of those arrested assumed that as a U.S. citizen they could not be arrested.

While traveling, including as part of a UW study abroad program, you are subject to local laws and restrictions, whether they are stricter or more lenient than those in the U.S. The U.S. embassy and the University of Washington will be limited in the ways they can assist you if you are found in violation of drug possession laws.

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 illegal 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.

 

Recreational marijuana: 

Since 2012, the sale and possession of recreational marijuana in Washington state have been legal for adults over the age of 21. UW policy prohibits the production, distribution, possession, and use of cannabis on university property or during university-sponsored activities.

A number of countries have enacted more stringent drug laws that impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use. In some countries, CBD products are considered equivalent with marijuana. Even in countries where marijuana use is legal, if you are on a UW study abroad program, you are bound by and agree to the policies set by the University and the Study Abroad office.

Airline, TSA, or local security have a right to search your belongings, particularly while you are in transit. If they find you in possession of drugs, whether or not it was legal in the country you are traveling from, you will be subject to their local laws and justice system of your destination or layover country. This could mean anything from a fine, to detention, to more severe corporeal punishment. Moral of the story: it is not worth the risk.

 

Prescription drugs:

If you are traveling with prescription medication, make sure to check if it is a legal or banned substance in your destination country. This information should be available online or can be provided by reaching out to the US Embassy in your destination country.

When traveling with prescription medication, it is best practice to travel with items in their original containers and will paper documentation of the prescription.

Most countries and airlines do not allow you to bring more than a three month supply of a drug or controlled substance into a country. If you will be abroad for more than 3 months, you will likely need a letter of support and approval from the US embassy or immigration services of your destination; alternatively, you should know the generic name of your prescription, so that you can get it refilled while abroad. International SOS can also help with scheduling appointments or locating pharmacies.

 

Reach out to Global Travel Health and Safety if you have specific questions before you depart.

Part of understanding your host country includes understanding the cultural views surrounding alcohol. Whether you’re excited about the beer gardens in Germany, sangria in Spain, or sake in Japan, there are a some things to consider – including your program’s rules, legal restrictions, and your own personal safety – before you consider drinking abroad.

The consumption of alcohol, and whether it is allowed on your study abroad program, depends on two things:

 

  1. The specific rules of your program. Some programs are completely dry, as established by your program director or your host university. In this case, consuming alcohol will be seen as a violation of the Student Abroad Standards of Conduct (see #28!) and you risk being sent home from the program. Talk to your program director if you are unsure of the policy for your specific program.
  2. The laws and regulations of the country that you will be going to. If you will be in a country where you are not of legal drinking age or where alcohol is seen as a cultural taboo, you are subject to their local rules and customs. See below for more information on local laws: to make a long story short, UW and the U.S. Embassy will be limited in their ability to help you if you are found in violation of federal or state laws. If you drink alcohol illegally, the excuses of “I didn’t know,” “it’s legal back in the U.S.,” or “I didn’t drink very much,” will not be sufficient.

 

Even if there are no local laws and your program permits the consumption of alcohol, you are required to do so responsibly. A significant number of preventable emergencies occur because alcohol was a factor.

If you consume alcohol to the point that it impairs your ability to participate in a program, threatens the health and safety of yourself or others, causes harm to relationships on your program or within the host country, or you are engaging in dangerous or illegal behaviors while intoxicated, you may be in violation of the Student Abroad Standards of Conduct (again, see #28!) and may be removed from your program.

If you are permitted, by both your program and the country you’re in, to consume alcohol while abroad, remember the following:

 

  • Drinking impairs your situational awareness. Situational awareness is twice as important when you’re in an unfamiliar place, where you may or may not speak the local language. Best practice is to stop well before you think you should or forgo the alcohol altogether. The extra drink will not be worth it if you end up at a local hospital and aren’t able to fully participate in the rest of your program.
  • Tolerance for alcohol often changes while abroad.  Studies show a new environment affects your tolerance for alcohol – be mindful of this when trying new drinks in new places and in different quantities. Take it easy! Altitude, temperature, and the alcohol percentage in a given drink are all factors in how much your body can tolerate. Just because you know your limits in the U.S. doesn’t mean that they translate 1:1 while you’re abroad. Stop well before you think you should. Watch this video to gain a better understand of alcohol tolerance and the physiological effects of alcohol on your body.
  • Do not give into peer pressure. It’s the advice of every parent, professor, and your Global Health and Safety Team: just because everyone else is doing it, whether that be friends on the program or those from the host culture, it doesn’t mean that you have to. Not all students drink! Maybe that’s you. We support that and so should your fellow students.
  • Cultural norms are often more moderate than expected. Please don’t be a loud and disrespectful tourist stereotype. You represent yourself, the University of Washington, and your home country while you’re abroad. Respect both local and personal limits while drinking. It’s unlikely that public drunkenness is tolerated by locals.
  • Follow the same “common sense” best practices that you would in the U.S. Don’t leave your drink unattended or with a stranger, use the buddy system when out after dark, practice bystander intervention and don’t leave someone alone in an impaired state, don’t engage in risky behaviors while/after drinking (i.e. swimming, exploring unfamiliar areas, meeting strangers, or operating machinery including e-scooters), and avoid drinking to the point of intoxication.

A significant number of emergencies that happen while abroad, such as personal injuries, robberies, muggings, drownings, and sexual assaults, involve alcohol.

Making sound choices about alcohol consumption is one of the most proactive steps you can take towards protecting your health and personal safety abroad.

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).

The excuses “I didn’t know the local laws,” “I’m an American citizen,” or “I’m a UW student,” will not absolve you of guilt or protect you from the consequences if you break the law while abroad.

You are responsible for knowing the laws of your destination country. Use the internet, Department of State resources, and local contacts to research the rules and regulations, including things to avoid or ways that U.S. citizens or travelers may be subject to harsher penalties or fines, particularly for things that may be normal or ignored for locals.

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 only provide limited assistance and support.

In some places, travel poses a higher risk of arbitrary detention, meaning that the local laws may be enforced on an arbitrary basis or that you may be detained without clear reasons. These warnings are reflected in the Department of State travel advisories. If you are traveling to a location that has warnings about arbitrary detention or enforcement of laws, it’s important to know your rights and the services provided to you by the U.S. Embassy:

 

For U.S. citizens, the U.S embassy/consulate can:

  • Provide a list of attorneys who speak English if you require legal assistance
  • Assist in contacting your family in the U.S.
  • Help you obtain money from your family in the U.S.
  • Monitor your health and welfare if you are in a hospital or in jail

 

The U.S. embassy/consulate cannot:

  • Demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen who has been arrested abroad or cause the citizen to be released
  • Represent a U.S. citizen at trial, give legal advice, or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds

 

When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. If you are arrested, immediately ask to speak to a consular officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Under international agreements, the U.S. government has a right to provide consular assistance to you upon your request. Consular assistance is not the same as legal assistance or a “get out of jail free card.”

Reach out to Global Travel Health and Safety if you have specific questions before you depart.

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. Make sure you’re receiving ISOS and Department of State alerts, regarding protests that may be impeding traffic or affecting certain parts of a city. Protests can turn violent very quickly and without notice; best practice is to avoid entire areas if you know large demonstrations are scheduled, even if they are likely to be peaceful.

While you may be politically engaged and active in protests within the U.S., traveling abroad is a different environment. You may or may not speak the local language or understand the local laws around protesting. Protests and demonstrations are also listed as exclusions within your UW Study Abroad insurance; if you are injured as a result of a protest or demonstration, your medical care will not be covered under insurance – which includes any medical bills or evacuation. If you are detained, fined, or jailed as a result of participation in a demonstration, the U.S. embassy and UW will be limited in their ability to help you.

We believe in important causes and want you to remain engaged in the issues you care about. But your first amendment right to free speech is not protected in every country you travel to. Find ways to show your support in other ways: volunteering, donating, or helping raise awareness. Stay away from the protests and demonstrations while abroad.

Excursions and high risk activities:

High risk activities and excursions aren’t covered under insurance! If you engage in a high risk activity during your free time, while on a study abroad program, any medical expenses incurred will not be reimbursable and will be your sole responsibility. Know what is/isn’t covered before you sign up for something.

If you want to engage in an activity or excursion while abroad, make sure that your program director or resident director know and have signed off on it. It is your responsibility to have their approval, to know your insurance coverage, and to make sure you’re using reputable services:

Are they licensed? Are there safety precautions? Is there first aid/AED on site?

Use the Excursion Section of our vendor vetting checklist to help check your plans for the appropriate safety measures.

Water safety:

Drowning is the number one cause of death for Americans abroad in countries where water activities are a popular source of tourism! Drowning accounts for more than half of reported deaths for travelers under the age of 25.

The best way to prevent dangers in the water is to follow a few simple basic safety practices. We know it’s exciting to run into the ocean or dive into the local swimming hole while you’re abroad, especially if the weather is warm and you’re in a country with great water-based activities.

Taking a second to pause before jumping in can help prevent an emergency situation and allow you to have the best study abroad possible:

  • Be aware of signage! If you can’t read it, have someone translate it for you. If signs say not to swim, watch for certain dangers, or lists rules around being in the water, do not take that as a mere suggestion; we expect you to adhere to all signage.
  • Do your research ahead of time. What are people saying about the location online: are there reports of injuries or deaths, is there wildlife that people advise looking out for?
  • Watch the locals. If you’re the only person on the beach or in the water, don’t assume you got lucky and found a great, secluded spot; if no one is around or no one is in the water, there’s likely a reason. The locals know best.
  • Make sure people know where you are. Your program or resident director, as well as in-country friends, should know where you are and when you’re planning to check back in.
  • Don’t swim alone. Whether it’s friends joining you for a beach day or making sure other’s are around, don’t get into water where you’re alone.
  • Feel for rip currents or rip tides before you jump into open waters. The easiest way to do this is by standing so that the water comes up to about half of your calf. If you feel a sort of pull from the water, it’s likely there’s a rip tide or current. In that case, don’t swim. If you get caught in a rip current while out swimming, make sure you know what to do:
    • Don’t panic. Control your breathing and don’t begin swimming frantically to shore.
    • Swim along the shoreline, parallel to land, until you escape the current’s pull.
    • When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.

 

Wherever you travel, you’ll have to answer the question of what to do with your cellphone. Do you have an international data plan or will you purchase a local SIM card? If you are traveling somewhere rural, you should consider bringing a satellite phone.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to have cell service or internet, so that you can reach emergency services and in-country contacts, in addition to be reached by them, if someone needs to get in touch with you. It’s also required to have International SOS downloaded onto your phone, as part of your Study Abroad registration process and enrolling in insurance.

Certain countries have higher levels of risk when it comes to cybersecurity or information safety. It is your responsibility to know local laws and risks around technology and technological safety.

Some best safety practices, when it comes to your devices:

  • Purchase and pack privacy items for your technology – privacy screen filters and country specific adapters.
  • Check your devices and social media for information that could be contentious; know that your devices are subject to local laws and may be searched.
  • Refrain from traveling with expensive devices or technology, wherever possible; purchase extra insurance for these items, if you need to bring them with you.
  • Use a VPN when possible and in countries where it is legal (note that it is not recommended or legal to use Husky OnNet for travel to China or Hong Kong).
  • Back up all data before traveling and only take essential data with you.
  • Use complex passwords, PINS, and screen lock codes.
  • Protect RFID-enabled devices and bank cards with RFID shielded containers and wallets.
  • Avoid public discussions of private data or opening sensitive sites in public or while on public wifi.
  • Avoid logging into personal sites or entering personal data while on shared computers.
  • Don’t install software updates while away from a trusted, secure network.
  • Choose a private or incognito browsing when accessing websites.
  • Clear your internet history, caches, and cookies regularly.
  • Review bank and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized transactions; have fraud alerts set up with your bank.
  • Consult with UW Global Travel Health and Safety or UW-IT if you have specific questions about your cyberhealth or technology while abroad.

The following are resources provided by other Universities on protecting your data and technology while traveling abroad, that we recommend consulting:

Information security while traveling abroad: Stanford

Travelers guide to cybersecurity: Syracuse

Global travel IT: Indiana University 

Information security abroad: UVA

See Emergencies Abroad for information about emergency assistance abroad.

Remember in an emergency, follow these three steps:

  1. Contact local emergency services: police/fire/ambulance. Your first step is to get yourself to a safe and stable situation. Rely on local police, fire, and ambulance services to take care of any immediate needs.
  2. Contact your on-site resident or program director, international office at your host university, or in-country contacts. Once you’re safe and stable, let someone in your country know what is happening. They will be your best resource in next steps and making sure you’re being advocated for, especially if you’re sick, struggling, or somehow incapacitated.
  3. Contact International SOS: +1 215 942 8226 or via your app (24/7 assistance). International SOS is our emergency assistance provider for incidents abroad. They can help arrange guarantees of payment with hospitals and medical providers, coordinate evacuations, or help schedule follow-up appointments. They’re going to be the ones who mobilize your insurance and get a plan in place.
  4. Contact UW Global Travel Health and Safety: travelemergency@uw.edu (for emergencies that are being handled), 001-206-632-0153 (for 24/7 emergency assistance). We want to know what is happening, so that we can support you on this side of the ocean. If an incident has happened while abroad, let us know so that we can be a resource for you.

Medical precautions & insurance

If you have medical needs, please tell your program director or program provider so that they can best support you. Hall Health and the Centers for Disease Control offer great health resources for study abroad students. If you have specific concerns related to your health or insurance coverage before you depart, reach out to UW Global Travel Health and Safety to schedule a consultation.

Whether you are engaging in study, research, internships or community engagement abroad, you are required to enroll in UW Student Abroad Insurance. We also advise you to maintain your U.S. health insurance while you are abroad.

UW Student Abroad Insurance can accessed through International SOS. To set up an International SOS account, you should move through the Travel Registration process for independent travelers.

If you are participating in an official UW Study Abroad program (faculty-led program, exchange or provider program) then you will be prompted by UWSA staff to enroll in insurance as part of your pre-departure process.

Overview

The UW Student Abroad Insurance plan is tailored to the needs of UW students. Here is an overview of services provided by the plan:

  • Comprehensive medical insurance coverage while abroad
  • Medical, security and natural disaster evacuation coverage
  • Emergency assistance service through International SOS
  • Pre-departure support and location-specific guidelines
  • Location-based alerts and updates related to health, safety, and security of your destination.

Benefits

  • Low cost, billed directly to your student account
  • Medical insurance benefits while overseas
  • Evacuation services for medical emergencies plus repatriation from most locations in the world
  • Natural and political disaster evacuation coverage
  • 24/7 travel assistance and support
  • Easy enrollment – simple process to register, download and activate International SOS app

Plan coverage

Covered
  • Treatment outside the U.S. for injuries or illnesses that occur abroad.
Not covered
  • Medication for pre-existing conditions. Please plan to bring enough medication with you for your entire time abroad.
  • Loss arising from participation in professional sports, scuba diving, hang gliding, parachuting, or bungee jumping. If you plan to engage in these activities abroad, please contact your UW Study Abroad adviser.
  • Elective medical care includes dental care, routine physical exams, and routine eye exams.
Important notes
  • Students enrolled through UW Study Abroad will be prompted to enroll in UW international insurance as part of their registration checklist. They do not need to register separately.
  • The UW Student Abroad Insurance plan is distinct from the UW International Student Health Insurance Plan (ISHIP). Enrolling in the UW Seattle, Bothell or Tacoma international student insurance plan for the same time period will not automatically enroll you in the UW Student Abroad Insurance plan.
  • All students (including international students) should list a U.S. address as their address of record on the application.

Other plans and insurance waivers

  • If you already have another study abroad insurance plan that covers expenses arising from emergency evacuation, repatriation of remains, injury, illness or death while participating in study or research abroad, you can petition for a UW Student Abroad Insurance waiver.
  • If the petition is granted, you will be exempt from the requirement to purchase the UW Student Abroad Insurance Plan on the condition that your personal insurance remains unchanged and in force for the duration of your educational activities abroad.

Schedule a pre-travel health consultation and get necessary vaccines

  • Please be up to date on all routine immunizations.
  • Get destination-specific travel advice and vaccinations before travel from the Travel Clinic at Hall Health Center or your regular doctor. This is particularly crucial if you are traveling to a country with higher travel health risks.
  • Travel consultations can be free for currently enrolled students, and vaccinations are covered by most insurance providers.
  • Schedule your travel advice appointment at least eight weeks prior to departure, as some vaccines require multiple visits to the clinic over a period of weeks.
  • Talk to your doctor about any prescription medications that you take regularly.

Note that well checks, including doctor and dental visits, as well as routine immunizations or other preventative care appointments are not covered under your international insurance plan through UW.

Prescription medications

Do you take prescription medications regularly?  Please plan ahead and talk with your doctor.
  • If possible, bring enough medication to last throughout your time abroad. Most countries don’t allow you to bring more than a 3 month supply of a prescription into the country. If you will be abroad longer than 3 months, decide if you’re going to reach out to the embassy/consular office to get approval to bring in a longer supply, or if you know the generic name of the medication and can get a prescription refilled in-country.
  • Even if you won’t be abroad for more than 3 months, you might need to have a prescription filled while abroad. Bring a letter from your doctor or pharmacist describing your medicine(s), dosage, a generic name for them, and a description of the condition being treated. Consider having this information translated into the language of your destination country.
  • Make sure that your prescription medication is not a banned substance in your destination country. This information can usually be found on travel/immigration pages or by reaching out to a consulate/embassy directly.
  • Reach out to Global Travel Health and Safety if you have questions about bringing your medications abroad.
Additional considerations
  • Take an extra pair of glasses or contacts in case your primary set is lost or damaged.
  • Store medications in their original pharmacy containers. Carry copies of the prescriptions to avoid problems with customs. Have the generic name and dosage of your prescription written down somewhere, in case you’re the victim of theft, fire, or lost luggage and need to have an emergency refill.
  • Some countries restrict import of syringes and certain medications and contraceptives.
    • Check with your destination country’s embassy or consulate to verify that your prescription is legal in that location.
    • If you are diabetic or have another medical condition in which a syringe is needed to administer medication, bring a supply of disposable syringes. These are not available in all countries, and are essential to protect yourself against HIV, hepatitis, and other communicable illnesses. Check with your destination’s consulate or embassy to see if there are any restrictions on bringing these supplies with you. If restrictions are in place, you may need a letter of approval from the consulate or embassy to for proof, while you travel.
  • If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, asthma, mild epilepsy, or allergy to penicillin, consider wearing a tag or a bracelet, or carrying a card to identify your condition so that you can be treated properly.

Register your trip in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

STEP is a free service of the U.S. Department of State. Through it, you can provide information about your trip so that they can better assist you in case of an emergency and provide important health, safety and security updates for your host country.

Your UW Student Abroad insurance is not travel or trip cancellation insurance.

Your UW coverage includes medical, mental health, and evacuation coverages. It will not reimburse you if your flight is canceled, your luggage is lost, or your technology breaks. Trip cancellation insurance offers a layer of financial protection should your plans be cancelled, interrupted or delayed. Typical policies cover cancellation or interruption for:

  • Weather-related issues
  • Illness or injury
  • Changes of mind
  • Sudden travel conflicts
  • Delay in obtaining a visa or passport
  • Lost or stolen luggage

Some policies also cover acts of terrorism, airline bankruptcy, and accidents en route to the airport. The cost for travel insurance varies depending on the level coverage, but generally ranges between 4-8% of the trip cost. Consider insurance companies listed with the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, which provides advice on choosing travel insurance.


COVID-19 updates and information

The 2021-2022 school year saw the resumption of study abroad. We are working with experts at the UW and beyond to offer safe, academically rigorous programs. Review our COVID-19 page for more guidance and policies.

More info