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)
Going abroad is hard. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder. 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 abroad view:
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 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 – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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.
Your Safety is Our Priority – U.S. Department of State
Country Specific Information – U.S. Department of State Country Specific Information
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.
Becoming romantically involved in an international context, whether with someone of another culture or your own, has a specific set of complications to consider. If you choose to date while you are away from home, you may find some of the following links useful. 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.
Long Distance Communication
Managing long distance relationships – from WVU
Sexual Health Abroad
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
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.
Reach out to Global Travel Security if you have specific questions before you depart.
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.
Reach out to Global Travel Security 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.
See our webpage entitled In an Emergency for information about emergency assistance abroad.
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.