Staying Safe While Abroad
International travel is risky, and travel overseas introduces Americans to new types of threats. When incidents occur while you are abroad, ranging from motor vehicle accidents, sexual harassment, or theft, they can be especially difficult to cope with because you are in an unfamiliar situation.
There are steps that you can take to minimize risks while you are abroad, but they can be easily summed up like this: Trust your common sense!
Don't be an obvious foreigner-- make an effort to blend in as much as possible and respect local norms and customs. Loud or boisterous behavior also advertises your presence in a very negative way. Display confidence. By looking and acting as if you know where you are going you may be able to ward off danger.
Dress conservatively and leave jewelry at home-- fashion makes a statement though is not always interpreted the same way you would. What you may consider casual clothing (shorts, sleeveless tops) might be seen as provocative or inappropriate in another culture. Additionally, flashy clothes or lots of jewelry may signal to potential criminals that you will make a good target. It is often best to dress conservatively – by local standards. Take cues from locals. Most good travel guides will give you tips about appropriate dress in the country in which you are traveling
Keep copies of your passport and hide the original-- make three copies of your passport: one to put in your suitcase, one to carry on your body, and one to leave with a family member or trusted person in the US. Don’t carry your passport with you on a daily basis. Rather, put the original in the safest place you can find, which will depend upon your living and traveling arrangements. Passports are the hottest commodities in the world, so be mindful of where yours is at all times.
Listen to your gut-- never ignore your sixth sense! When you get alarmed or spooked, there is probably a good reason for it. Stop and calmly think for a few seconds: observe and assess the situation around you, decide what your options are for getting to a safer place-- then make a decision and act.
Drink only in moderation-- alcohol is a major contributor to many of the problems in which students find themselves when abroad. Drinking to excess can lead you to making bad decisions and winding up in dangerous situations. Act responsibly and don’t put yourself in an unnecessarily risky situation.
Know how to contact the local embassy or consulate-- the local embassy or consulate provides many services for its citizen’s abroad. US citizens should register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website. Know the location of your nearest embassy or consulate.
Read local English-language newspapers and websites-- it is important that you not ignore the news while you are abroad. Be aware of the news, especially as it relates to foreigners, so that you can make appropriate choices while abroad.
Avoid unexpectedly amorous men and women--attractive as you may be, it is strongly advisable to be wary of people who approach and try to woo you the moment you arrive. Most of the time the real motive is gaining a foreign passport or your wallet or taking you to a gift shop where you’ll be pressured to buy.
Be aware of real security threats-- before you ever set foot out of your home, you should do some research. What is the political climate in the country you’ll be visiting? Might there be strong anti-American sentiment? Most countries have some type of English-language media outlets on the Internet that publish local news; wire services such as Reuters often cover such developments (check their archives), or the U.S. State Department. Check them out! It is always better to enter a foreign country with your eyes open. It might take keen eyes and ears to detect rumblings of civil unrest that can increase dangers to foreign visitors. Not only will a heightened awareness shorten your response time to potential warning signs, but also gaining an education in local or national politics will demonstrate to those you meet that you have a greater depth of interest in your host country than sampling the local pastries. Watch local news programs, read local papers and talk with the locals.
Avoid known hotspots, political conversations, and political rallies-- avoid political conversations and rallies, which may increase tensions and emotions or breed angry mobs for which a U.S. citizen may serve as a scapegoat. Political issues with host nations may escalate and provoke retaliation against hostile or bigoted remarks concerning Americans. The CGE will not approve travel to countries currently under a travel warning issued by the US State Department.
Click here to read the current list of State Department Travel Advisories.
Control only the things you can control and don't panic -- the most important advice is to control your own situations. Controllable factors that can place you at risk are often the same things that will put you in danger in the US:
- Being under the influence of alcohol and drugs
- Being out after midnight
- Being alone at night in an isolated area
- Being in a known high crime area
- Sleeping in an unlocked area
- Being out after local curfew, if any
Don’t use recreational drugs-- with very few exceptions, other countries are extremely intolerant of recreational drug use and make no distinction between "hard" and "soft" drugs. Being caught with even a tiny amount of a controlled substance can result in arrest, deportation, and/or imprisonment. If this happens, there is nothing that the US State Department can do to help you. Do not take this risk.
Click here for more tips for maintaining your personal safety when going abroad.