While You're Abroad

Reducing Risk of Illness

  • In developing areas, boil your water or drink only bottled water or carbonated (bubbly) drinks from cans or bottles with intact seals. Do not drink tap water or fountain drinks or add ice to beverages. Avoid eating salads, fresh vegetables and fruits you cannot peel yourself, and unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot, and avoid food from street vendors. If living with a host family, discuss any food allergies or dietary preferences in advance.
  • Do not touch animals, including domestic pets, especially monkeys, dogs, and cats, to avoid bites and serious diseases (i.e., rabies and plague). If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, get medical attention right away, and clean the wound well with large amounts of soap and water and a povidone-iodine solution, such as Betadine®, if available.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before meals and after going to the bathroom. If soap and water are not available and your hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand gel (containing at least 60-percent alcohol) to clean your hands. Cleaning your hands often with soap and water removes potentially infectious material from your skin and helps prevent disease transmission.
  • If visiting an area which has risk of malaria, use insect repellent and a mosquito net for sleeping, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors between dusk and dawn. Make sure to take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after your trip, as directed.
  • In areas with avian influenza (bird flu), avoid poultry farms, bird markets, and other places where live poultry is raised or kept. For more information, see the Outbreak Notice: Guidelines and Recommendations, Interim Guidance about Avian Influenza A (H5N1) for U.S. Citizens Living Abroad.
  • Be aware that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, are among the most common infections worldwide. The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and who you know is uninfected. The proper, consistent use of latex or polyurethane condoms when engaging in sexual activity can greatly reduce a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

General Safety in Public Places

You will soon be entering a city and culture that are probably new and unfamiliar to you. Because of this, you may miss some of the signals that a local person would take into consideration. A little common sense can go a long way.

Do not leave your bags or belongings unattended at any time. Security staff in airports or train stations are instructed to remove or destroy any unattended luggage. Do not agree to carry or look after packages or suitcases for anyone. Make sure no one has placed anything in your luggage.

When you travel, use a money belt or waist pouch to carry your passport, credit cards, and traveler’s checks. Wear the pouch under your clothes. Keep a separate record or your traveler’s checks and a photo copy of your passport in another part of your belongings so that you will have a record if they are lost or stolen.

Be as inconspicuous in dress and demeanor as possible. Downplay those elements of your appearance and manner that broadcast that you are American. Here are some “tip-offs” to avoid if you don’t want to be pegged quickly as an American:

  • Wearing U.S. college or university insignia clothing or heavily patriotic American clothing
  • Wearing baseball caps or U.S. sports teams shirts or jackets
  • Talking loudly with a group of friends. Try to speak the local language in public, even with other Americans. Even if you have a heavy accent you will not attract as much attention, particularly if you take a cue from the locals and speak quietly.

Use the buddy (or in the evening, small group) system, especially in the first few weeks of your stay. Walking with someone else helps deflect approaches by would-be harassers.

Be careful how late you come home at night. Try to get home while public transportation is still running or plan on taking a taxi.

Be careful to observe traffic lights. Stay on sidewalks away from the curb, and walk facing oncoming traffic whenever possible. Drivers in large cities can be aggressive and often erratic. Never assume a car will stop for you or steer out of your way. For those of you in countries where drivers drive on the left-hand side of the road, you will have to make an extra effort to check before crossing the street.

Local Transportation and Travel

While abroad, you should remember that public transportation is the way the great majority of local residents get around their town and country, so it should be a part of your experience as well. For that reason, and for reasons of economy, we strongly discourage students from renting automobiles or other motorized vehicles while abroad.

If someone leaves a package unattended on a seat near you in any crowded public place (i.e. airports, train stations, metro stations, or on a bus or other public transportation), notify the driver or other authority and get away from it as quickly as possible.

Be careful with whom you ride in a car.

General Travel during Weekends and Breaks

Do not travel alone. Always try to travel with at least one other person.

Be careful who you allow to join your group. Make sure that anyone who joins your group is known well by someone you know.

Update yourself on your destination and consider postponing visits to a place if there have been any problems there recently. It is better to be safe than sorry. Knowledge of current events is important. Follow the news to stay informed. You can access travel advisories on the U.S. Department of State website.

Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items, such as a train or airline tickets, or to fund hospital stays.

In Times of Political Conflict

Keep abreast of the current political situation by listening daily to the television or radio, and keep reading the newspaper. In the event of an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media. In case of an emergency, remain in contact with the on-site staff or the American consulate nearest you.

When in large cities or other popular tourist destinations, avoid or spend as little time as possible in potential target areas for terrorist activities, especially places frequented by American citizens: bars, clubs, U.S. fast food restaurants, branches of American banks, American churches, and American consulates and embassies.

Keep away from political demonstrations, which can easily result in clashes between demonstrators and authorities, particularly those authorities seen as aligned with the United States. If you see a situation developing, resist your curiosity. Walk the other way. Go home and watch it on television.

Use Common Sense

A general rule of thumb is to use common sense and be as cautious as you would in any large city in the United States. Be aware of your surroundings. If you want to visit a new neighborhood, try to go during the day first. Look at a map before you leave, and note the nearest metro stops and bus/trolley routes. You may walk at your own pace, but look alert and purposeful. If you find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings, act as if you know what you are doing and where you are going, and move to a place where you are comfortable.

Going Out of Town?

Keep the program director(s) informed of your whereabouts. You must let the director(s) and/or your host family or roommate know of any traveling you plan to do. This is so we can contact you in case of emergency.

Advice for Women

What may be appropriate of friendly behavior at home may bring you unwanted, even dangerous, attention in other cultures. Try not to take offense to whistles and/or other gestures. Realize that these gestures may be as much a part of the culture as its food, history, and language, but if your intuition tells you a situation is dangerous, then act as if it is and try to avoid conflict. Be extra careful with whom you trust. This applies generally, but is especially important when traveling alone.

For Your Safety

  • Wear your safety belt, and follow the local customs and laws regarding pedestrian safety and vehicle speed. Use helmets when riding bicycles and motorcycles. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of preventable deaths in travelers.
  • Be aware of the cultural impact of being involved in or causing an accident that includes injury to the local population. In unfamiliar or foreign environments, utilize a local driver. It is important to note the legal age for driving varies by country.
  • Swim in well–maintained, chlorinated pools, and only if you are an experienced swimmer. Drowning is also a leading cause of death in travelers.
  • If visiting an area which has risk of water-borne infections (i.e., schistosomiasis), do not swim in lakes or streams or other fresh bodies of water.
  • To prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B, avoid receiving tattoos, body piercings, or injections.

Travel Information and Emergency Contact

The State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs – provides travel announcements and warnings for countries and regions around the world, along with a range of services to Americans living and traveling overseas (http://travel.state.gov).

Center for Disease Control – provides information on health conditions, required inoculations, and other valuable information for travelers (www.cdc.gov).

Parents and students may also wish to monitor news-based web sites. Two reliable sources of up-to-date information are: The New York Times and Reuters.