CRIME AND TERRORISM
Most countries in the world have less street crime than exists in the U.S. Indeed, students returning from abroad often report that they never felt safer. This does not mean that there is no crime and that your safety is assured. Being a foreigner and not knowing the rules of local behavior may increase the odds of you becoming the victim of crimes such as fraud, robbery or theft. Moreover, in some circumstances it is possible that you will get caught in the midst of political strife which may not be directed at you personally, or even at you as a U.S. American, but nevertheless can be very dangerous.
One of the most important factors in your safety abroad is likely to be your behavior. Learn as much as possible about your host country before you go. Safety and security depend to a large degree upon you being well prepared, listening and heeding the counsel you are given, and remaining vigilant. Read all the information that you receive from your program, particularly about safety conditions and concerns in your host country. Safety information on all countries is available from the U.S. State Department. Listen carefully to the information provided in the on-site orientation.
U.S. citizens residing abroad should register with the U.S. Embassy online.
A FEW RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR SAFETY
- USE COMMON SENSE - Think before you act. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don't wander through unfamiliar areas alone and always remain alert.
- Don't go out alone at night. Even when you're with friends, stick to well-lit streets where there are a lot of people.
- Make sure the resident director, host family or foreign university official who is assigned the responsibility for your welfare always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency. Leave a schedule and itinerary if you are traveling, even if only overnight. Let the program coordinator, your host family or roommate know of any traveling you plan to do.
- Develop with your family a plan for regular telephone or e-mail contact so that in times of heightened political tensions you will be able to communicate with your parents directly about your safety and well-being.
- Always try to travel with at least one other person. If you do decide to travel alone, then, you need to refer to the section on traveling solo. You will need to take extra precautions.
- Use caution when walking or jogging. Remember that in some countries drivers use the left side of the road. In certain areas, drivers may not expect anyone to be running along the road.
- Remain alert when walking. When crossing streets, keep in mind that pedestrians may not be given the right of way.
- Be careful with alcohol. If you drink, make sure it is only with people you know and trust and designate one person to remain sober. As in the United States, never drink and drive. (Drunk driving laws abroad are sometimes much more severe than those in the United States.)
- Keep a low profile and try not to make yourself conspicuous by dress, speech, behavior or in ways that might identify you as a target. Don't attract attention to yourself with provocative or expensive clothing or boisterous conversation in public. Observe local students' behavior and try to mimic it.
- Use only official taxis. Unless meters are used, agree on the fare before you get in. Know what the appropriate action is if your taxi gets into an accident.
- Before you travel from your program site, update yourself on your destination and consider postponing a visit to a place if there have been problems there recently. Find out what methods of transportation are safest and whether any roads should be avoided.
- Protect your passport. Keep it with you in a front pocket or your purse. Be careful when displaying it. 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 of your traveler's checks, credit cards and passport/visa information in another part of your belongings so that you will have a record if these are lost or stolen and leave a copy with a contact person at home.
- Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items such as train or airline tickets or to fund hospital stays.
- In case of an emergency, remain in contact with the on-site staff or the American consulate or your home country consulate.
- Although your first instinct may be to call home, it is typically easiest and fastest to take care of a situation on site. Please be sure to contact your host university international office or program provider when non-emergency situations arise.
- Try to visually blend into the host culture by dressing like the locals. Leave particularly American forms of dress (baseball caps, baggy clothes, running shoes, etc.) in the suitcase or closet.
- Spend social time with host country nationals rather than with groups of Americans. Avoid large noisy groups of Americans that would draw attention. Try visiting local cafes, restaurants, bars and cultural sites rather than gathering at American style locations such as fast food restaurants, American named discotheques, bi-national centers, etc.
- Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to their laws!
- In general, avoid being engulfed in a crowd. This is the preferred environment of pickpockets.
- Avoid demonstrations or any kind of civil disturbances. Even innocent bystanders can be hurt or arrested.
When walking around Madrid, keep an eye on your purse and bags especially in the subway because even though they seem and are pretty safe, bad people notice when you are not Spanish! (A friend of mine had her Ipod and some cash stolen without even noticing until she got home.)
Francisco Villanueva, Spain Fall 2006
OBEYING THE LAW
Don't make the mistake of assuming that other countries will excuse illegal acts simply because you are a foreigner or a student. Even minor infractions, such as exchanging money on the black market or making purchases for foreign friends in hard-currency shops that are off limits for natives, can lead to severe penalties. Breaking a law will, at a minimum, get you dismissed from your study abroad program and possibly deported from your host country or arrested.
U.S. embassies and consulates are able to offer only limited assistance to U.S. visitors who break laws. If you are arrested, they can contact your family and provide you with a list of local attorneys. They can visit you in prison to see that you are being treated humanely. They cannot, however, provide free legal assistance or money for bail. Most importantly, they cannot get you out of jail.