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 a crime.
One of the most important factors in your safety abroad is likely to be your behavior and knowledge of your host country. 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. Safety information on all countries is available from the U.S. State Department.
Recommendations for your Safety
- Use Common Sense - Think before you act. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. To reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a crime, including sexual harassment and assault, avoid areas known to have a high incidence of crime and do not walk or travel alone, especially at night.
- Pre-program emergency numbers - At all times carry a cell phone with preprogrammed emergency numbers and/or an emergency contact card, with phone numbers for program leaders and local emergency resources. Research backup means of communication for areas in which cell service is unavailable.
- 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.
- Traffic Rules - Learn and follow local traffic rules and practices and to avoid dangerous modes of transportation, including mopeds and sub-standard buses. Travel accidents, whether as a pedestrian or driver/passenger, are one of the main sources of injuries and fatalities on study abroad programs. See the Department of State’s Resource for road safety overseas. 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. When crossing streets, keep in mind that pedestrians may not be given the right of way.
- Communication plan – Have a communication plan with your family 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.
- Avoid Excessive Use of 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.) which is associated with an increased risk of becoming the victim of a crime or accident
- 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 and credit cards. Wear the pouch under your clothes. Keep a separate record of your 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.
- Live like a local - 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.
- 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. 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. Observe local students' behavior and try to mimic it.
- Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs - 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.
- Avoid demonstrations or any kind of civil disturbances. Even innocent bystanders can be hurt or arrested.
- In case of an emergency, remain in contact with the on-site staff or the American consulate or your home country consulate.
- Take care of a situation on site - Athough your first instinct may be to call home, it is typically easiest and fastest to try and solve the situation on site. Please be sure to contact your host university international office or program provider when non-emergency situations arise.
- 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.
- Avoid being engulfed in a crowd - This is the preferred environment of pickpockets.
Read more Alcohol and Drugs Abroad