While You're Abroad: Staying Safe
No matter where you are in the world, there are always safety concerns. However, people are more likely to encounter dangerous situations when they are in unfamiliar surroundings and unskilled at interpreting the environment and language. By following the tips below, you can greatly reduce your risk abroad. In addition to these tips, please visit the US State Department's website for Students Abroad for more information about how to stay safe and what to do in an emergency situation.
Use common sense
You probably wouldn’t walk around downtown Omaha alone and intoxicated at 3:00 am, right? So don’t choose to do something similar in a foreign country. All of the basic safety rules you’ve been taught since you were a child still apply when you’re traveling:
Always be aware of your surroundings and location
It’s easy to be distracted when you’re in a new place, so you need to be extra cautious and aware of your surroundings. Don’t rely on others to navigate the city for you; you should always know where you are and how to get back to your accommodations.
Use the buddy system
This is one of the most basic and effective safety measures. If you are going anywhere, particularly at night, you should have at least one other person with you.
Do your research
Every country, city, and even neighborhood has its own unique safety risks. Look up your destination on travel.state.gov and learn about local crime, areas to avoid, and how best to stay safe. If you are doing any traveling outside of your host country, research those destinations as well.
Know what can increase your risks
Alcohol is often a factor in incidents that occur when students are overseas. If it is legal for you to drink in your host country and you choose to do so, take extra precautions so that you do not increase risks that can lead to dangerous situations.
Have local emergency numbers memorized
Find out what the 911 equivalent is in your host country and save it in your cellphone and on a piece of paper in your wallet. Also know where the nearest police stations are in your city.
While serious crimes are rarely encountered by study abroad students, theft and traffic accidents are far more frequent. Follow these guidelines to stay safe and avoid incidents.
Theft is a major issue for international travelers. Pickpocketing is one of the most common forms, and U.S. students are often unaware of the ways in which they are exposing themselves and their belongings. The following are tips to help keep you and your belongings safe:
- Avoid suspicious people on the street who may approach you.
- Thieves often work as a team so that one can distract you while the other pickpockets you; be wary of people begging for money, children who suddenly walk up to you, and people who ask for directions or point to something
- Always keep your belongings close and secured to your person:
- If you’re carrying a bag, it should have a sturdy strap that you can wear across your body
- Make sure any zippers are facing in towards you and aren’t accessible to passersby
- Backpacks aren’t advisable, but if you choose to wear one, wear it on the front of your body so you can see it and keep it secure at all times
- Wallets or other valuables should never be kept in back pockets, front pockets, or near the top of bags
- Never set down your belongings in a public place
- Keep your bag on your lap or wrap the strap around your leg if you must place it on the floor
- Watch out for places that typically attract tourists or Americans
- Museums, historical sites, and other attractions are a common place for pickpocketing
- - “American” restaurants and bars are also typical targets for thieves
- Be extra cautious on public transportation: being in a confined space can make it more difficult to completely secure your belongings
- Road accidents are the primary cause of death for international travelers. Pay attention at all times and keep these things in mind:
- Traffic laws are different in every country, and pedestrians don’t always have the right of way
- If traffic drives on the opposite side of the road, you’ll need to be extra careful as a pedestrian because your instincts are automatically off
- You should never drive a car while in a foreign country
- Depending on which city you’re in, biking can be extremely dangerous
- Look both ways, and then look both ways again, before crossing the street
- Construction and other factors can affect traffic drastically, so don’t take anything for granted when it comes to traffic flow
What you should do if an incident occurs
If something does happen to you or your belongings, assess the severity of the crime and decide if a police report needs to be filed. Find the nearest police station as soon as possible if it is a serious theft or assault of any kind. You then need to notify your program or host university of what has occurred. They will be able to assist you with any necessary procedures.
If your passport has been lost or stolen, you will need to contact the nearest embassy. You should always keep a photocopy of your passport and visa in a safe place so that you have proof of identification if something happens to your original travel documents.
The Education Abroad Office wants to ensure that all of our students are safe. If you have been the victim of a crime, please check in with us.