Studying abroad can convey great rewards, but being a visitor in a foreign land also comes with significant risks. Europe remains the best destination for Americans studying abroad, and participation in programs in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East continues to grow, according to the Institute of International Education.
Many of these destinations are secure for visiting Americans and boast contemporary health industries, police and security services, or have no visible criminal enterprises. Still, students should still exercise carefulness as they travel and study. Here are 7 tips to make sure one’s time abroad is happy, productive, and secure:
Research your destination
One of the top things you can do to prepare is: research your destination. The U.S. State Department frequently updates travel advisories for each country. These advisories provide detailed information about what parts of the country are secure, what sorts of public transportation to make use of, times of year to avoid travel, common scams, and more. Recently published guidebooks, for instance, those by Lonely Planet, are an excellent supplement to the official information and can offer trustworthy local information on cultural customs, etiquette, and the best neighborhoods to stay.
Learn local laws and customs
As you research your destination, pay close awareness to laws or local customs. Numerous countries have strict laws regarding drug use that could result in important jail time. In countries where alcohol is broadly permitted, there may be different laws or cultural customs around drunkenness or public intoxication.
In some countries, you also should be particularly cautious about discussing sensitive topics, which in some cases are illegal. For instance, Americans have been arrested for supporting Tibetan independence in China, as well as for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions, or BDS, movement in Israel. In some difficult situations, the mere discussion of forbidden topics is seen as support for terrorism, for example, supporting Kurdish independence in Turkey.
Prepare for emergencies
Make copies of relevant documents like your passport, visa, and airline and hotel confirmations – and maintain them separate from the original documents. You might also carry on a digital copy on your smartphone or tablet. In the event that a document is missing or stolen, having a copy can assist you in getting new documents more promptly. Also, plan for what you will do in an emergency. Record or digitally store the phone numbers for emergency services and the local embassy/consulate before you leave. Learn a few fundamental phrases in the local language to request help or inform a doctor of allergies.
Take care of your health
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention keeps a website with information for travelers about usually suggested vaccinations and medications. If you’ll travel to a country that suggests special vaccines/medications, take a trip to a travel health center at a local hospital or student clinic. The health professionals at these hospitals can also recommend you on certain medications that could be illegal in some countries. For instance, numerous ADHD medications are illegal in Japan.
Take enough of whatever medication you require to last your whole trip or have a plan to fill up your prescription abroad. It is unlawful in most countries to mail drugs, so having a sufficient supply is essential. Possibilities are your regular health insurance will not cover you outside of your home country. Numerous companies offer “travel insurance” – not to be bewildered with “trip insurance” – that will cover emergencies and medical expenses while abroad. Many of the plans are inexpensive. Often your bank or credit card may provide travel insurance. You can visit websites like www.insuremytrip.com to search for providers also.
Be ‘digitally safe’
It is a nice idea to have a lock screen passcode while traveling in case your phone is stolen. Additionally, many services such as Apple’s Find My iPhone or Google’s Find My Device will allow you to erase your phone if it is lost or stolen distantly. Several travelers pay their mobile phone carrier to have global access during their trip, but this can fast become costly. Many countries will allow you to buy a pre-paid SIM card for service after you arrive in-country for use with your existing smartphone or another you purchase abroad. If using your personal device, you’ll need to ensure your phone is unlocked and will work in that country. Numerous sites provide services designed to decide if your phone works abroad, for example, WillMyPhoneWork.net. Other travelers will bear a mobile hotspot with roaming service or merely rely on open Wi-Fi that is often obtainable in most countries.
Take personal security seriously
Some of the most common crimes that travelers fall victim to, such as pickpocketing and baggage theft, result from being unfocused and unaware of what is happening around you. Apply situation awareness using a technique similar to an OODA Loop. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act that makes you alert to your surroundings and enables you to react properly to crimes and other dangers. Please keep track of your private possessions and secure them when they’re out of your vision. If you’re traveling by road between cities, stay away from traveling at night as road situations and lighting may be minimal.
Avoid civil and political conflict
Avoid joining or attending big gatherings or mass demonstrations. While observing a protest may give an appealing cultural lesson on local civics, a protest could turn aggressive at any moment or invite police action. In several cases, local pickpockets may use the event as an interruption. Monitor local news media and Twitter for recent information on possible disruptions to travel or public services. If you purchased travel insurance, several of those policies would assist get you out of the country if the situation gets too unsafe.