Staying safe in a foreign country is much like staying safe in a large U.S. city. You should understand the potential threats, know which neighborhoods to avoid, and remain vigilant. Rather than focusing on rare events that you cannot predict or control (such as terrorist attacks), focus on common events that you have some control over (theft, pedestrian safety, and getting lost). Be proactive about your safety by becoming familiar with your host country, learning the language, and making local friends.
- Use your common sense to assess a situation. Trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, uncomfortable, or strange, leave as quickly as possible.
- Use the buddy system. In particular, avoid walking alone at night.
- Use moderation when drinking. Don't accept drinks that you don't see prepared. Avoid drugs entirely.
- Don't allow your sense of adventure to make you feel invincible.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and keep your wallet in a place that won't be easily accessible to potential thieves.
- Keep your program director and/or host family informed about your travel plans.
- Avoid driving motorized vehicles of any kind.
- Keep informed about political situations. Read local newspapers and/or websites and watch the local news. Check current State Department advisories and warnings.
- Avoid crowds, protest groups or other potentially volatile situations. If there should be any political unrest do not get involved.
- Develop with your family a plan for regular telephone or e-mail contact, so that in times of heightened political tension, you will be able to communicate directly about your safety and wellbeing.
University of Nebraska Travel Warning Policy
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as a part of the University of Nebraska system, adheres to the Travel Warning policy outlined in the President's Executive Memorandum No. 25. "No university sponsored program of travel for students and members of the general public shall depart from the United State for a destination for which the United States Department of State has issued a Travel Warning."
This policy applies to all individuals seeking academic credit, funding, or university support of any other nature, including those seeking to participate in a program administered by another institution or organization. Before applying to an education abroad program or arranging an independent study opportunity, please check the latest U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings.
HTH Worldwide Political Security and Natural Disaster Evacuation Services
If you are enrolled in UNL's HTH Worldwide insurance policy, you also have access to political security and natural disaster evacuation services. Please familiarize yourself with these services before you depart and share this information with loved ones.
Unintended Signals & Anti-American Sentiment
Be aware of how you carry yourself and how you dress. Your smile, your stride, or your clothing can mark you as a foreigner and, as one presumed to be less than knowledgeable about the locale and its culture, a potential victim. While not distrusting everyone and every situation, you should be aware of risks and act accordingly.
In general, keep a low profile and try not to make yourself conspicuous. Avoid wearing clothing promoting the United States. Remember that anti-U.S. sentiment exists to varying degrees throughout the world. While in most cases it is non-threatening, it is best to avoid individuals who are vocally critical and/or make you feel uncomfortable. In situations where questions are directed at you, it helps greatly to be educated about U.S. policies and history to the greatest extent possible. Calm explanations can go a long way in diffusing anger and antagonism. If you are in a host country during a pronounced period of anti-American sentiment, avoid places where Americans are known to congregate.
There may be different behavior standards for men and for women in your host country. Some places may be unsafe or entirely off-limits to women. If you are the only woman around, you probably should not be there. On public transportation, try to sit near other women. Learn how to respond appropriately to whistles and stares brought on just because you are a female or a foreign female. Whether the gestures are compliments, invitations or insults, getting away quickly and quietly is most effective.
Sexual Assault and Harrassment
The definition of rape might be perceived differently across cultures; however, it is your definition that counts when it concerns your body. The effects of such a traumatic experience should not be ignored or tolerated. Get help. Report the incident to a trusted support person.
If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed while abroad, remember that only you can decide whom to tell and what steps to take next. For tips on what to do after experiencing sexual assault or harassment and a country-specific list of resources and support services abroad, visit the University of Minnesota's page on International Resources for Sexual Assault and Harassment. Remember that, although sexual violence of any kind can have serious effects, most victims/survivors of these incidents find ways to recover without drastically altering their everyday lives.
LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, ally) students face unique experiences and sometimes additional challenges while studying abroad. Before going abroad, it’s important to think about the culture of the host country and how attitudes toward the LGBTQQIA community may differ from those in the United States. Consider the resources you have available in-country should you face discrimination or legal programs. As always, familiarize yourself with the location and functions of the local U.S. embassy, and seek out LGBTQQIA advocacy organizations, as many of these are also accessible to students and travelers alike.
Airport Security & Luggage
Airport security is more stringent than ever. Familiarize yourself with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies on what you can carry through airport security. Don't argue with TSA personnel; they are there for your protection. Uncooperative behavior or inappropriate jokes will lead to greater delays, intensive searches, and possibly criminal charges.
Mark all luggage with your name and address. If you have an itinerary, put a copy inside each bag. Keep a list of what is in each bag and carry the list with your other documents. Mark your bags in some distinctive way so you can easily find them.
Never pack essential documents, medicine—anything you could not do without—in your checked luggage. Put them in your carry-on bag.
Stay clear of unattended luggage or packages in airports, train stations, or other public areas.
Take only the cards you will use on the trip. Keep a separate list of cards, numbers, and emergency replacement procedures.
Carry your passport in a place inaccessible to pickpockets and never pack it in luggage stowed out of your sight. Keep it with you. If your passport is lost or stolen, notify authorities and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. After an investigation to determine identification, you will be issued a temporary passport. To expedite the process, provide officials with a copy of your passport photo page and your birth certificate.
The United States has an embassy in almost every foreign capital city and a consulate in most major cities. To familiarize yourself with the consular services available to all American visitors, check the website of the U.S. embassy in your host country. In addition to helping Americans with crises, the embassy will often honor requests from businesses or educational institutions for personal introductions to local society. Travelers can receive information on universities, local bi-national centers, and private organizations, and individuals who are interested in cross-cultural experiences.
Before You Go
Be sure to register with the U.S. embassy or consulate through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration makes your presence and whereabouts known, in case a consular officer needs to contact you in an emergency. During a disaster overseas, American consular officers can assist in evacuation if necessary. But they cannot assist you if they do not know where you are.
The UNL Education Abroad Office registers students on UNL-administered programs. Find out if your program is registering your trip through the State Department's travel registration website. If it is not, or if you are traveling on your own, you can still register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department's travel registration website.
In case of arrest: Keep in mind at all times that you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting. It is your responsibility to be aware of local laws. You are not protected by U.S. laws. The authority of consular officials to intercede on your behalf is very limited. If you're arrested and/or detained abroad, an official can visit you, inform you of your rights, and provide a list of reliable local attorneys. At your request and expense, they can notify your family or friends, arrange purchases of food or clothing, schedule appointments with doctors and dentists, and obtain visitation permission for family and friends.
In the case of a drug-related arrest, you may find it much harder to find a decent lawyer and you may face very severe penalties and/or deportation. Drug possession—including marijuana possession—is punishable by death in some countries.
In case of illness or accident, embassy or consulate personnel can make sure you're in an approved hospital, check on fairness in billing procedures, and explain your payment options. They can also provide lists of English speaking doctors.
If you're stranded or broke, notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Officially prohibited from furnishing cash or loaning money, officials can suggest possible sources of financial assistance. Depending upon the ability of your family to get you out of trouble and the current status of State Department funds, you may receive a transportation loan.
In case of emergency
- Return to your host family, dormitory, or apartment and remain there until given further notice.
- Contact your program director or consulate for instruction. Avoid going to the US Embassy or Consulate. You can get the information you need by phone or internet.
- Contact your family to let them know that you are safe.