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8 Tips for Staying Safe While Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can be a great way to spend a semester or an academic year of your undergraduate education. It’s an opportunity to develop skills and experience that can positively impact your education and career. However, one apprehension many students might have, especially if traveling independently, is study abroad safety.

We’ve all heard horror stories of American students abroad whose safety was compromised in one way or another, and worrying about potential dangers of international travel is certainly not unwarranted. Luckily, there are many proactive actions you can personally take to increase your personal safety and decrease the risk of being put in undesirable situations. Below are eight study abroad safety measures you can take to ensure your time overseas is safe and

1. Be aware of your surroundings

One of the easiest and most valuable study abroad safety practices is to be aware of your surroundings at all time. Be cognizant of other people’s actions, and always trust your gut feeling. If something about a situation or interaction doesn’t feel right, or if a person or group’s behavior seems suspicious, then remove yourself from that situation immediately. Feel comfortable saying “no” with confidence to someone whom you don’t trust.

2. Be aware of pickpocketing

As is the case in many cities in the U.S., pickpocketing in other countries, especially in tourist centers, is a major problem that you should be aware of at all times. The best way to prevent being pickpocketed is to be alert. Equally important to be smart when carrying valuables such as cash or your passport. For example, if you carry a purse keep it closed at all times; if you carry a backpack wear it in front of you when taking public transportation; if you normally carry your wallet in your back pocket, switch to carrying it in your front pocket. These simple actions can prevent you from becoming a victim of pickpocketing.

3. Be careful with alcohol

Many students see studying abroad as a chance to let loose in another country, especially students who are under the legal drinking age in the U.S., but are of age in countries where the drinking age is 18. However, drinking irresponsibly in a foreign environment can potentially lead to unsafe situations because of alcohol’s affects on one’s alertness of surroundings. The easiest way to keep yourself safe is be smart and stay aware of how much alcohol you are consuming, and to avoid going out alone.

4. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself as a foreigner

Unfortunately, the majority of victims to theft and scams are unsuspecting foreign travelers, because they are assumed to be carrying cash and other valuables. For this reason, it’s a good idea to try to attract the least amount of attention to yourself as a foreigner and to blend in as much as possible. Some ways to proactively blend in are researching the type of clothing most people in your host country wear and packing accordingly (i.e. try to not wear clothing with English sayings or slogans, or with names of American colleges/universities), learning the local language and using it as much as possible, and not wearing flashy jewelry or expensive clothing.

5. Study maps and learn the area well

One excellent proactive step to take even before you leave home is to research the town or city in which you will be studying to the greatest extent possible. Study maps, and learn the area as well as you can. Having an in-depth knowledge will prevent you from becoming lost and will make the city or town feel less unfamiliar once you arrive. This will also allow to you to appear confident as you walk around and explore, which is one way to blend in with the locals.

6. Always carry a cell phone

International data plans can be expensive, but luckily in most cases you can purchase inexpensive pay-as-you-go phones with SIM chips in your host country. Carrying at least a basic cell phone with you at all times is a good safety practice in case you need to call the police or paramedics, or contact friends and family in case of an emergency.

7. Photocopy important documents

Keeping photocopies of your important documents like passport, driver’s license, travel documents, and health insurance cards is an easy action you can take to save yourself should these documents become stolen or compromised. Keep these copies in a secure location.

8. Let others know where you are going

It’s always recommended to travel or explore with at least another person, and ideally in a small group of people. However, if you do decide to go anywhere alone then make it a point to let someone else know where you are going and what you will be doing. If your plans change, be sure to let that person know.

Be safe, and enjoy your time abroad!

Hopefully these study abroad safety measures will help you make your study abroad experience a safe and enjoyable one. This advice isn’t meant to scare you or lead you to believe that traveling abroad is overtly dangerous but more to help you realize that studying abroad can be quite safe given that you follow safe practices and travel smart. You can be safe and still have a lot of fun studying and traveling overseas!

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.