Health and Safety Overseas
We do NOT want you to be fearful of your destination country and culture. Your destination is full of wise, wonderful, and accomplished people who will share their lens on life and rich cultural history with you. Your goal is an authentic connection with these people.
That said, every country has health risks, and every country has a percentage of people who look to profit from victimizing others and they often look for targets among travelers who are unfamiliar with the local environment. Strive to be a savvy traveler. Your goal is to stay healthy, and reduce your chances of being someone’s target. While some safety issues are out of your control, many are within your control by virtue of the decisions you make.
Prime Places to be Scammed or Targeted: Transportation Centers, Tourist Sites, Night Life Spots.
Travel Medical Kits: Consider assembling your own personal medication kit to include at least some of the following:
back-up prescription medicines
gauze and tape
vitamins & herbal meds
vitamin drink mixes (Airborne)
pain meds: Aspirin, Ibuprofen
tweezers & safety pins
motion sickness meds
picture of your Mom…
- Keep them in original bottles.
- Request them by generic prescription name, not by brand name.
- Request an emergency back-up supply for critical meds in the event of loss or theft.
- Do not plan on “thinning” your meds. Take an adequate supply and follow your doctor’s advice.
- Do not plan on borrowing or lending prescription meds with other students.
- Some countries are stricter. Check if your meds are restricted or need customs pre-approval.
- Some countries are more liberal. Restricted items in the US may be available from an overseas pharmacist.
Pre-existing Conditions: Obtain a Medic Alert identifier at www.medicalert.org.
Disability: Consult with Evergreen Access Services, your faculty, or the International Programs Office with regard to any disabilities that may need accommodation. Mobility International www.miusa.org is a non-profit site whose mission is to assist students with disabilities to study abroad.
World Wide Medical Resources: Join IAMAT (free or by donation) International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers at www.iamat.org. IAMAT membership provides access to an international network of doctors fluent in English, and care or consultation is priced at a set fee. IAMAT membership is NOT health insurance.
Travel Diseases and Immunizations: Learn all about what they are and how to protect yourself at this U.S. Center for Disease Control Travelers Health site: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. The Evergreen Wellness Center provides fee-based travel consultation services and immunizations during the academic year; contact at 360-867-6800, located in Seminar I 2110.
Arriving Safely at your Destination
Discretely get money as needed at approved currency exchanges or ATM’s at the airport.
Make solid plans in advance for your transportation from the airport to your first night accommodations. Do not take rides from strangers or private taxis. Use only certified or government approved taxis per State Department guidelines. Be cautious on public transportation since you will be easily identified as a visitor. Know where you are going in advance.
Assess your accommodations for safety and security. Utilize safes and locking compartments if they are available to you. Until you get to know others, be skeptical of trusting other hostel or hotel residents.
Do not let “wonder and fascination” with your destination cause you to make bad decisions, such as wandering aimlessly about a new city. Use maps if available and explore your new environment methodically and carefully. Landmark important places such as police, grocery stores, banks, bus centers, internet cafes, etc.
Contact family, friends, and college faculty or staff and let them know of your arrival.
Register with the US Embassy Smart Traveler program, if you haven’t already step.state.gov.
Some countries require you to register with local authorities within 30 days of arrival. Follow through with this if required, to avoid fines or immigration problems.
Listen carefully to any on-site orientation presentations offered to you. The info is invaluable.
Review your study program, plan, or contract carefully and prepare to get off to a good start
Safety Smarts and Prevention Strategies
Let’s start with a game! Sit and observe any sizeable group of people in a public setting. Imagine you are a thief in search of an easy target. Identify the 5 most vulnerable adults in the crowd to target. Why did you select these people as easy marks?
Review the US State Department Country Specific Information for your destination. Understand the safety and crime patterns that they have tracked, and avoid the situations noted.
Get to know your friendly neighborhood and local businesses. They are likely to help you and watch out for you if they know you.
Keep a low profile in terms of dress and manner. Choose subdued colors, avoid revealing clothing, leave jewelry and valuables at home. If you must carry valuable items, put them deep in your pack, or camouflage them in ratty looking carriers or a local store’s shopping bag. Have conversations in lowered voices.
Avoid walking alone, especially at night or when going to new areas. When possible, go out with a buddy or in small groups. Remember that you don’t necessarily know the “danger signals” to watch for in your new location, and that by simply being a foreigner, you may become a target.
When on the street, act intentional and as if you know where you are going. If you look lost, you may be targeted. If you feel unsafe on the street, step into a shop or restaurant and appeal for help.
Although it’s nice to take a break from being constantly connected, having a cell phone is an important safety measure and allows you to call for help, give your location, and check in with others more easily. Either arrange for your existing phone to function overseas, plan to purchase a cell phone once there, or at least learn how to use public phone systems well and purchase pre-paid phone cards.
When traveling, separate your money and ATM cards. Keep “lunch money” in your front pockets or easily accessible, keep important funds, cards, and passports in a money belt or internal pockets, and always have a final back-up credit card hidden in a secret location. Avoid purses with long, easily cut straps. Some people like to carry a “mugger’s wallet” in the event of robbery; a small amount of cash and unimportant cards may satisfy a robber looking for a quick hit.
Be savvy about the local scams. There is usually someone scouting for a target at transportation centers, tourist sites, and entertainment venues. These are often distraction scams: someone drops or throws something and you stop to help or catch it; you listen to music in the park while a pickpocket works the crowd; groups of young kids surround you and look for a chance to get their hands in your pockets. We have also had students pulled into “my dying sister” scams who voluntarily handed over $2200 to the scammer, someone who had “befriended” them previously in the public square.
Internet Usage: Use www.wififreespot.com to locate free and pay internet locations around the world. Public internet cafes are fine for emailing and internet surfing, but try to avoid using them for any banking or financial matters. Instead, try to use more secure or trackable systems such as at hotels, home systems, university systems, etc. Your smartphone can also be used as a wi-fi only device while abroad, as long as you make sure to turn off cellular service and roaming.
Events at political demonstrations can shift rapidly, turn violent, or police can take actions that sweep you up along with others. It’s tempting to see a bit of history in the making, but if you become involved, even involuntarily, it can be very risky. Not only do you face physical harm, but also arrest and accusations of being a US perpetrator. Keep your distance!
- Most people you meet will treat you as an individual and not hold you responsible for US government, military, or corporate actions. But there are people and organizations who will see any American as symbolic of all problems and who may express strong anti-American sentiments. Be respectful, avoid discussion, and generally remove yourself from the situation if possible, since conversation is not likely to change opinion. Even your agreeing with an anti-American viewpoint may not change aggressive or threatening behavior.
- Research the police systems of your destination. Are they generally trustworthy and helpful? Are there known patterns of corruption, bribery, and brutality? How can you prepare for possible interactions?
Traffic and Sidewalks: The rules of the road and how people obey or ignore them may be very different at your destination. Traffic and pedestrian accidents are the Number Two cause of injury for US students abroad. Be extra cautious when walking, crossing, or driving along streets and sidewalks, and yes...in some places they drive on the sidewalks!
- Taxis: Most taxi experiences will be fine, even if you are overcharged a bit. Try to use only government approved taxi systems and official taxi stands for your needs. Avoid private taxi systems unless you have a reliable recommendation from a friend. Try to negotiate the cost in advance. Check the US State Department Country Information Pages about taxi-related crime and recommendations for your destination. Several Latin American countries report “express kidnappings” involving taxi drivers, and students have been victims of these.
Assess the natural environment for risk. Surf and undertow are big beach risks. Are there dangerous plants, animals, snakes and insects to consider? Is the area earthquake prone? What about air and water pollution, and water-borne disease? If you’re asthmatic, Beijing, Cairo, or Bangkok will present some breathing challenges.
Alcohol and Drugs
The legal drinking age in many countries is lower than in the US. You may have greater legal access to alcohol than you do in the US. It may also be more restrictive in other countries.
Some countries have liberal policies for certain soft drugs, such as marijuana, although in The Netherlands, the law changed May 1, 2012 to disallow foreigners access to the famous cannabis cafes.
When you (or others with you) drink or use drugs, inhibitions are lowered and you have less control over decisions and abilities. You are more vulnerable to assault, accidents, and crime.
The Evergreen Enrollment Agreement for Study Abroad that you signed states: “I understand that use of illegal drugs is strictly prohibited. The use of alcohol is prohibited when engaged in instructional activities. Students who abuse this policy are subject to expulsion from the program.”
Alcohol is the Number One cause of injury to US students studying abroad.
Read the fine print! Under some health insurance policies and terms, drug and alcohol-related accidents may not qualify for benefits.
Each year over 2500 Americans abroad are arrested or detained in connection with illegal drugs. Fines, imprisonment, and other penalties may be very harsh. As of 2012, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia have the highest commitment to the death penalty for drug offenses, but other countries also impose severe punishments.
Ways to Reduce Alcohol and Drug Risks:
If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
Learn the drinking customs in other cultures. Getting smashed and acting boorishly will not earn you many friends.
Eat before and while you drink.
Have a soft drink, juice, or water between drinks.
If you want to be social and hang out with your friends at a bar but not drink, get a club soda with lime, or other fancy nonalcoholic sipper!
Track your drinks, and know your tolerance. Consider how hydrated, hungry, and tired you are.
Don’t add other legal or illegal drugs into the mix.
Respect people who choose not to drink; don’t mock or pressure them into drinking.
Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t take drinks from strangers. Avoid punch bowls.
Go with a friend; leave with a friend. Don’t leave a friend alone with a stranger.
Have a plan for getting home safely.
Steer clear of illegal drugs and drug trafficking situations. The risks are not worth it.
Do not lend or borrow prescription meds.
The “dating norms” you learned in the US do not apply in other cultural contexts. It’s easy for you or a dating partner to misinterpret invitational and sexual cues.
In some countries some people are eager to acquire an American spouse as their “green card” to the US. Always be thoughtful of any legal commitments you make.
Pre-marital sex is judged harshly in some traditional cultures, both socially and legally.
Some people attach importance to having sex with someone of another race, culture, or country as part of their sexual history and experience, or to demonstrate their openness to diversity. Some would challenge this type of motivation.
Some people think that what happens between them and local dating partners isn’t important because they won’t see them again once they return home. This rationale has also been challenged.
The risks of unsafe sex are global: disease; unintended pregnancy; social, legal, and emotional consequences.
The incidence of HIV/AIDS infection is much higher in some parts of the world than in the US; in some regions 25% of adults are HIV positive. Many other STI’s occur in the sexual landscape as well.
Expect there to be differences. Understand the norms of the culture before venturing in.
Non-verbal communication and invitational clues differ.
Be clear about what consent means to you. Communicate boundaries clearly.
Always use protection. Bring barriers from the US if you think you’ll be sexually active overseas.
Consider other types of contraceptives as well.
Consult with local program staff on norms for dating and any issues that come up.
Consult health services for any medical irregularities that arise.
Women will experience gender-role challenges when traveling or living abroad.
Normal behavior for women in the US, such as smiling or making eye contact, may be interpreted differently in some host cultures.
Unwanted attention is common in many cultures. Openly staring at a woman, suggestive or explicit comments on the street, catcalls and whistling, touching or grabbing a woman occur in many cultures, and your individual protests are not likely to change that, (though you can support local women who want to change these phenomena!)
Research shows that US women report being more sexually active overseas than at home, and they are likely to be more open about sexual practices than many local people.
Drinking alcohol or using drugs can blunt your ability to interpret social and behavioral clues, and thus increase your vulnerability.
Some Ways to Be Savvy:
Take a local self defense class before leaving to increase self-confidence.
Interview a local “older sister” type woman about local norms for women and men.
Follow the example of local women in terms of dress, behavior, and demeanor.
Dress in neutral or muted colors to avoid calling attention to yourself.
Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact and smiling at strangers.
Be alert on public transportation such as crowded buses and trains.
Carry items in a local store’s shopping bag to convey that you’re a local.
Travel in groups of two or more and agree not to leave events alone.
Learn how to call “help,” “fire,” and “rape” in the local language.
Trust your instincts, be clear about boundaries, say “no” when you need to, and be willing to leave.
Learn what behaviors are associated with prostitution and avoid them.
Consider wearing an inexpensive ring to convey that you’re married and to discourage unwanted attention. It’s not foolproof, but it may deter some men.
Scams abound. Many a foreign man has “forgotten” his wallet, been wined, dined and bedded, and then disappeared with the generous woman’s remaining money and luggage while she’s off at the restroom.
Early in your stay, identify any Sexual Assault or Women’s Support Services organizations in your destination country. Familiarize yourself with their location and services, even if only for solidarity support of other victims.
Check out these websites:
Sexual assault in any setting is a traumatic experience. When it occurs in an overseas setting, it can be additionally challenging since you are far removed from family and friends, familiar medical and police systems, and any known support organizations. Add to that language barriers, significant differences in cultural norms, morality, religious views, and legal systems, and you have a daunting situation. Evergreen will strive to support you if you experience sexual assault overseas, help you access needed resources to move forward from the event, and support you in submitting official reports, if you choose to do so.
Note: Almost all Evergreen employees (including faculty and Academic Advisors) are legally required to report information heard from students about sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating or domestic violence, and stalking to the Senior Conduct Administrator, the Civil Rights Officer, or the Title IX Coordinator. If you don’t want to start with that type of reporting and formal follow-up, consider contact Evergreen’s Office of Sexual Violence Prevention first, since reports to the OSVP will be confidential.
1. Sexual assault can occur in any country and in the context of any cultural or religious tradition.
2. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault: men, women, transgender, young, old, lesbian, bi, gay, etc. Sexual assault is an act of violence and a power display and any category of person can be a victim.
3. Sexual assault can be committed by any imaginable perpetrator: another student, program staff, faculty, strangers, criminals, local friends, host family members, internship supervisors, police, and so on. Reporting on persons who have some authority or power over you can be difficult and complex, but achievable.
4. Use of alcohol or drugs will alter your judgment, or that of someone else, and result in you being more vulnerable to assault. Alcohol or drugs are involved in the majority of reported assaults.
5. Predator drugs, such as GHB, ketamine, and rohypnol (roofies), are common in many countries and are used routinely to dope someone up for the purpose of sexual assault, abduction, or theft. womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/date-rape-drugs.cfm.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, some suggested actions:
1. Get away from the attacker and get to a safe place. Seek the support of a friend.
2. When feasible, try to write down as many details of the event as you can recall.
3. Consider seeking immediate medical attention. If you do so:
- Do not shower or clean up.
- Keep all soiled clothes in a paper bag, not plastic. Plastic can destroy biological evidence.
- Do not brush hair.
- Do not use the toilet.
- Do not brush teeth or use mouthwash.
- Do not eat or drink anything.
- Do not clean up a crime scene.
- If you think predator drugs were involved, get tested.
- Remember that some people you talk to may be legally required to report the event to authorities, while with others you are entitled to confidentiality. Ask and be clear on this.
4. Contact the US Embassy or Consulate to seek advice on medical, counseling, and legal referrals. Ask about local sexual assault service agencies. Ask the Embassy for advice on reporting the assault to the local police, since they will know if police systems in that country are supportive or not. The Embassy may also be able to advocate for exams and treatments that may not be easily available in that country, such as contraceptive intervention.
5. Seek medical attention within 72 hours of the event if possible, but even after that period doctors can:
- Treat surface injuries.
- Test for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) and sometimes administer treatment.
- Offer emergency contraception, if available and legal in that country.Conduct a forensic exam to preserve evidence for any police reports and legal actions you take later.
6. Consider making a police report. Police support in regard to sexual assault varies from country
- Bring a copy of any written account you may have for a consistent reference to details.
- Take a fluent friend along to support you, help communicate clearly and serve as a witness.
- Re-affirm the non-consensual nature of the event. You did not give consent.
- Resist your own and police use of language that suggests you – the victim – are to blame.
- Use caution when referencing use of alcohol or drugs. Some police will attempt to blame the victim in this case, despite a condition of incapacitation and lack of consent. In the case of illegal drugs, you may also be admitting to a crime.
- Request an official copy of the police report and receive it before leaving the country.
- Note: If you leave a foreign country without making a police report, you may not have a viable option to do so later.
7. Seek follow-up counseling support.
- Consult an in-country Women’s or Sexual Assault Support Organization. Contact the US Embassy for local referrals.
- Contact the Evergreen Office of Sexual Assault Prevention. Confidential.
- Contact the Evergreen Wellness Center. Confidential.
- Contact the Olympia-based agency, Safeplace. Confidential
- US Office on Women's Health
- Seek support from trusted friends and family.
We expect that your study abroad adventure will be a productive, enjoyable and safe experience. However, emergencies do occur, so it’s best to handle them effectively. Here are resources to consider in the event of problems. Always inform your family and Evergreen during serious emergencies. When contacting Evergreen, always provide your name, ID number, phone number, email, specific location, and the type of emergency and help you need.
Useful Contacts (Add phone numbers to your cell phone)
- Evergreen Police Services, email@example.com, 360-867-6140 (available 24/7)
- Evergreen International Programs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-867-6421 (M-F 8am-5pm)
- Evergreen Sexual Assault Prevention, 360-867-5221
- 911 Emergency Numbers by Country
- US State Department - Emergencies
- US State Department - Emergencies, 202-501-4444 (overseas) or 1-888-407-4747 (U.S.)
- US State Department - Students
- US Center for Disease Control
- Medical Resources for Travelers: IAMAT or WebMD
- ISIC Card Contacts, call collect to 202-974-6480 (24/7 service worldwide)
- Money Transfers: MoneyGram or Western Union
- Embassy or Consulate (see "US Citizen Services" on country-specific embassy page)
Victim of Crime
- Contact US Embassy for resources.
- Report event to local authorities. Obtain report.
- Report event to local program provider.
- Seek medical attention, if needed.
- Inform family and Evergreen.
Loss or Theft of ATM or Credit Cards
- Report loss to your bank and credit card agencies.
- Visa: call collect at 1-303-967-1096
- Mastercard: call collect at 1-636-722-7111
- American Express: call 1-336-393-1111
- Report event to local authorities. Obtain report.
- Report event to local program provider
- Inform family and Evergreen.
Loss or Theft of Passport
- Report event to local authorities. Obtain report.
- Contact US Embassy for replacement.
- Fill out this form
- US State Department - Emergencies
- Write down as many details of the event as you can.
- Maintain scanned copies in email, in case.
- Keep paper copies in separate locations.
- Cooperate calmly with the authorities.
- Contact the US Embassy first for resources.
- Inform family and Evergreen.
Accidents and Medical Events
- Seek medical attention as needed.
- Contact insurance provider regarding claims procedures.
- If you have ISIC, call collect at 1-305-455-0307
- Report accidents and assaults to police, as advised.
- Obtain police reports as needed for documentation.
- Contact family and Evergreen.
Natural Disaster, War, and Terrorist Events
- Follow directives of local authorities regarding safety.
- Contact US Embassy for directives.
- Seek medical attention, as needed.
- In case of war, evacuate to nearest airport as directed.
- Contact family and Evergreen.