Many travelers fall victim to crimes because it is assumed that they are carrying cash. In an already foreign environment, they are often easy to distract. Americans are generally easy to spot and therefore easy targets. Try to blend in with the local people. While abroad you should take the same commonsense safety precautions that you would at home.
If you should fall victim to crime, remember that the U.S. Embassy is there to help you. Every embassy and consulate has a duty officer on-call around the clock to assist in an emergency.
Money and valuables
- Do not carry large amounts of cash – carry traveler’s checks and major credit cards instead.
- Keep your passport, money, and all other important documents (tickets, credit cards, travelers checks) safe in a money belt or small purse that can be worn underneath your clothing. Wearing a purse on the outside highlights where you keep money and valuables; moreover, it can easily be cut or ripped from your shoulder. Many thieves will simply grab the bag and run, sometime breaking arms in the process. If possible, avoid carrying a handbag.
- Wrapping rubber bands around your wallet can make it difficult for a pickpocket to remove.
- Know how to cancel your credit cards in case they are stolen. Keep in mind that U.S. toll-free numbers do not work from overseas.
- Do not take valuable items on your trip.
- Do not become a target for thieves by wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive-looking jewelry.
- Register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you will be studying and give them a photocopy of your passport. Some of you may be on a program that has a resident director who will take care of this for you.
- Carefully guard your passport, visas, and other documents that you carry with you, and do not leave them in the outer flaps of your bags. It is better to have to dig for them the few times you will need them than to leave them out for anyone to steal.
- Make a copy of the identification page of your passport. Keep this copy separate from your passport and carry it with you at all times.
- If local law does not require you to keep your passport with you, carry only the photocopy of your passport when you are out and about.
- When you travel, leave an itinerary of your travels with your resident director or contact person at the International Office of your host university, as well as your host family or roommates. Alternately, you should tell your parents where you plan to travel. Someone should know where you are at all times.
- When you’re distracted, you’re an easy target for thieves. Do not leave your bags unattended.
- Never agree to carry packages for anyone. They could contain drugs or other illegal items.
- When you’re on the telephone or reading a sign or train schedule, do not forget to keep an eye on your bags. Remember: keep your eyes and hands on your bags at all times.
- Be especially alert in crowds. Train stations, crowded shopping areas and tourist spots – any place with a crowd – is likely to be a place for thieves and muggers as well.
- Be careful to whom you give your luggage. Sometimes thieves pose as porters or taxi drivers.
- When you stay at a hotel, make use of the safety deposit boxes that many hotels have. Leave your passport and any money you don’t expect to need that day safely locked away.
- Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items such as an airline ticket.
Out on the town
- Two are safer than one. Make an effort to meet the locals, but do not go with any strangers if you are alone.
- Women especially should not walk alone at night. In some countries it is dangerous to take a taxi alone at night for both men and women.
- Dress to blend in with the local citizens.
- Find out which parts of town are considered risky by the locals. As in the United States, always stay in well-lit and well-traveled areas. Don’t take shortcuts through alleys or unsafe areas.
- Be alert to your surroundings and the people with whom you have contact. Be alert to anyone who might appear to be following you and to any unusual activity around your place of residence or classroom. Report any unusual people or activities to onsite staff immediately.
- When using local transportation, avoid traveling in old, poorly maintained vehicles. Inquire about the safety records of different bus companies. When taking a taxi, it is good advice to sit in the back seat.
- If you find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings, try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going.
Safety Precautions for Times of Political or Social Unrest or Conflict
In times of political or social unrest in your host country or region or when the U.S. becomes a party to a political conflict anywhere in the world, additional precautions are advisable:
- Keep up to date with the current political situations by listening daily to the television or radio, if available. If not, ask friends, host family members, and colleagues to share with you any relevant information they learn. In the event of an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media. In case of an emergency, remain in contact with your program’s onsite staff.
- Keep in touch with family and friends and give them your sense of the local situation.
- Be sure that your parents know how to reach the UMBC Study Abroad Office and your program provider or international office in case they have particular concerns.
- Make sure that you are registered with the closest U.S. consulate or embassy.
- When in large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid places frequented by North Americans: bars, discos, and fast food restaurants associated with the U.S., branches of U.S. banks, American churches, U.S. businesses and offices, and U.S. consulates or embassies.
- Keep away from areas known to have large concentrations of residents aligned with interests unfriendly to the U.S. and its allies. Always consult with the onsite officials before undertaking travel to neighboring cities or popular tourist destinations.
- Be as inconspicuous in dress and demeanor as possible. Wear moderate colors and conservative clothing. Avoid American logos on your belongings and clothing. Avoid large, loud groups.
- Keep away from political demonstrations and civil disturbances, particularly those directed toward the U.S. If you see a situation developing, resist the temptation to satisfy your curiosity and investigate what is happening. Walk the other way.
- Do not agree to newspaper or other media interviews regarding political conflicts. It is important to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Do not make reference to your program group. In such cases, always say “no comment” and hang up or walk the other way.
You should also consult the U.S. State Department Travel advisories for up to date information on travel precautions for the country where you will be studying to traveling. Travel advisories are available for reference here. In the United States, the Office of Overseas Citizens Services can also assist American students abroad and their families in the U.S. in emergency cases. There is a 24-hour number to call, 202.647.5225. Additional health and safety guidelines can be found here.
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