International Travel Toolkit: Graduate and Professional Students
Steps You Can Take to Travel More Safely
Click on each item for more information
Know how to react
UnitedHealthcare Global can help you deal with an emergency, but you need to remove yourself from any danger first (e.g., by getting yourself out of the building if there’s a fire).
It can be hard to know how to react if you’ve never thought about it before:
- Don’t think, “That won’t happen to me.”
- Take this approach instead: “If it happens to me, I can keep myself safe.”
Consider in advance the possibility of various emergencies occurring during your travel and how to react: develop a personal safety plan.
Consider plausible emergencies
Then ask yourself questions…
- If there were a fire in my residence, can I escape through my window?
- How many doors in the hallway to the nearest exit?
- What would I do I’m trapped in my room?
- What would I do if I were mugged as I walk home from class?
- What would be my nearest escape route?
- Where could I go to be safe and contact the police?
- If there were a natural disaster and my city were in chaos, who would I call?
- How would I know if I should stay or leave the country? How would I find transportation to the nearest embassy if I needed it?
- If needed, could my hotel or residence supply me with food and water for a couple days?
It may seem silly to think about these possibilities, but occasionally they do happen
- You’re preparing yourself to stay calm and act quickly in an emergency!
- Eventually, you’ll feel safer and more confident
And, while it is common for students and families to be concerned about headline-making events such as natural disasters, terrorism and civil unrest, some of the most common emergency incidents abroad involve traffic accidents and swimming. Your day-to-day health and safety abroad depend largely on the responsible decisions you make before you leave and while you are traveling. Educate yourself before you go about common risks (e.g., traffic), culturally acceptable behavior, and legal restrictions in your host country. When you arrive talk with your program director, onsite staff, or local contact about what to do in an emergency and make sure you know specifically what would be expected of you. While you are there pay attention to your surroundings and use good judgment.
As soon as you have the cell phone you will be using in-country during your travel, program the following numbers so they will be readily available to you if needed. In an emergency, utilize your in-country resources and UnitedHealthcare Global first.
- UnitedHealthcare Global Emergency Response: 410-453-6330 (call collect)
- Your in-country program leader’s phone number
- Local numbers for police, ambulance and fire: 911 Abroad
- Local embassy phone number and address
- Local hospital phone number and address
Yale 24-hour Security: 203-785-5555
- Yale Health Acute Care (203-432-0123) for assistance with a health matter or the number of your personal healthcare provider
- Yale Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center: 203-432-2000
- Your program directors at Yale
It’s also a good idea to keep a written copy of these numbers in your wallet.
While you’re abroad
At ATMs be especially aware of your surroundings: if you become distracted, cancel your transaction and walk away.
Use a reputable company or bank to exchange money.
Keep only the cash you need for the day in your purse or wallet.
Don’t carry more cash than you can afford to lose.
Split up larger sums of cash, with the largest sum preferably in a money belt: don’t reach into your money belt in public – go to a bathroom or private area.
Visit the Association for Safe Intl. Road Travel (ASIRT) website. It is a helpful resource for people using public transportation or driving, containing road reports for nearly every country:
- road conditions for specific routes
- recommendations for transportation options
- driver behavior
Access the reports with your NetID and password.
Driving or renting a vehicle
It’s highly recommended that you use public transportation, taxis, or contract with a transportation service instead of renting or driving a vehicle. Learn more.
- If organizing group travel, 12- and 15-passenger vans are not allowed due to their high rate of rollover crashes.
1. Travel only in locally licensed and authorized taxis:
- Ask someone to call a taxi for you until you know what the taxis should look like.
2. Wear a seatbelt if available.
3. Don’t get into a taxi with an other person already in it.
4. If the taxi driver is driving too fast or recklessly, ask him or her to slow down, or end the ride and get out if it’s safe.
5. Get any luggage from the trunk before paying.
6. Try to agree upon an approximate cost for the taxi ride before getting in the vehicle:
- Especially if you are unfamiliar with the area, if there’s no meter, or if the driver doesn’t start the meter.
- Ask a local friend or acquaintance for help until you know how much the trip should cost.
Alcohol and culture
Know the culture around alcohol in your destination
- Is drinking socially acceptable? Is public intoxication?
- What are the penalties for public intoxication or drinking and driving?
Don’t leave drinks unattended and don’t accept a drink that has already been opened. This advice pertains to women and men!
Alcohol is involved in most arrests, accidents, violent crimes, rapes, and deaths suffered by student travelers
You are subject to the drug laws of your host country
- Yale, the U.S. government, or your own government will likely not be able to negotiate your release
Penalties for drug possession may be severe
If you enjoy the nightlife during your travels, do so safely:
- Know the areas to avoid late at night
- Always go out with people you trust, in pairs or small groups, then watch out for one another
- Never walk home alone
History in the making…
This is an interesting time to be studying abroad. Demonstrations, protests, strikes, and social movements are a part of the political and social change of the times and it is natural to want to witness and experience these events. Realize that protests can be volatile and turn violent quickly and that it is up to you to decide when a situation is safe or not. Avoiding demonstrations is the safest choice, but if you decide to go or find yourself caught up in such an event:
- Stay far from the center of activity and do not document the event with your phone or camera.
- Do not presume that as a foreigner you will be protected from violence or from arrest by local law enforcement if you are mistaken for being involved.
Risks of documenting a protest
Be aware of local laws, customs, and regulations regarding documenting a protest.
- You can be arrested for taking pictures or videos or recording your observations.
- You may also put the protesters in danger.
- Be responsible in the messages you put out on social media, realizing that your posts may be read by local authorities, your hosts and your family at home.
If you are arrested
First, ask politely to notify your embassy.
If you are refused a phone call, be persistent but polite.
Then, call Yale Security (203-785-5555) or UnitedHealthcare Global (410-453-6330).
While in custody
For U.S. citizens, a consular officer:
- can help you find legal representation and monitor the conditions of your detention
- cannot provide bail money or arrange for free legal aid
Do not admit to wrongdoing or sign anything.
Do not agree to help your detainer.
In general, keep a low profile
- Learn what is customary for professional workplaces, government buildings, or religious/holy sites
- Don’t wear clothes that announce your affiliation with Yale or that you’re a foreigner
- Don’t wear expensive-looking jewelry – even if it’s fake
Click here to learn how one Yalie realized (the conspicuous way) that “the Japanese do not wear shorts.”
- Learn if it’s appropriate or safe to exercise outdoors and in public spaces
- Be careful when discussing contentious topics (e.g., religion, politics) with strangers; be discreet and sensitive to those around you
- Learn if it’s legal or appropriate to take photos of people, monuments, government or military buildings/personnel, or religious/holy sites
- Research local laws in advance. Useful sources include the U.S. State Department’s international travel section, the U.S. Embassy in your destination country, and local newspapers, all of which you can access online even before your leave. For further country-specific resources, visit the “Learning about your Destination” or “Countries” sections of this website.
Harassment may be particularly difficult to identify overseas where cultural norms are often different than in the U.S. But being culturally sensitive does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries or make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Educating yourself about sexual harassment, violence, and gender dynamics in your host country can empower you and your friends to make safer choices.
- Talk with your host family, your program and local students to understand cultural differences better.
- Balance independence with safety to avoid potentially dangerous situations, especially when alone or at night.
- Trust your instincts: if something doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t.
- Research your host country’s culture using the resources on the Learning about your Destination page.
- Review A Guide for Traveling and other resources on Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education (SHARE) Center website.
If you feel you have been harassed, or if you are sexually assaulted while abroad, the following resources are available to help:
- Your in-country program: it is most likely to have the cultural knowledge and legal next steps for the host country.
- Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education (SHARE) Center, 1-203-432-2000: confidential counselors are available 24/7.
- Title IX Coordinator for Yale College: Angela Gleason, 1-203-432-2502.
- UnitedHealthcare Global Emergency Response Center: call collect 1-410-453-6330.
- Yale Security: 1-203-785-5555.
- Your program directors at Yale.
The following resources provide safety advice for female and LGBTQ travelers.
- What You Should Know Before Traveling Abroad: Cultural, Health and Safety Advice for Women (UnitedHealthcare Global)
- Revisiting the solo female travel experience (Legal nomads, 2/7/13)
- U.S. State Department Go Guide for Women Travelers
- U.S. State Department Information for Women Travelers
- Sexual Harassment And Prevention In College Students Studying Abroad (SAFETI Online Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2000)
- The Women Travel Guide (transitionsabroad.com)
- Colby College Diversity and Study Abroad Website
- U.S. State Department LGBTI Travel Information
- LGBT Student Guide for Education Abroad (Written by a student at the University of Southern Florida)
- LGBTQ Guide to Studying Abroad (Columbia University Office of Global Programs)
Most of the citations listed above were drawn from the blog Building a Better World.
If you will be traveling outside your host city or country, let onsite program staff, your host family, or a friend know your travel plans and when you expect to be back.
Remember, you can always update your Yale Travel Registry information to include new travel plans or make changes to existing plans.
Before you go
- Read the crime section of the U.S. State Department Country Specific Information.
- Share a copy of your itinerary with family or a friend.
In your residence
- Make sure your home, residence, or room has a working smoke detector.
- When you arrive, figure out a possible escape route or routes in case there is a fire.
- Make sure door and window locks work.
- Take a small flashlight and keep it handy.
When out and about
- Be careful when sharing information about your lodging, travel plans, or your travel companions (including Facebook and Twitter posts, especially if you are adding new acquaintances).
- Keep your cell phone at least 50% charged and don’t let your SIM card balance get too low.
- Pay attention to your surroundings, especially once you start to become comfortable.
- Stay away from high crime areas and if out at night, make sure you and your friends have a safe way home.
- If you are mugged, always do what the mugger says: your belongings are never worth more than your life.
- Don’t hitchhike – if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it while traveling.