Global Education

Staying Safe Abroad



Safety & Security Issues Abroad

At all times be aware, be careful, and use common sense. No matter how safe you feel and how trusting you are, always stay mentally alert so that you make wise decisions. Don’t go out alone—always go out with at least one other person, and more is better. Be especially cautious at night. Realize that you are easily identified as an American when in large groups and you might be targeted for that reason. You can minimize risks and avoid obvious dangers by keeping a low profile, and not identifying yourself as American by dress, speech, or behavior.

Keep Up with the News

Stay informed of any political unrest that may take place in your city or country. Avoid participating in demonstrations and other political activities. There may be an increased risk of anti-American activity during periods of political conflict. Even demonstrations that are intended to be peaceful can sometimes turn violent, and you don’t want to be arrested for involvement even if you just happen to be there.

It’s also helpful to know when and where major events are taking place, as they can delay or detour travel plans and can cause greater traffic at public transportation stations.

Stay Alert

Be aware of your surroundings, including unknown individuals hanging around your residence. Be suspicious of unexpected packages, letters with no return addresses, and/or letters that appear to contain more than just paper. Visitors should be screened and delivery persons should be asked for identification. Make sure to always lock your doors. Take the same precautions you would in any large city. Do not give out your name or address and do not share program information with strangers. Know where the nearest police stations and hospitals are, and keep emergency numbers handy. Do not go into unsafe or unknown areas.

Safety on the Street

Be especially cautious in or avoid areas where you may be more easily victimized. These include crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, marketplaces, festivals, and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Seek the advice of the local embassy or consulate for a list of “no go” zones, or neighborhoods and areas to avoid. Consider the following safety tips:

  • Don’t use shortcuts, narrow alleys, or poorly lit streets.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will jostle you, distract you, or create a disturbance. Also, beware of groups of children who create a distraction while picking your pocket.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority or store employees.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help.
  • Carry your emergency embassy card and make a note of other emergency telephone numbers you may need such as your on-site program staff and host family or residence staff.
  • If you are confronted in an attempt of robbery, don’t fight back – give up your valuables. If you feel at risk of being kidnapped, do fight back: be loud and attack sensitive areas including eyes, ears, etc.
  • Avoid participating in demonstrations and other political activities. Demonstrations that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent, and you could be arrested for involvement even if you just happen to be present.

For information on driving safety, safe practices for car rentals, and other information regarding driving abroad, please read the State Department’s webpage on road safety overseas.

Safety in Your Housing Accommodations

Your place of residence needs to be a place where you feel safe. Remember, that your actions also affect others (e.g., host family, roommates). Consider the following safety tips:

  • Keep your door locked at all times.
  • Meet visitors in the lobby.
  • Do not leave money and other valuables exposed in your room while you are out. Use a safe if one is available.
  • If you are out late at night, let someone know when you expect to return.
  • Do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
  • Read the fire safety instructions in your room. Know how to report a fire, and be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located.

Safety on Public Transportation

If a country has a pattern of tourists being targeted by criminals on public transport, that information is published in the Country Information section of the U.S. Department of State website. To help you stay safe while using public transportation, please consider the following safety tips:

  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs. If they have a meter, make sure they turn it on. If they do not have a meter, ask in advance how much the journey will cost.
  • Well-organized, systematic robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourist routes is a problem. It is more common at night and especially overnight.
  • If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close to you from behind, move away. If necessary, be loud.
  • Do not accept food or drink from strangers.
  • Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions. If that is not possible, stay awake. If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage and secure your valuables.
  • Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in any way.
  • Be aware that the same type of criminal activity found on a train can be found on a public bus on a popular tourist route.

Local Laws

You must obey the local laws of the host country in which you’re studying. An arrest or accident during a term abroad can result in a difficult and expensive legal situation. It makes no difference if you did not know the law. Your U.S. citizenship does not protect you from full prosecution. Many countries impose harsh penalties for violations that would be considered minor in the U.S., and, unlike in the U.S., you may be considered guilty until proven innocent.

Feel free to take pictures, but only if you know it’s okay. In many countries, you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such as police and military installations, government buildings, airports, border areas, and transportation facilities. If you are in doubt, ask permission before taking photographs. You should also ask permission before taking photographs of local people. This shows respect and is polite.

Don’t accept packages from anyone, regardless of what may be offered or what story you are told. You could miss your flight, your exams, or several years of your life behind bars.

If you find yourself in a legal jam, contact the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. Information can be found online or on your emergency embassy card. U.S. Consular employees cannot arrange for local officials to release detained American citizens, but they can help notify family and arrange a lawyer. Don’t get yourself in trouble and stay away from others engaged in questionable behavior.

How to Handle Money Safely

There are many things to be aware of when handling money abroad. Keep in mind the following:

  • Withdraw cash from ATMs and change your traveler’s checks only as you need money.
  • Do not carry much cash, and try to keep smaller bills available.
  • Countersign traveler’s checks only in front of the person who will cash them.
  • Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
  • Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.
  • Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or buy tickets.
  • If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight. Also immediately inform the appropriate bodies if any of the following are stolen:
    • Travelers’ checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company
    • Credit cards to the issuing company
    • Airline tickets to the airline or travel agent
    • Passport to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate

Illegal Drug Use

Regardless of the laws of your host country, use of any drug by an HPU student may result in termination from the program at the student’s expense. High Point University can assume no responsibility for you if you are arrested for drug use. Something that might be considered a misdemeanor in the U.S. could be seen as a felony in another country. Do not put yourself or others at risk.

Laws concerning drugs may be much more stringent, and penalties more severe, in countries other than in the U.S. Being a citizen of the United States does not mean you are not subject to full prosecution under the local law. The U.S. Consulate cannot get you released if you are arrested. They only can help notify family and arrange a lawyer. If you have a drug problem or suspect that you might, you should not study abroad.

At all times, all HPU students are held to the academic and social policies of the High Point University Guide to Student Life, the HPU Honor Code, and the HPU Code of Conduct.

Alcohol Use

Drinking ages vary from country to country, but excessive drinking is inappropriate in all countries. Excessive drinking can lead to serious consequences, including dismissal from the program. Moreover, all cultures consider drunkenness as socially unacceptable. If you do drink, do so in moderation.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs abroad, just as it does in the U.S. Even if you have never experienced sexual harassment before, know that in some countries street harassment such as shouting obscenities, comments on your appearance or dress, or other verbal or nonverbal sexual harassment may be a cultural norm. Sexual harassment laws also differ from country to country. The country in which you study may not consider unwanted sexual attention harassment even if it would clearly be harassment in the U.S., or if other people (including local people) might consider it a problem. Therefore, the safest way to manage unwanted sexual attention is to distance yourself immediately from the individual or situation, speak up in a clear and firm manner when possible, and, most importantly, report the incident immediately to your program administrator or housing coordinator. Please remember that reporting the incident helps keep you and others safe.

Also, remember:

  • Always walk with someone, even a short distance, and especially at night.
  • Be aware that some people from other countries may mistake friendliness for romantic interest. If you feel that someone is misunderstanding you distance yourself from him immediately and connect with someone from your group.
  • Dress in ways that are culturally appropriate for the country in which you are studying.
  • Never accept drinks from strangers.
  • If you put your drink down and leave it, even for a minute, then throw it away.
  • Never invite people you do not know to your apartment or residence. Even if you know someone, use caution when hosting anyone, not in your program in your apartment or room.

Again, making sure that you are never alone with someone helps keep you safer.

Sexual Violence and Relationship Violence

Having a full and engaging experience while studying abroad is important and it can be threatened by negative experiences. Sexual violence and relationship violence are traumatic events that can destroy your term abroad. Many of us don’t think about potential dangers and the contexts that aggravate certain crimes in other countries.

Sexual and relationship violence is never your fault. To reduce the possibility of sexual or relationship violence, there are some important points to remember. The perception that American women and men are very sexually active, heavy partiers (i.e., liberally consume alcohol and other drugs), and want to have romantic or sexual relationships with people from other countries are common in other parts of the world. While these stereotypes most likely come from the prevalence of glamorized TV shows and movies and may surprise you, they need to be taken seriously in order to reduce the potential for harm. Thus, it is even more important for students studying abroad to be educated and aware of the issue and context of sexual and relationship violence.

Things to think about while studying abroad:

  • Talking about sex or sexual encounters may be interpreted as a come on.
  • Dancing in clubs may also be interpreted as a come on.
  • Though hitchhiking may be more common in other cultures, it carries the same dangers that it would in the United States including sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other mental or physical harm.
  • Kissing a friend goodbye or hello has different meanings in different cultures. Before performing these behaviors, be sure that you are communicating appropriately in the cultural environment where you are studying.
  • Be firm and assertive when you say, “no.” Be clear and direct to be certain that your intention and the words are understood.
  • If someone is making you uncomfortable then leave the situation. Ideally, find someone in your group and stick with that person. If necessary go to your program administrator or apartment manager. You do not have to stay in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Be aware that things that may appear as normal to you, such as getting drunk or asking someone to walk you home, may be misinterpreted based on other cultural norms. Know that your actions are going to be interpreted in ways you may not intend.
  • Know that even when you say no, certain people will not respect your words. Sexual violence is not your fault in any context. Sometimes people are too afraid to say no.
  • Recognize that, unfortunately, sometimes sexual or relationship violence can even happen among students from the U.S. who are studying abroad. Take precautions when considering a romantic or sexual relationship with a fellow U.S. student as well.
  • If something happens to you, it is not your fault. Know that there are people and resources at HPU to help you. Seek support and information as soon as possible.

Violence is a growing concern all over the world. Sexual violence is prevalent in all cultures. Sometimes when students are out of a familiar environment, they are even more vulnerable to these crimes. Please remember that if someone commits one of these crimes against you, you are not responsible.

In an emergency, tell your advisor/on-site staff and ask them to contact the Director of Global Education at High Point University, contact information can be found in your pre-departure handbook. You also can contact directly HPU security at +1 (336) 841-9111. Know that Federal law may require High Point University employees to report certain situations regarding students abroad, so if you need to speak with someone in complete confidence, we recommend that you contact instead a member of Counseling Services at +1 (336) 841-9231 or +1 (336) 841-9112 (24-hour emergency number), as these individuals are not bound by the same U.S. laws.

HPU Resources:


If you experience an emergency, the best resource and the first person you should contact is your in-country program manager. Communicate your location, situation, and condition to your in-country program manager immediately. Allow them to assess the situation and follow their instructions. Both the in-country program manager and students involved should inform the Director of Global Education of the situation as soon as possible. HPU staff will contact the parents of all the students involved in the incident.

High Point University requests that students participating in any HPU study abroad program follow the emergency procedures described above. In order for HPU to provide assistance swiftly and effectively, students in emergency situations should contact the in-country program manager, followed by the Office of Global Education, and wait until both have assessed the situation before contacting their parents.

Office of Global Education

Location: Cottrell Hall, Suite 142
Phone: +1 (336) 841-9280
Mailing Address:
High Point University
Office of Global Education
One University Parkway, Drawer 24
High Point, NC 27268  USA

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