No matter which type of program a student is on or what level of support is offered on-site, ultimately students are responsible for taking reasonable precautions for their own safety while they are abroad. It is important to consider both the general safety tips and information provided on this page, as well as more detailed information for specific destinations.
General safety information
Before you go
Students should do research and make sure they are fully informed about their destination prior to departure.
- What is the current political situation in my host country?
- Are there any current events and/or developing situations that I should be aware of?
- Are there any aspects of the local culture that could affect my safety?
Things to Do
- Download and active the AlertTraveler App
- Sign up for the U.S. Department of State Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (S.T.E.P.)
- Make copies of important documents such as your passport, visa, credit cards, etc. Leave one copy with someone you trust in the U.S. and keep one copy somewhere safe with you overseas
When students travel to a foreign country, they must follow its specific laws and penalties. There is no special "get out of jail free" card for students and ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for breaking it.
- What are the basic local laws and customs in the areas where I plan to travel?
- In most cases laws may be common sense, but in other instances they won't be so obvious (e.g. taking photos of government buildings, purchasing certain items, etc.)
- Consequences may be more severe for comparable violations in the U.S. (e.g. internet downloading laws)
- Many legal protections we take for granted do not hold true overseas
Crime and Safety
Crimes can happen anywhere, but foreigners overseas may be especially vulnerable to petty crimes such as pick pocketing and theft. Take precautions to protect yourself.
- Be aware of what is happening around you at all times
- Trust your instincts - if a situation feels unsafe or uncomfortable, remove yourself immediately
- Watch out for petty theft - pickpockets and scammers are common in many touristy locations
- Keep a low profile and dress to fit in with the locals; avoid clothing that advertises your identity as a foreigner
Depending on the location, students may be able to legally consume alcohol while they are abroad, even if not of age in the U.S. Remember that excessive drinking may cause poor decision-making, and could lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Know and respect your limits, as well as what is culturally acceptable in the host culture.
- Research in advance how alcohol consumption is regarded in your host culture
- Know, and respect, your limits
- If you choose to drink while abroad; watch your drinks, and only purchase alcohol from trusted sources
- Students who exhibit a pattern of dangerous drinking could face student conduct violations and/or expulsion from their program
- Students abroad are still bound by the UNC Charlotte Code of Conduct and should behave accordingly
The Office of Education Abroad has a strict no-drugs policy, and students caught partaking in illegal substances abroad, regardless of the host country laws, will be dismissed from the program.
- The U.S. Department of State report that drug-related charges account for one third of all arrests of Americans overseas
- If you are arrested on a drug charge, even the U.S. Consular Officers cannot demand your release from jail, represent you in court, or pay legal fees/fines with U.S. Government funds
- If you are caught buying, selling, carrying or using any type of drug, you could face severe consequences including interrogation, a lengthy trial probably conducted in a foreign language, and sentences ranging from weeks to life in prison
- Carefully check the regulations regarding prescription medication - many routine medications in the U.S. are illegal overseas and it is your responsibility to make sure you may bring your medications into the host country legally
Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct
There are many factors that lead to an increased risk of sexual and interpersonal misconduct while abroad, so it is vitally important that students take the initiative to keep themselves safe and to look out for their friends while studying abroad.
- Many factors, including access to alcohol, lack of familiarity with local cultures, and being seen as a vulnerable foreigner, can lead to an increased risk of sexual assault and harassment while studying abroad
- Keep in mind the same precautions you would normally observe in the U.S. and stick to them while abroad
- Learn local social norms about personal space, touching, and gender dynamics
- Cultural sensitivity does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries or that make you feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Never be afraid to set boundaries to avoid uncomfortable situations.
- If you are harassed, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible and do not escalate by confronting your harasser
- In case of sexual assault or harassment, contact your on-site coordinators; they are your first best resource
- Ask for and give consent to any voluntary sexual activity
Identity and Safety Abroad
While all students should observe these safety tips while traveling, certain groups may need to take extra precautions in order to stay as safe as possible.
Considerations for Women
- American women traveling abroad, in particular, may receive unsolicited attention in certain countries, such as being followed and heckled by strangers, largely due to negative sexual stereotypes of American women.
- Try to sit near other women on public transportation
- Don’t tell strangers (especially men) where you are staying. Always keep doors locked.
- If you find yourself in a location where there are no other women, get yourself out of the location as soon as possible. If the local women are not hanging around that particular place, then it is probably not safe for you to be there.
Considerations for LGBTQ+
- Gender identity and roles are social constructs unique to each nation and/or culture. Some cultures may be very tolerant, whereas others may not. Make sure to do some research about the attitudes in your destination before departure.
- Watch how locals of the same age group interact with one another - both with the same sex and opposite sex - as this could provide insight into local perspectives on gender roles.
- Ask on site staff members or trusted local friends for advice on social interactions and cultural norms around dating
- Remember that legal/political protection does not necessarily translate to acceptance at the individual/cultural level. Think about in advance how open or “out” you wish to be in your new host culture and what risks may be associated with that decision.
No matter if a student is a passionate activist or a curious bystander, they should not take part in political demonstrations of any kind while abroad.
- Political demonstrations have the potential to escalate from peaceful gatherings into violence
- In many countries, foreign participation in political demonstrations is illegal
- If you know a demonstration or rally is scheduled, avoid the affected area
- If you come upon a demonstration by chance, adjust your route and leave the area
In an Emergency
The Office of Education Abroad sends hundreds of students abroad each term who have safe and successful experiences. However, emergencies can and do occur, so it is important to understand the available resources in the event of an emergency situation.
- Do you know the local emergency number in your host country? Remember, you won't be dialing 911!
- Consider printing out a list of emergency contacts and carrying them with you when you go out
- Discuss emergency procedures and resources with your on-site staff and coordinators to make sure you have a clear idea of what to do should something occur
- Is your situation a true emergency? Issues such as academics, paperwork, etc. are not considered emergencies and will not be addressed after hours
- In the event of an emergency abroad, the OEA will attempt to contact you via email. If the email requests a response, it is crucial that you respond immediately so that the office can account for your safety
Who to Contact
|Office or Organization||Questions or Issues|
|Office of Education Abroad||
|UNC Charlotte Campus Police||
|Host University, Affiliate Provider or On-site Faculty Director||
|U.S. Embassy (or home country embassy)||
|GeoBlue International Health Insurance Provider||