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Top Safety Considerations

Living and studying abroad often requires an increased awareness of your environment, adaptation to the local culture, and mindfulness. The best way to prepare for any new experience is to educate yourself. Below are some of your top safety considerations. Note that this is not a complete list and all may not apply to you or your host country/culture; for further information refer to your pre-departure resources and contact your program or your Ed Abroad Program Manager. Remember, Ed Abroad and your program can provide you with resources, but it is up to you to follow this advice in keeping yourself safe.

Be aware of your environment

As a foreigner, you may be subject to increased scrutiny. Get to know the local culture and be informed and respectful. Be aware of situations where you may be vulnerable: crowded subways, tourist areas, poorly-lit streets that can be a target for pickpockets, thieves, etc. Learn how to ask for help in the local language of every country you visit. International SOS can provide location-specific safety advice prior to departure or while abroad.

Look out for each other... and your things

Help your friends make safe choices when you’re out and about. If you notice a concerning change in a friend’s behavior or mood over time, have a conversation with them. If you continue to observe concerning behavior, talk to the on-site staff. This can help prevent potentially dangerous situations from developing.

Pickpocketing is the most common incident that happens abroad. Decrease the chances of this happening to you by keeping your possessions close while you’re out. Small changes can go a long way, including using a purse that zips or keeping your wallet in your front pocket.

Be careful around alcohol

Following proper safety and security measures is even more important when alcohol is involved, so much so that we have an entire page devoted to it. See the Drugs & Alcohol page for best practices, legal considerations, etc.

Don't drive

Road crashes are the leading cause of tourist death and serious injury worldwide. These far exceed deaths resulting from disease, violence, or terrorism. The University prohibits students from operating motor vehicles of any kind (including, but not limited to, scooters, mopeds, ATVs, motorbikes, motorcycles, cars, motorboats, and airplanes) while participating in an education abroad opportunity. Faculty and staff may not drive vehicles abroad in which students are passengers without consulting Education Abroad and University Risk Management prior to departure from the U.S. to discuss liability, insurance coverage, and risks associated with this activity.
As a result, groups should use public transportation wherever that option exists and is safe. Where vehicles and drivers are hired, groups should use only licensed and appropriately insured/bonded professional drivers and vehicles abroad.
University contracts require certain levels of insurance that might be informative for groups. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) Road Safety resources should be reviewed. Transportation plans should not include roads that the U.S. DOS recommends avoiding or that are indicated as extra risky at certain times.

Identity considerations

Unfortunately, populist rhetoric supporting hatred of non-nationals is present around the world. Hate speech can be directed at travelers based on stereotypes that are outside of an individual’s control (skin color, religious symbols or clothing, hairstyles, nationality, accents, etc.).
While abroad, you may find yourself or your peers confronted with discrimination or hate speech. Research the current climate in your host country and ask program staff for their feedback and advice about any concerns you should have while abroad. Work with your on-site staff to find effective and culturally-appropriate ways to address situations that keep everyone safe. In the event that someone starts communicating racist, sexist, or otherwise hateful messages, do your best to remove yourself from the situation and get to a public safe space as soon as possible. Never risk or compromise your health or safety by being confrontational.  If you can, write down any and all details of the incident including the perpetrator’s gender, age, height, race, weight, clothes, and other distinguishing characteristics, as well as any biased comments that were made.  Report it to your on-site program staff as soon as possible as they will be able to direct you to the appropriate next step and provide you with resources. 
Please note that upon notification of a hate speech incident, CU Education Abroad advisors are required to notify the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance who will then work to coordinate the provision of accommodations, safety measures, and interim remedies and connect individuals with support services.

Refer to the Diversity & Identity Abroad page for resources to assist you in navigating your host culture, possible conversations regarding your identity, and consideration related to how your identity may impact your health and safety in your host country and culture.

Avoid demonstrations & protests

You should avoid the areas of demonstrations or protests whenever possible, and exercise increased caution if you find yourself in the vicinity of any demonstrations. Even demonstrations that are intended to be peaceful can sometimes become volatile, with the potential to turn violent very quickly. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of such situations. 

Although strikes and demonstrations may occur in your host country, you should never participate in them. As a foreigner, you may be subject to different rules or laws around political activities, that could even result in you being arrested or deported. The local constitutions of many countries around the world prohibit political activities by foreigners.

Communication is key

Share your plans with friends, family members, and/or on-site staff as appropriate. This includes when you are going out on the weekends (including when you expect to return home) as well as any travel that takes you outside of your host city. Keep them informed of any changes in your plans and provide them with emergency contact information.

Alternatively, be cautious when sharing information about your plans and itinerary with strangers, posting it to social media, etc.

Fire Safety

Fire safety standards differ drastically from country to country. No matter where you are staying (in a residence hall, homestay, or hotel), you should be aware of fire danger and have an emergency evacuation plan. Exercise additional caution in hotels and older apartment buildings where fire alarms and sprinklers may not exist. If possible, stay on a low floor, and always know where the exits are.
See more information on fire safety and education abroad on the website of the JUSTICE Foundation.

Swimming & Water Safety

While Colorado is certainly known for its mountains, the same can’t be said for its coastlines. That is one of many reasons to exercise caution around water activities during your program (and at any other time). Accidents involving water is one of the most common causes of death abroad.  

Pro Tips for Water Safety 

  • Never swim alone 
  • Only swim when lifeguards are present 
  • Heed all warning signs/flags  
  • Understand your swimming abilities 
  • Never dive headfirst into an unfamiliar body of water; water may be shallower than it appears and diving headfirst can result in serious injury 
  • Develop a “safety plan” with friends while swimming 
  • Stay in designated swim areas 
  • Refrain from consuming alcohol prior to swimming activities 
  • Use experienced guides for boating, fishing, surfing, diving, or other water-based activities (make sure these activities are covered by insurance
  • Wear a life jacket 
  • Research the dangers of rip currents & be prepared for how to respond if you are caught in one  
Thanks to Arizona State University and UW Madison for many of these tips.

Natural Disasters & Extreme Weather 

The natural disasters & extreme weather you may be at risk of experiencing will vary greatly depending on where you choose to study. It is your responsibility to thoroughly research your host location and any other areas you choose to travel to. Depending on where you study, you’ll want to be familiar with what to do in case of hurricane, tsunami, tornado, earthquake, wildfire, or other natural disaster. The Natural Centers for Environmental Information is an interactive map you can use to find what kinds of natural disasters your host city is prone to. The Center for Disease Control provides tips on how to respond to a variety of natural disasters.  

While abroad, keep up with local news and follow guidance from your program/university staff regarding safety measures related to severe weather and natural disasters. In addition, you will receive alerts from International SOS regarding any impending events that could impact your safety, including natural disasters & extreme weather. Because these events are unpredictable by nature, stay in touch with your program staff, and if you travel independently outside your host city, make sure you inform them of where you are going. 

Cybersecurity & Photography

There are important safety considerations regarding cybersecurity, smartphones, and photography while abroad. Visit the Internet, Electronics, and Cybersecurity page and the Photography page to learn more. 

Last Updated January 2024