Safety Abroad

Being safe while abroad

We want you to have a positive experience abroad.
We’re all adults here—be safe and act responsibly. 

Scrabble tiles spelling out the word 'safe'

While no organization or institution can fully guarantee the safety of participants, awareness alone can significantly reduce risks. Ultimately, all students are responsible for their own safety and security. Be sure to carefully read the information, advice, and resources provided by IPS, your program leaders, study abroad program provider, and host institution.

Quick safety tips for when you are abroad:

  • Be part of a team and watch out for each other
  • Leave valuables at home in a secure place
  • Use major pathways that are well lit in the evening
  • Avoid walking alone, especially at night
  • Always let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to return
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can ask for help
  • Be wary of people who are overzealous to make your acquaintance, as they may have an ulterior motive
  • Dress to blend in
  • Do not speak English loudly with a group of people
  • Follow the Student Conduct Code

With your signature on the Release & Waiver document, (login to your UMD email account to view), you confirmed that you read and understood the Student Conduct Code. In summary, when you travel abroad you're an ambassador for UMD, the University of Minnesota system, and the U.S. Over the years, the majority of students have been excellent ambassadors. Therefore, it is important to be aware that bad behavior abroad can have a damaging effect on UMD’s relations with other universities and other students in the program.

Are you aware of your foreign country’s laws?

Living in a foreign country exposes you to different customs and different laws. What is acceptable in the U.S. may be illegal or offensive elsewhere. If arrested, you will be subject to the laws and legal procedures of the country you are currently in. If you are arrested and jailed in a foreign country, the U.S. consulate or embassy will provide you with a list of local lawyers. Assistance beyond that is minimal. Therefore, get to know foreign laws before departing.

Drugs & Alcohol

Illegal drug use on study abroad programs is grounds for immediate expulsion from the program. Alcohol consumption is permitted according to the legal and cultural norms of the area, family, or local environment. Although alcohol may be legal at an age limit lower than in the U.S., as you know, alcohol consumption lowers your capacity to make good choices and avoid risky situations, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Assault, robbery, and sexual assault, as well as your own inappropriate behavior, are more likely to occur when you have been drinking alcohol. If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, know the source of your beverage, use good judgment, and have a friend or someone you know with you at all times.

Note that while alcohol consumption is permitted during program participation, bad behavior as a result of alcohol consumption is not permitted and may result in immediate dismissal from the program. This would include but is not limited to:

  • Failure to attend class
  • Failure to participate fully in all program-related activities
  • Aggressive, harmful, or inappropriate behavior toward people or property

Safe Sex

Take full responsibility for your actions when it comes to relationships and safe sex. If you are sexually active, use protection to avoid and reduce the risk of infection or unwanted pregnancy. Since condoms may not be as readily available as they are in the U.S.—all travelers (both men and women) should bring them. Respect yourself—be smart, aware, and safe, and only engage in sexual interactions when consent is given.

Sexual Misconduct Resources & Support

Sexual misconduct can happen anytime and anywhere. We hope that you never experience an incident of sexual misconduct, but know that there is help and support available to you regardless of your location in the world. Rely on your local support systems in addition to those available to you in International Programs & Services (IPS) and at UMD.

Street Smarts

Use the same common sense while abroad as you would at home. Be especially attentive in an unfamiliar environment, crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, marketplaces, festivals, and marginal areas of cities. If you are walking at night, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid areas where there are planned public demonstrations. If you must converse in English in a crowded area, be mindful of your volume. You do not want to draw unnecessary attention and make yourself a target. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers. Know pickpocket behavior. Thieves often work in teams and jostle you, ask you for directions or the time, point to something spilled on your clothing, or distract you by creating a disturbance. Even a child or woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Try to look purposeful when you move about. If you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. If necessary, ask for directions from shopkeepers or bus drivers. Know how to use a payphone and have the proper foreign change or token on hand. If you are confronted, do not fight back. Most possessions are replaceable, but your safety is not.

Hotel Behavior

Meet visitors in the lobby and keep your hotel door locked at all times. Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room. If you must do so, use the hotel safe. If you are alone, be wary of elevator rides and people following you to your room. Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room and know where the nearest fire exits are located. Know how to report a fire in the local language. Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit. This could be a lifesaver if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.

Public Transportation

Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings and licenses. People might ask you if you want a ride in their car; be sure that they are licensed taxis. While unlicensed taxis may seem like a better deal, they are generally less safe because they are not regulated. You could also check with on-site staff to see if other forms of public transit are available, such as Uber or Lyft. 

Buses and subways are generally crowded and busy. Be extra cautious when using public transportation. Keep your belongings close. If you wear a backpack, you can wear it in front and put your arms over it. If you typically keep a wallet in a rear pocket, move it to a front pocket and keep a hand on it. Consider not using your cell phone or listening to music, as it may attract unwanted attention, making you a target for robbery. If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close to you from behind, move away. This can happen in the corridor of the train or on the platform or station.

If you are traveling on an overnight train or bus, lock your compartment when possible and never leave your belongings unattended. If the compartment cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions. When asleep, tie down your luggage, strap your valuables to you, and sleep on top of them as much as possible. Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in any way.

Photography Ethics

Keeping a photographic record is a great way to help memories abroad last. Keep in mind that some countries prohibit the photographing of police and military installations, government buildings, border areas, and transportation facilities. It may also be culturally offensive and inappropriate to photograph people. Always ask for consent. 

Independent Travel

In accordance with the University of Minnesota, students must inform an official representative of the study abroad program or the University of any plans to travel during free time or before, during, and after the program dates. Note that neither the University nor its staff, agents, and representatives are responsible for any travel outside program requirements.

Learn about the University of Minnesota's policies, processes, and best practices to ensure student education abroad opportunities are as safe as possible at the GO SAFE website.