Skip to content

Health & Safety Abroad

The following information has been developed to provide useful practical guidance to study abroad participants. Although no set of guidelines can guarantee the safety needs of each individual, these guidelines address issues that merit attention and thoughtful judgment. Read and carefully consider all materials that relate to health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in the host country. 

While there is inherent risk in international travel, Global Education does our best to mitigate risk and emphasize student safety by:
- Working with trusted partners and providers overseas.
- Training our faculty and staff in best practices abroad.
- Keeping aware of world news and political situations.
- Monitoring all US Department of State advisories, alerts, and warnings. 
- Having emergency on-call staff.
- Maintaining an Emergency Hotline 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year.

In the event of an overseas emergency please contact: 01-717-871-5506
Make yourself familiar with the health conditions of your host country and any other countries you plan to visit. Students should use the same precautions abroad that they would in any new location. 
  • Jetlag is real and mostly unavoidable. To acclimate quickly, avoid alcohol while traveling to your destination and attempt to get on to the local schedule as soon as possible. That said, expect to be tired, have disrupted sleep, and feel a little out of sorts for the first few days.
  • Moderation is the key.  Don't run yourself into the ground by trying to do too much all at once.  Sickness occurs more frequently when you are tired and worn down. 
  • Heed the advise your local program managers/RDs give you about what to eat and where. They are speaking directly from experience!
  • Avoid “street food” for at least the first 72 hours you are in a developing country.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Watch what you eat.  If you are wary of the quality of the food and drink, make sure everything you eat is thoroughly cooked, peeled, or boiled to kill any bacteria. 
  • Take measures to reduce the risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
  • If you drink, consume alcohol in moderation. Intoxication can lead to unsafe and potentially deadly situations. Over 90% of the safety and security incidents the Study Abroad Office deals with each year are directly related to alcohol.
  • Be informed! Know where to get treatment.  When you settle in, find out where health care facilities are located.  Check with your on-site program director for the name of a doctor and hospital.
  • Depending on the region/location, you may not be able to drink tap water at all. In others, you may need water purification tablets. Ice may not be safe for consumption if made with tap water. Ask how the ice is made or avoid it.
  • Insect repellent can be quite useful in many climates.
  • Women may want to pack feminine hygiene products if they are not sure of the type available where they are traveling, though familiar products are available in most foreign countries.

Water Health

Contaminated food or drinks can cause travelers diarrhea and other diseases. Travelers to developing countries are especially at risk. Reduce your risk by sticking to safe eating and drinking habits.

Usually Safe
  • Bottled or canned drinks: Drinks from factory-sealed bottles or cans are safe; however, dishonest vendors in some countries may sell tap water in bottles that are “sealed” with a drop of glue to mimic the factory seal. Carbonated drinks, such as sodas or sparkling water, are safest since the bubbles indicate that the bottle was sealed at the factory. If drinking directly from a can, wipe off the lip of the can before your mouth comes into contact with it.
  • Hot drinks: Hot coffee or tea should be safe if it is served steaming hot. It’s okay to let it cool before you drink it, but be wary of coffee or tea that is served only warm or at room temperature. Be careful about adding things that may be contaminated (cream, lemon) to your hot drinks (sugar should be fine; see “Dry food” above).
  • Milk: Pasteurized milk from a sealed bottle should be okay, but watch out for milk in open containers (such as pitchers) that may have been sitting at room temperature. This includes the cream you put in your coffee or tea. People who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems should stay away from unpasteurized milk or other dairy products (cheese, yogurt).
  • Alcohol: The alcohol content of most liquors is sufficient to kill germs; however, stick to the guidelines above when choosing mixers and avoid drinks “on the rocks” (see “Ice” below). The alcohol content of beer and wine is probably not high enough to kill germs, but if it came from a sealed bottle or can, it should be okay.
Can Be Risky:
  • Tap water: In most developing countries, tap water should probably not be drunk, even in cities. This includes swallowing water when showering or brushing your teeth. In some areas, it may be advisable to brush your teeth with bottled water. Tap water can be disinfected by boiling, filtering, or chemically treating it, for example with chlorine.
  • Fountain drinks: Sodas from a fountain are made by carbonating water and mixing it with flavored syrup. Since the water most likely came from the tap, these sodas are best avoided. Similarly, juice from a fountain is most likely juice concentrate mixed with tap water and should be avoided.
  • Ice: Avoid ice in developing countries; it was likely made with tap water.
Make yourself familiar with the laws and safety conditions of your host country and any other countries you plan to visit. Most large cities as well as remote areas, in the U.S. and abroad, suffer from common crimes. Students should use the same precautions abroad that they would in any large metropolitan area. The Travel Safety Information for Students Abroad prepared by the U.S. Department of State has resources which you might find useful. The website can give you information on local laws, safety and security, and on other topics such as health and transportation.

- Do not travel alone!
- Do not leave your belongings unattended at any time.
- Leave jewelry and other valuable at home and avoid flaunting wallets, purses, cell phones or cameras.
- Avoid traveling in poorly maintained vehicles. When taking a taxi, sit in the back seat.
- Inform Global Education, friends, family, on-site staff know of any traveling that you plan to do.
- Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items.
- Examine your accommodations for safety measures (locks, lighting, access to exits, fire extinguishers), especially with temporary travel housing such as a hostel/AirBnB/ hotel, etc.
- Note that taking pictures of airports, policemen/military can be illegal in some countries. 

Precautions in Times of Unrest/Conflict:
- During times of political or social unrest in your host country or region, or when the U.S. becomes a party to a political conflict anywhere in the world, additional precautions are advisable:
- Avoid participating or being near demonstrations and other political activities.
- Keep informed about the current political situations.
- Remains in close contact with the on-site staff and your Program Coordinator.
- Keep away from areas known to have large concentrations of residents aligned with interests unfriendly to the U.S. and its allies. On-site staff will generally give advice for this.
- When in large cities, avoid popular tourist destinations and U.S. consulates or embassies where demonstrations could be taking place.
- Be as inconspicuous in dress and demeanor as possible.Do not agree to newspaper or other media interview regarding political conflicts, or make reference to your program group or school. 
American embassies overseas will assist you in times of national crisis or threatening circumstances.  Embassies will not assist you if, by virtue of your own actions, you break the laws of the country in which you reside.  If you are arrested and taken to jail for a crime you have knowingly committed, the embassy is not responsible for your release.  The US government has no funds for your legal fees or other related expenses. 

If you experience difficulties with the local authorities, remember that American officials are limited by foreign laws, US regulations, and geography as to what they can do.  Should you find yourself in need of legal counsel, contact the nearest consular office and they can provide you with a list of attorneys and other services.  Consular offices will do whatever they can to protect your legitimate interests and insure that you are not discriminated against under local law.  But they cannot get you out of jail.  

If you are arrested, immediately ask to notify the nearest US Embassy.  You have the right to contact the American Consulate.  If you are unable to do this, try to have someone contact the embassy for you.  The Consulate should visit you, contact family and friends and can assist in the transfer of money, clothing and food.
LGBT Students:
Countries view gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in many different ways.  Some host cultures may be more welcoming and tolerant of LGBT identities than in the US, but others may have laws that criminalize homosexuality. Gender norms vary from country to country as well, and it is important to do research on those prior to departure.  Learn the laws of your host country regarding LGBT issues, same-sex sexual behavior and expressions of LGBT identity and community.  It is important to remember that you will no longer be protected by US laws once you leave to go abroad.  If same-sex acts are illegal in your host country and you are reported for engaging in them, you could be arrested and imprisoned in that country. Regardless of the laws of your host country, it is always important to research whether an environment is affirming to LGBT people.

For resources check out: Things to Consider:
  • Are you only willing to go somewhere that is very tolerant and affirming of LGBT identity?  
  • What if the perfect program for you is in a place that openly discriminates against LGBT individuals?  
  • Some LGBT students may find that their ideal program may be hosted in a place that is less than welcoming.  While this could lead to a very eye-opening and valuable experience it may also present certain dangers.  You should carefully research your destination and consider all aspects of your health, safety, and security before committing. 
Important Questions:
Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a study abroad program:
  • What are the cultural and local attitudes towards Americans, tourists and sexual orientation and gender identity in my host country?
  • What is the attitude of the police towards LGBT visitors?
  • What is the social perception of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in my host country?
  • How open will I be about my sexual orientation and gender identity with my teachers, peers, friends, host family and others?
  • The LGBT population is often misunderstood by others.  To what degree am I comfortable with educating others and dispelling myths?
  • Are there situations in which I would not disclose my sexual orientation?
  • How important is it to me to find other students and friends who share my identity while abroad?  How will I make connections with other sexual minority students, local residents, or community organizations?
  • Are there LGBT friendly establishments nearby?  How can I find them?
  • Will I need access to any medications, supplies, or services to properly care for my medical needs, including those related to physical transition, like hormones?  Are they available in my host country?  If not, will I need any additional documentation to travel with any medications or supplies?  Will it be possible to travel legally with these supplies?

Travelers with Disabilities
Global Education is committed to supporting international travel for all students, faculty, and staff, and to offering education abroad experiences to all Millersville undergraduates. Travelers should be prepared for how the term "disability" may be culturally defined, attitudes towards disabilities, and knowledge that levels of accessibility can vary greatly from country to country. 

Before you go, find out as much as you can about your host culture and how local people view disabilities by reading, talking to other students, checking out local vloggers, and attending pre-departure orientation sessions. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the interaction between you and your new environment. While international travel can be challenging, an overseas experience can help you learn more about yourself and your capabilities. 

Resources:  

Many women travel safely each year without incident. However, when it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to experience marginalization and unwelcome behavior in the countries they visit. The truth is that women face greater obstacles, especially when travelling alone. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel abroad.

Sometimes when women are out of a familiar environment, guards are let down.  Always be alert and use the same safety precautions as you would in Lancaster, no matter where you are going.  If something negative should happen to you, go to your Program Coordinator for assistance.  Unfortunately, in many countries the issue of female harassment is handled quite lightly and you may be treated accordingly by host nationals.  However, both your on-site program staff and Global Education take these concerns very seriously and will do whatever necessary to help you.

For safety resources check out: Think about the safety suggestions below:
  • Walk with alertness.
  • Do not leave your drink unattended or exchange drinks with anyone else
  • Don’t accept a drink from anyone, no matter how nice they seem
  • Avoid drinking from a large open container
  • Be careful of talking about sex.  In some cultures this may be seen as flirtation.
  • Be careful in asking strangers to dance in clubs.
  • Be aware of going to clubs or bars alone. Always travel with others!
  • Do not respond to catcalls you may receive. 
  • Be firm and assertive when you say NO. Be clear and direct to be certain that your intention and the words are understood.          
  • Be aware that behavior which may appear normal to you, such as getting drunk or asking someone to walk you home, may be misinterpreted and place you in uncomfortable situations.
Sexual assault is any sexual contact made without consent. Consent must be freely given with overt words or actions that clearly communicate an individual’s desire to engage in sexual activities. Consent is a clear yes, not the absence of a no. Consent cannot legally be obtained if an individual is incapacitated due to alcohol or other drugs, is unconscious or asleep, or has limited mental capacity. Though sexual assault can be perpetrated by a stranger, it is more commonly committed by someone the victim knows, such as a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, or acquaintance. Sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator and not the fault of the victim. Whether or not the victim has been drinking is irrelevant. The victim’s previous sexual activities, behaviors, actions, and/or dress is irrelevant. No one deserves to be the victim of sexual assault.
 
In the event you, or someone you care about, experience relationship or sexual harassment/violence while abroad, you are strongly encouraged to seek the support and resources. Seek safety first; then talk to your on-site staff and/or your Program Coordinator. Global Education staff are available to assist and support you.

Resources for Sexual Assault While Abroad:

RAINN: The nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. 
  • US number: 1-888-407-4747
  • From Overseas: 1-202-501-4444
SASHAA: Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad. 24/7 help. 
  • US number: 1+866-USWOMEN (879-6636)
  • From Overseas: (Access code instructions on website) + 866-USWOMEN (879-6636)
 

TITLE IX

Millersville University staff are not confidential resources. In compliance with State and Federal law, Millersville staff notified of sexual assault or harassment incidents will work with Millersville University’s Title IX Coordinator to ensure appropriate resources and information is provided to the student. To read more about Title IX refer to the MU Title IX webpage.
 
Millersville University has designated the following administrator as the campus Title IX Coordinator:
Elizabeth Ann Swantek, Elizabeth.Swantek@millersville.edu
Title IX Coordinator
Student Memorial Center, Room 107B
Phone: (717) 871-4100

Fire Safety

Fire can pose a significant risk, especially in countries where there are no fire departments or fire fighter system, where buildings are not constructed to minimize fire hazards, and few people know about fire safety.

Fire safety standards differ drastically around the world. Many overseas locations do not meet U.S. standards in terms of fire protection and regulations (e.g., fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, etc.), means of escape, and fire-fighting capability. Some older buildings are constructed to minimal standards.

Always consider fire precautions in any building you visit, particularly how to escape. Take the time to inspect your lodging for possible safety hazards, including lack of smoke detectors, exposed wires, and improperly operating heating and cooking equipment.

Identify Fire Hazards:
Identify potential fire hazards and take steps to minimize or eliminate hazards. Eliminating fire hazards associated with electricity, natural gas, and flammable liquids will go a long way toward reducing your fire risk.

Smoking in bed or careless smoking. Careless smoking is known to be one of the primary causes of home fires. If you don’t discard a cigarette properly, loose embers that are hot can ignite when they come in contact with a flammable surface.

Other significant hazards include:
  • Smoke alarms that do not work.
  • Expired or inoperable fire extinguisher.
  • No escape plan.
  • Overloaded extension cord. Overloaded electrical outlets.
  • Using a space heater that is not laboratory tested and approved.
  • Frayed cord plugged into wall socket.
  • Electrical cords under carpets or across high-traffic areas.
  • Electrical appliances left on (hair iron, etc.)
  • “Daisy-chained” power strips (one plugged into another).
  • Power strip without circuit breaker.
  • Flammables close to a source of ignition.
  • Unattended candle, fireplace, or space heater.?
Prevention:
Taking a few sensible precautions, you can help protect yourself, and others, from injury— or worse:
  • Ensure you have a working smoke alarm and test it weekly. Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • If you smoke, never smoke in bed; when you finish a cigarette, put it out completely and make sure all cigarette ends are cold before emptying ashtrays into bins.
  • Be aware of where fire alarms are located and fire equipment is kept.
  • Draw an escape route. Plan and practice it with your housemates. If you use a walker or  wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you can get through the doorways easily.
  • Students with mobility disability are encouraged to have their bedroom on the ground floor and as close as possible to an exit.
  • Keep a flashlight on hand to help guide you through smoke.

Water Safety

Accidents involving water are one of the most common causes of death among young Americans abroad. Even the strongest swimmers can be placed in jeopardy by rip tides, overexertion, prolonged sun exposure, and water hazards not visible at the surface.

Follow these basic tips for keeping safe:
  • Do not swim in unfamiliar bodies of water or at isolated beaches.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Never swim while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Never dive head-first.
  • Check local information for details of tides, currents, and pollution. Tide changes can produce powerful currents.
  • Rip currents and undertows can be very common at many beaches.
  • Do not swim where there are no lifeguards present.
  • Check for possible hazards from jellyfish, sea urchins, coral, sea snakes, sharks, and venomous fish. Saltwater crocodiles live in coastal estuaries in many countries.
  • Human sewage and animal feces make some beaches no-go areas for swimming or even wading.
  • If you find yourself unable to reach shore, wave your arms and yell for assistance.
Most countries do not have a legal drinking age, although frequently one must be 18 to purchase liquor, and it is not uncommon for young adults to have beer or wine with a meal. Alcohol is strictly prohibited in most Muslim-majority countries and in some parts of India. U.S. citizens have been detained for possessing alcohol in their luggage upon arrival in some Muslim countries. There are some countries that have strict laws about drinking in public. Many countries laws are more severe than in the U.S. so be sure to research the local drinking culture.
 
Existing legislation in most foreign countries regarding the use or possession of marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs imposes very severe penalties including include jail terms, hard labor, and even the death penalty. Association with illegal drug users or possessors is considered the same as personal use or possession by authorities in some countries. If arrested, you are subject to the host country’s laws and neither Millersville University nor the U.S. Embassy can protect you from the local legal consequences.
Drug Arrests:

Drug arrests and convictions among Americans are on the rise.  If you are caught with illegal drugs overseas, you are subject to local, NOT US laws.  If you are arrested, you must realize:
  • Few countries provide a jury trial
  • Some countries employ the death penalty, with no questions asked
  • Most countries do not accept bail
  • Pre-trial detention can often last months
  • Inhumane conditions may exist in the prisons
  • Officials may not speak English

Your Rights Abroad:

The rights an American enjoys in the States do not apply to travel abroad. Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone who enters regardless of nationality. The U.S. government cannot get Americans released from foreign jails. However, a U.S. consul will insist on prompt access to an arrested American, provide a list of attorneys, and provide information on the host country’s legal system, offer to contact the arrested Americans family or friends, visit on a regular basis, protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary supplements, if needed, and keep the State Department informed.
Millersville University policy requires that you purchase an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) (April Travel Protection) to be valid for the duration of your program abroad. The ISIC Basic provides the minimum health and travel insurance coverage recommended for traveling abroad. ISIC also offers Premium & Explorer options which provide a higher level of health and travel insurance coverage as well as other benefits. For plan details refer to the ISIC website.
 
Note: Some Non-MU programs include health and travel insurance. If this is the case, this insurance must be approved by your Program Coordinator at Millersville, to determine if it meets the minimum benefits of the ISIC Basic plan. Non-MU program participants must provide the details/summary of benefits of your Non-MU insurance coverage. If your coverage is not adequate, MU requires you to purchase at least the ISIC Basic plan.

Submitting an ISC Insurance Claim:
Follow the directions below to submit a claim to April Travel Protection (ISIC). If you have other primary insurance that covers you abroad, such as your parent’s health insurance or insurance through your employer, April Travel Protection will require you to make a claim with your primary insurance first and then submit the remaining costs to April Travel Protection. April Travel Protection must receive written communication within 90 days after a covered loss occurs:
  • Request an Insurance Claim Form: Call or email using the contact information below to request an Insurance Claim Form & inquire about the required documentation given your coverage (Basic, Premium, and Explorer).
  • Provide the Required Documentation: After you complete your claim form, provide the supporting documentation needed to complete the claim process.
  • Trip Delay: Obtain specific dated documents which provide proof of the reason for delay (airline or cruise line forms, medical statements, etc. Submit this documentation along with your trip itinerary and all receipts for expenses incurred.)
  • Medical Expenses: Obtain receipts from the providers of services, etc., stating the amount paid and listing the diagnosis and treatment; submit these first to other medical plans. Provide a copy of their final disposition of your claim.
  • Baggage: Obtain statement from the common carrier that your baggage was delayed or a police report showing your baggage was stolen along with copies of the receipts for your purchases.
Report your claim to April Travel Protection at one of these telephone numbers:
Within the USA: Toll Free: (855)-743-6739
Outside the USA: Collect: (305) 455-1571
Email for claims: Claims@apriltravelprotection.com
 
Driving conditions, laws, customs, and etiquette vary from country to country. Traffic related accidents are the leading cause of student injuries and deaths while abroad. Be familiar with your country/countries driving rules and pedestrian rights. Heed the advice of the on-site staff and obey all local pedestrian laws. The  Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) can be a good resource in your preparation.

Global Education recommends that you do not drive at any time while you are abroad.  Traffic laws in other countries can vary significantly from what you are used to, and ignorance of local traffic regulations in your host country could lead to accidents and/or fines.  It is usually best to use public transportation while you are abroad.  However, be sure to check with your on-site coordinator about the safety of different kinds of public transportation in your host city. 

It is also best to become familiar with the rules for all forms of transportation, such as trains, metro, taxis, buses, personal bikes/tut-tuts/carriages/rickshaws.
- Learn the "right of way" culture for your host location.
- Only use taxis that are clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs.
- Don't sit in the front seat of a taxi when by yourself. 
- Do NOT hitchhike in any country even if your local peers suggest it is safe. Hitchhiking can put you in various dangerous or uncomfortable situations. 


Questions to consider:
- What are some coping strategies or techniques that I can employ that would help me in transitioning to living in a new country and culture?
- How transparent am I willing to be with support staff or instructors in my host country regarding my mental health?
- What support or resources does my study abroad partner program or host university have for students (counseling and mental health professionals on staff, - contacts in the local community, group therapy options for students, etc.)?

Resources:
Education Abroad - Mental Health and Study Abroad: Responding to the Concern
GoOverseas - How to Deal With Depression While Studying Abroad
Calm.com - Mindfulness and meditation resources online
The U.S. government provides accurate and timely information online for overseas travelers including specific country information and safety alerts for various situations. The below programs will be valuable to students preparing to study abroad:

Country Specific Information
Information on every country in the world, including location of the U.S. embassies and consular offices; crime and security information; health and medical conditions; and penalties for certain offenses. This is a great place to start learning about where you are going.

Travel Advisories
Alerts are means to disseminate information about short-term conditions that pose a significant risk to the security of U.S. citizens, including: natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or sporting events that might generate a Travel Alert. Warnings are issued for long-term conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable, in which the State Department recommends that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
The State Department developed this program to better aid American citizens in emergency situations. By registering with the STEP program, you will receive updates, information, and travel warnings via email from the U.S. Embassy regarding your host country while you are abroad. The contact information you provide through this registration process allows the State Department to better assist you should an emergency arise. All students going abroad for academic credit are required to enroll in this program as part of the pre-departure paperwork process.