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Student Safety Abroad

While we cannot eliminate all risks from the study abroad environment or guarantee the safety of all participants, through thoughtful discussions, pre-departure meetings and by providing students with materials and resources, we hope to educate them about being a responsible traveler and to reflect on how their day-to-day decisions and behavior can impact their experience overseas. 
The information provided below is meant to help students begin the process of preparing for their term abroad.  However, it should not be the “be all, end all” of their preparation.  We encourage participants to conduct their own research, to speak to program alumni and students from their host country, and to contact us with any individual questions or concerns.
Research Local Laws and Safety Conditions
Register Your Travel
General Travel Safety Tips
Alcohol and Drug Use
Women Abroad
Sexual Assault
Global Road Safety
Emergency Response

Research the Local Laws and Safety Considerations for Your Destination

Safety issues and laws vary by destination. Do not assume that just because something is legal in the United Sates, that it is legal abroad. Educate yourself!
Two important resources to use in your research are the U.S. Department of State Country Information and the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Crime & Safety Reports.  (On the OSAC website, use the "Region Locator" to the right of the page to select your destination from the drop down list.) You should review these sites for each country that you will be visiting, not just your primary study abroad destination.

If you are studying abroad through a program provider or at a foreign institution, you may also receive school, country or city-specific information directly from them. We encourage you to share all information that you receive with your parents, guardians or families, and please do not hesitate to contact the Center for International Programs should you have any questions or concerns prior to your departure. 

Register Your Travel

Conditions abroad may change rapidly.  It's important to stay informed of current events on a frequent (at least daily) basis by obtaining updated security and health information from, and registering with the U.S. Department of State. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is their free service provided to U.S. citizens/nationals who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency.  STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Once you have received your official acceptance notification, please take a few minutes to register:  (NOTE: Students participating in an SJU faculty-led program will be registered through the CIP office.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you should inform your home government of your travel.

General Travel Safety Tips
  • Travel in pairs or small groups for personal or weekend travel, not alone.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.  If something feels suspicious, get yourself out of the situation as quickly as possible.
  • Avoid unlit and unpopulated areas.
  • Be discrete and conservative in your actions, dress and conversations, and don't flash your valuables (money, camera, phone, jewelry, etc.). In general, try to keep a low profile.
  • NEVER leave your belongings unattended – not even for a second! 
  • Avoid crowds, demonstrations, protest groups, or other potentially volatile situations, as well as places where Americans are known to congregate.
  • Keep a mental note of local “safe havens” such as the nearest police station, hospital and U.S. Embassy.
  • Always ask an individual directly if he or she is agreeable to being photographed or ask the authorities if photography is permitted in the area. (In many countries you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such things as police and military installations, government buildings, border areas and transportation facilities.)
  • If you are planning travel outside of your host country (even if it’s just one night), make sure that someone knows where you are going and how to contact you in an emergency.

Alcohol and Drug Use

While abroad, you must abide by the rules and regulations of your academic program or foreign institution, the laws of your host country and the SJU Community Standards (which follow you anywhere in the world – even when you are home!).  Any violation of the Student Handbook that is reported to the CIP will also be reported to the Office of Community Standards and could result in sanctions upon your return, or, in more serious situations, suspension from your program or deportation from your host country. 

If you still choose to consume alcohol while abroad, keep these safety tips in mind:
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Wine, beer, and liquor may have a higher alcohol content than is customary in the U.S. This could lead to overconfidence in judging the number and volume of drinks.
  • Be aware of local laws and culture surrounding alcohol consumption.  What is considered safe or “the norm” in one country may different greatly from another.
  • Never let your drink (or a friend’s) out of your sight.  Unattended drinks/food can be spiked with colorless and odorless drugs like Rohypnol (“roofies”) or GHB (liquid ecstasy).  These types of drugs are commonly used to facilitate sexual assaults.
  • Don't abandon intoxicated friends or let them go home alone even if they insist.  Use the buddy system at all times!
  • Never drink and drive. In most countries, citizens and police have little to no tolerance for drunk drivers, and the consequences for being found drinking and driving are quite severe in most cases.
  • 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.
The following is adapted from the U.S. Department of State regarding the law and drug violations abroad:
  • When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws and are under its jurisdiction.  You can be arrested overseas for actions that may be legal or considered minor infractions in the U.S.
  • Don't accept packages from anyone. If the package contains illegal drugs or substances, the fact that you didn't know will not reduce the charges. You could miss your flight, your exams, or several years of your life during a stay behind bars. 
  • Don't import, purchase, use, or have drugs in your possession. Drug charges can carry severe consequences in certain countries (including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried) and sentences may range from fines and jail time, to years of hard labor. Some crimes even carry the penalty of death. Contraband or paraphernalia associated with illegal drug use can also get you in trouble.  

Women Abroad

Female travelers are more likely to face unwanted attention or even harassment in some cultures abroad.  However, you may be able to avoid uncomfortable situations with the following precautions:
  • Always try to stay with a group when exploring locally and avoid walking alone at night.
  • Research dress and social behaviors before you go, and respect the customs of the nation. What you think is casual may actually be considered provocative or unacceptable in other cultures. Know before you go, and pack accordingly.
  • On arrival, note what local women are wearing and how they act, and try to follow their lead.
  • Don’t feel the need to be overly polite if you are bothered by someone. While it may seem rude to be unfriendly to a stranger, creating boundaries to protect yourself is important. Use facial expressions, body language and a firm voice to fend off any unwanted attention. 
  • Trust your instincts.  If something is making you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation. 

Sexual Assault 

No matter where you are in the world, if you or someone you know who has experienced a sexual assault, there is help available to you and to them.  Saint Joseph’s University offers a wide array of confidential resources to help students who have experienced a sexual assault, and the Center for International Programs (CIP) staff has been trained to assist you in receiving the help you need at your study abroad location.  If the allegation of sexual assault involves another Saint Joseph’s University student or students, or a faculty or staff member, the University will conduct its own investigation and take appropriate and immediate action to address the circumstances presented and stop the alleged conduct from occurring again. 
If you would like more information or to talk with someone while you are abroad, please contact SJU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): Telephone: 610-660-1090. You could also utilize the services of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.  They have a toll free, 24/7 hotline for sexual assault counseling and referrals: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).  In addition, all those traveling abroad should be familiar with the University’s sexual offenses and sexual harassment policies located, which can be found on the Office of Community Standards website here.

Global Road Safety

The CIP strongly discourages students from renting or buying a car, moped or motorcycle while abroad.  According to the Department of State, it is estimated that more than 200 U.S. citizens die each year because of road accidents abroad.  Possible reasons for this high number include poorly maintained roads and poorly prepared drivers (i.e., drivers not accustomed to local regulations or driving vehicles that they do not know how to properly operate).  Additionally, you will likely find that public transportation is the way the majority of local students get around, so it should be a part of your experience as well.  We also recommend the following general tips for minimizing your risk as a passenger or pedestrian:
  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Use sidewalks and marked crosswalks.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Pay attention to the traffic around you, especially in overly crowded areas.
  • Remember, pedestrians do not always have the right of way in other countries.
Visit the Country Specific Information on the Department of State’s website and the OSAC Crime and Safety Reports to review special road and travel considerations for your destination.

Emergency Response

If you encounter a problem while studying abroad, you should first contact your on-site staff or an emergency responder. If unable to do so, please contact us as follows:
  • During regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm EST): 610-660-1835
  • Outside of business hours and on holidays: call Saint Joseph’s University Public Safety and Security at 610-660-1111.  Be sure to provide them with your name, study abroad program and a number where you can be reached. Public Safety will contact a CIP staff member, who will return the call as soon as possible.
If reporting an incident to the police or seeking medical attention, we strongly suggest that you request a copy of the police or medical report for your records.