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Travel Preparation and Safety Abroad

There are many precautions to take to improve your experience and decrease the likelihood of a negative incident abroad. Each destination is different, but the Global Education Office is prepared to advise you on risk assessment and mitigation. To get started, here are some general tips for your global travel for safety mitigation.

Please contact Global Travel Safety at vtglobalsafety@vt.edu with any questions.

Register your travel

  • If any university funds are supporting the travel and/or if the travel is  business travel (attending a conference, data collection for faculty advisor, business meetings, etc.), then the traveler will need to see their department’s Fiscal Technician for assistance with a Travel Authorization / Pre-Approval in Chrome River.
  • If the travel involves credit transfer, course requirements, degree requirements, or research for your disertation, then the student would need to register directly with GEO by:
  • Register your travel through your My Study Abroad account.
  • If any university funds are supporting the travel, then the traveler will also need to see their department’s Fiscal Technician for assistance with a Travel Authorization / Pre-Approval in Chrome River.

Before you go

  • Enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  • Check your passport expiration date! Many countries require passports to be valid for six months after your planned return date. Virginia Tech’s Passport Acceptance Facility is available to assist.
  • Confirm required entry documents (visa, proof of insurance, etc.).
  • Talk to your health care provider about any medications, concerns, or contingency plans.
  • Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling.
  • Ensure you will have access to sufficient funds in case of an emergency.
  • Make copies of important documents.
  • Copy your emergency contacts into your phone and in your wallet.
  • Review information on your destination from the U.S. Department of State, to include advisories, local laws, entry requirements, and other guidance.
  • Review information on your destination from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand public health advisories and vaccine requirements.
  • Consider travel insurance for personal expenses (flights, hotels, train tickets, etc.).
  • Learn about your destination’s culture (food, language, social norms, etc.).

While away

  • Prioritize your personal safety and overall well-being:
    • Drink water, eat, and get plenty of sleep.
    • Maintain situational awareness by paying attention to your immediate surroundings.
    • Avoid venturing alone; groups of three or more are less likely to be targeted by criminals than individuals.
    • Trust your intuition; prioritize your safety over cultural sensitivity.
  • Carry emergency contacts on your person at all times.
  • Stay up-to-date on local news.
  • Avoid events that may lead to dangerous incidents, to include protests and demonstrations.
  • Keep your room door locked and review the evacuation route from your lodging.

Specific safety topics

All prescription medications

  • Transport prescriptions in their original, labeled containers along with documentation of the prescription, like the printout from the pharmacy.
  • Medication must be carried by the person it is prescribed to.
  • Medication should be brought abroad in carry-on luggage, NEVER in checked luggage.
  • Carry enough medication to last for the duration of the trip. It is wise to bring an additional 1-2 days of medication beyond your planned travel dates in case there are delays in your return travel.
  • Consider carrying a signed and dated letter from your doctor, on their letterhead, that includes:
    • Your name, date of birth, your passport number and the length of time you will be in each country,
    • The name (generic) of each medication and dose,
    • The ammount of medication you are carrying,
    • The duration of use for the medication, and
    • The medical condition that the medication is treating.

Restricted medications

Several commonly prescribed medications in the United States are restricted or illegal in other countries. Check with the foreign embassy of the country you are visiting or contact On Call International, mail@oncallinternational.com, for pre-departure assistance. Contact Global Safety & Risk Management if you would like assitance with that outreach.

  • Be intentional about which electronics you pack. Do you need your laptop, tablet, reader, phone, and smart watch, or can one of those items fill the function of several?
  • Remove any personal data from your electronic devices.
  • Do not use thumb drives unless you brought them with you.
  • When on public wifi, expect whatever is on your computer to be seen by others.
  • Update your computer’s security software regularly.
  • Lock your screen when not using your device.

Even though you are not physically on campus, you are still expected to properly represent Virginia Tech abroad. You are considered a Hokie wherever you are, and will still be held accountable to the student code of conduct and need to face disciplinary action when in violation of these rules.

When you travel abroad, you are no longer under the legal jurisdiction of the United States and must abide by all the laws of the countries in which you travel

  • If violating the law, you will have to face legal proceedings in the local judicial system.
  • If convicted of a crime, you will face punishment according to local practices.

Most students do not break the law on purpose; instead, they end up doing something illegal without knowing it, so…

  • Become familiar with local laws ("I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of jail)
  • Investigate consequences / punishments
  • Laws may be more lenient, but the penalties can be more severe
  • Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens
  • Don’t assume that what is legal at home is legal in other countries
  • Police may have a right to do a search even without probable cause
  • In many countries bail is not granted
  • The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not necessarily a tenet abroad

Alcohol is consistently reported to be the single greatest risk factor for students.

  • Be aware of the cultural norms related to drinking in your host country, as drinking may be culturally inappropriate or not permitted.
  • Know your limit and keep track of how many drinks you have had.
  • Do not accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended.
  • Do not drink alone and stay with friends you trust.

Check the local drug laws and regulations before you travel becuase they vary greatly by country. Drug laws are different in every country and you are subject to local laws as a foreign traveler. Drug-related arrest abroad could result in:

  • Harsh interrogations
  • Lengthy or no trials
  • Weeks, months or life in prison
  • Deplorable prison conditions (mistreatment, solitary confinement, hard labor)
  • Prison may lack even minimal comforts (i.e. bed, toilet, washbasin)
  • Death penalty

Socializing abroad can present some challenges because of cultural differences and misperceptions. The unspoken “rules” of social interaction in the US might not be appropriate in your host country. These concern matters such as:

  • Family structure
  • Faculty-student relationships
  • Friendships
  • Gender and personal relationships

Be cautious of different cultural norms and behavior. Some examples of what you should be aware of:

  • What are the cultural patterns for friendships like eye contact, smiling or waving at strangers, accepting a gift, any physical contact or interaction?
  • The cultural patterns for dating.
  • What is polite to address people by? First name or a certain title?
  • How formal should conversations be in different spaces? Is sarcasm potentially offensive?
  • Do women have equal rights?
  • What are both the legal restrictions and cultural norms related to the LGBTQ+ community?

Racism and colorism are also part of cultural norms in some countries. Consider how your ethnic/racial identity will be perceived at your destination country. Keep in mind that stereotypes at your host country could affect your experience.

Every community has different expectations for clothing. People tend to dress more formally in other countries. To decrease your likelihood of being targeted by criminals:

  • Dress conservatively or try to blend in with the local population.
  • Leave your USA t-shirts and baseball caps at home.
  • Do not wear expensive-(looking) jewelry or accessories.

Each of our identities can add unique challenges to traveling abroad. Laws and cultural norms in some countries may impact a traveler's experience and safety. There are a variety of resources available to asssist LGBTQ+ travelers better understand what to expect at their destination.

Sexual and discriminatory harassment violate Virginia Tech policy (Title IX) and are illegal in the United States, but laws may be different in your host country. The vast majority of offenders are not other college students, but citizens of the host country. Females may also be more likely to encounter harassment such as unwanted sexual gestures, physical contact, or statements that can be perceived as offensive (honked at, stared at, verbally and loudly approved of). On the other hand, foreign tones of voice, gestures, and perception of personal space may cause you to feel threatened by people who mean them no harm. Researching cultural norms before you travel can help set expectations. Trust your intuition. If you do not feel safe in a space, make a change or leave that space.

If you have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, you have access to the same support and resources you would if you were in Blacksburg, but how you engage with them may be different. We encourage you to connect with any office that you are comfortable with. In consideration of the additional complexity of seeking assistance while abroad, this website describes which VT resources can assist you most directly with different needs.