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 email@example.com with any questions.
Register your travel
- Register your travel by submitting a Pre-Approval in Chrome River (see the Controller’s International Travel website for details).
- Taking students with you (conference, business meeting, etc.)? Connect them with your department's Fiscal Technician for assistance with their Pre-Approval in Chrome River.
- Leading a group of students abroad? Follow these program proposal procedures:
- 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:
- Creating their My Study Abroad account
- Then registering for either:
- The specific program they are participating in, or
- Global Research, Internship & Independent Study Registry
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.).
- 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
- Have a plan for how you will be able to communicate. international cell plan, buying a local phone, WhatsApp, or other service. Not sure what will work best? Ask your host institution or read travel blogs on the topic.
- Have a check-in plan with those you care about back home, both for your reoccurring “hello’s” and in the event of an emergency.
- Copy your emergency contacts, both personal and Virginia Tech, into your phone and in your wallet.
- Learn some of the local language. A few basic words and phrases can make a big difference in your experience.
- Prescription medications should be carried in the original container, with the original label with the traveler’s name as it appears on their passport, with a copy of the original prescription.
- Medication must be carried by the person it is prescribed to.
- Travelers should carry enough medication to last for the duration of their travel.
- If your medication is a controlled or illegal substance in your destination country, contact On Call International, firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with identifying any additional documentation that may be required.
- 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
- 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.
- U.S. Department of State information for LGBTQI+ Travelers.
- Human Rights Watch aggregates news and reports on international LGBT rights.
- Equaldex - a crowd-sourced knowledge base of LGBT rights by country and region.
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual world report and a map on legislation that criminalizes or protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation or recognizing their relationships.
- This interactive map from the Human Dignity Trust shows legality of homosexuality and gender expression around the world.
- Virginia Tech's LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
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.