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Health and Safety

General Tips

  • Automobile accidents are the leading cause of preventable deaths in travelers. Wear your seat belt and follow the local customs and laws regarding pedestrian safety and vehicle speed. Remember what side of the road people drive, because this may differ in the country or countries you will be visiting. Use helmets when riding bicycles and motorcycles.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages and drive. The most important risk factor for road traffic injuries is the presence of alcohol in the blood of an injured driver or pedestrian.
  • Be aware of the cultural impact of being involved in or causing an accident that includes injury to the local population. In unfamiliar or foreign environments, hire a local driver. It is important to note the legal age for driving varies by country.
  • Swim in well-maintained, chlorinated pools, and only if you are an experienced swimmer. Drowning is also a leading cause of death in travelers.
  • If visiting an area which has risk of water-borne infections (i.e., schistosomiasis), do not swim in lakes or streams or other fresh bodies of water.
  • When spending time outdoors, wear sunblock for protection from harmful effects of UV sun rays. This is especially important if you are visiting tropical areas or areas in high altitudes.
  • To prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B, avoid receiving tattoos, body piercings or injections.

For more information for students traveling abroad, http://studentsabroad.state.gov.


  • Use the same common sense overseas as you would at home. Avoid sketchy parts of town.
  • Carry a note with emergency contact information: your name and local address, phone numbers of emergency program contact, local 911, local police and SMU Police Department.
  • Know how to make local phone calls. If you do not have your own cell phone, make sure you know how to use the public phone and always have the proper change on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases so you can communicate as needed. A sheet of phrases or a host country phrasebook is a good idea.
  • Try to blend in with the local surroundings and not be a target. Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments
  • Appear purposeful when you move about. Even if lost, act as if you know where you are going. If necessary, ask questions only from an individual in authority.
  • Remain alert; look around and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.
  • Avoid clearly visible luggage tags, dress and stereotypical behavior that may identify you as a U.S. citizen. It some places of the world, this is not looked upon favorably.
  • Be cautious when you meet new people. Unless you have developed a high level of confidence, do NOT discuss travel plans or personal matters. Avoid giving information about your friends, colleagues or even planned events.
  • Always hang onto you own purse, wallet, backpack and other luggage. Do NOT leave it unattended, even for a few seconds.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will distract you. A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of vagrant children.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with your arm over the bag. Drive-by purse-snatchers are not a myth.
  • Carry a copy of your passport info and visa pages and keep the original booklet in a safe place in your home or hotel safe. However, when you change money from anyplace other than an ATM, purchase tickets for travel or travel internationally, you will need to have your original passport.
  • Change money at banks, authorized agents or ATMs. It is easy to use you ATM card to change money. In most places in the world, this is the least expensive way to get local currency.
  • Use cash or credit cards to make purchases. You can always dispute a credit card charge, but a crook with your debit card can empty your bank account.
  • Carry only the cash you need, NOT large amounts.
  • Keep track of your ATM and credit cards. Make sure your card is returned after each transaction.
  • Avoid the appearance of affluence. Do NOT wear conspicuous clothes or expensive jewelry.
  • Do NOT travel alone at night. Only take taxies clearly identified with official markings.
  • Do NOT accept, carry, look after or store any package, parcel or suitcase for anyone. Make sure nobody puts anything in your luggage.
  • Do NOT accept food or drink from strangers.
  • Do NOT get distracted by people asking you random questions. Go quickly to your train or the lounges beyond the passport controls. Beware of what you discuss with strangers.
  • Avoid political demonstrations where anti-American sentiments may be expressed. Spend as little time as possible in target areas for terrorist activity, especially in places frequented by U.S. expats or tourists.
  • If confronted for any reason, don't fight back. Give up your valuables. Your money, passport and other stuff can be replaced, but you cannot. 

For more information for students traveling abroad, http://studentsabroad.state.gov.

  • In developing areas, boil your water or drink only bottled water or carbonated drinks from cans or bottles with intact seals. Do not drink tap water or fountain drinks or add ice to beverages. Do not brush your teeth with tap water. Avoid eating salads, fresh vegetables and fruits you cannot peel yourself, and unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot, and avoid food from street vendors. If living with a host family, discuss food allergies or dietary preferences early.
  • Do not touch animals, including domestic pets, and especially do not touch monkeys, dogs, and cats, to avoid bites and serious diseases (such as rabies and plague). If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, get medical attention right away. Immediately clean the wound well with large amounts of soap and water and a povidone-iodine solution, if available.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before meals and after going to the bathroom. If soap and water are not available and your hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand gel (containing at least 60% alcohol) to clean your hands. Clean your hands often with soap and water to remove potentially infectious material from your skin and prevent disease transmission such as swine flu.
  • If visiting an area where there is risk of malaria, use insect repellent and a mosquito net for sleeping, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors between dusk and dawn, and take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after your trip, as directed.
  • If you are visiting a country that has experienced an avian flu (bird flu) outbreak, avoid poultry farms, bird markets, and other places where live poultry is raised or kept.
  • Be aware that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, are among the most common infections worldwide. The most reliable way to avoid transmission is to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship. For people whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of latex or polyurethane condoms when engaging in sexual activity can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting STDs, including HIV infection.

For more information for students traveling abroad, http://studentsabroad.state.gov.