The State Department publishes a Worldwide Caution announcement that is updated twice yearly. This announcement summarizes possible safety risks to US citizens due to terrorism abroad. The chances of experiencing a terrorist attack while studying abroad are very small, but all students should be aware of all possible safety risks associated with their travel.

It is important to keep in mind that the United States is known around the world as a relatively dangerous country due to US crime and gun statistics. US media outlets, when covering international current events, tend to focus on political upheaval, violent strife, and natural disasters when these are not typical in most countries. Most students find that life abroad is very “normal” in spite of cultural differences. However, dangerous situations can arise anywhere, and you will still be in a new place with an unfamiliar culture. Thus, you should always take proper safety precautions while abroad. Using common sense and being observant and aware of your surroundings will help keep you safe, whether you are in Burlington or abroad.

Basic safety preparation

  • Read and evaluate all materials provided by your program or university that relate to safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in your host country.
  • Know where to get help if needed.  Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood, locate your nearest police station and hospital, and be sure you have all necessary emergency phone numbers on your person at all times.
  • In the case of an emergency affecting the public, please follow any emergency procedures put in place by your program director or in-country international office.
  • Stay informed about local and regional news, read newspapers with good international coverage and analysis of local issues.
  • Sign up for International SOS email alerts

Safety while out and about

  • Be aware and alert to what’s going on around you at all times.
  • Avoid crowds, protest groups and volatile situations. In the event of a disturbance, do not get involved.  In some cases it is illegal for foreigners to get involved in political protests.
  • Don’t divulge personal information to strangers.
  • Never agree to meet someone in a secluded area.
  • Keep a low profile. Dress appropriately for the occasion and cultural context, and do not dress in ways that mark you as a foreigner.
  • Know which areas are considered safe/unsafe in the cities you visit and act accordingly.
  • Do not display money, jewelry, cameras, or other valuable items. You might want to consider insuring valuable items such as camera, laptop, jewelry that you are bringing abroad. Never carry large amounts of cash.
  • Be street smart.  Remember that adjusting to city life is part of the cultural adjustment process, since most cities where students study abroad are much larger than Burlington, Vermont.

Safety after dark

  • If you are out at night, stay in well-lit areas and don’t use short cuts or narrow alleys.
  • Stay in groups of at least two. Never leave a friend alone at a bar or nightclub while out.
  • Don’t walk alone at night or in questionable neighborhoods.
  • Be cautious and use common sense while patronizing restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, bars, or places where large crowds may gather (stadiums, malls, festivals)
  • Alcohol and drugs decrease your ability to consent and to make good judgment.  They also make you an easier target for all types of crime.  Be wary of impairing your judgment through excessive use of alcohol, and do not use drugs while abroad.
  • Laws regarding alcohol and drugs vary between countries, and many countries have stricter policies than the US. Students have been jailed abroad in the past for drug and alcohol-related offenses. 

Travel and transportation

  • Learn about taxis and public transportation, and know what your safest travel options are. Even taxis and public transportation that are considered safe by the local community may have risks. It is especially important to travel with a buddy while taking a taxi or overnight transportation.
  • Make sure your resident director, host family, or foreign university official knows how to contact you in case of emergency. Leave your itinerary with them if you are traveling. 
  • To ensure your safety we encourage you to identify one or two “buddies” who will either always be with you, or know your whereabouts.
  • Driving customs vary a great deal, and in most countries pedestrians are not given the right of way. 
  • We advise you not to drive at all while abroad, especially in countries where driving on the left-hand side of the road is the norm. Traffic congestion and different traffic laws and regulations can make driving motor vehicles in foreign countries extremely hazardous. Students have been involved in serious car accidents abroad involving major injuries and fatalities.

Sexual assault and harassment

What you consider harassment may not be considered so in another culture. For instance, staring and “catcalling” is extremely common in some countries. Usually the best way to deal with this behavior is by ignoring it and getting to a safe place as necessary. Dealing with this type of harassment can be very frustrating or tiring, and can take an emotional toll. Ask for help from your program staff or host university staff if you have concerns about harassment or need support. It is also a good idea to watch locals and see how they deal with street harassment.

Just like at UVM, sexual misconduct and assault abroad are more likely to occur with someone you know than by a stranger. What is different from UVM while you are studying abroad is that culturally, the definition of sexual ‘consent’ varies from country to country. For example, at UVM if your sexual partner is incapacitated due to consumption of alcohol, it is impossible to get consent from him or her. Failure to get that consent constitutes sexual misconduct or assault. That is not the case in many study abroad destinations (including "Western" destinations); sex may be considered consensual unless you yell or unless you push back, and whether anyone has consumed alcohol may be irrelevant. Sexual assault is never the fault of the person who is assaulted. It is important that all of us understand that that may not be how it is seen where you are going. And please – if you’re thinking ‘sexual assault isn’t something I need to think about because I am going to the U.K. or Australia’ or some other place that you perceive is ‘just like the U.S.,’ please know that you do need to think about it.

  • If you are raped or assaulted—remember it is never your fault. Get to a safe place; seek medical attention and emotional support.
  • Toll-free sexual assault crisis lines are available for Americans abroad. For more details, please visit: HOPEworks and/or Pathways to Safety

Law and legal issues abroad

  • Laws in your host country may be very different than US laws. Your rights under the US Constitution do not apply to you when you are in a different country. Many countries have stricter constraints on speech, religious practice, protests, and other rights you have in the US. Many countries may also have laws regarding gender, race, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity that you may feel are discriminatory.
  • While you may be uncomfortable or strongly disagree with some laws in your host country, you are individually responsible for following all local laws. If you do not, you could be subject to arrest.
  • When US citizens are arrested abroad, the US embassy or consulate can help them by providing a list of local attorneys and an overview of the local justice system, and by visiting the US citizen in prison and advocating for their proper medical care. However, the US embassy or consulate cannot provide legal advice, pay for legal or medical services, or get a US citizen out of jail. For more information visit the US State Department's page on their services to Americans arrested abroad

Country-specific safety resources

  • The US State Department lists Travel Advisories for all countries according to a scale from 1 (Excercise Normal Precautions) to 4 (Do Not Travel). We require students to read through their host country's travel advisory to see what risks and safety concerns they may encounter while they are abroad.
  • UVM students who are US citizens are required to sign up for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you are not a US citizen, you should look into the resources provided by your country of citizenship to travelers. Many countries have similar programs, and you should sign up for your country of citizenship's version of this program if available.
  • The US State Department's page on driving and road safety is very helpful to learn more about transportation safety in your host country. It also links to a number of outside resources.
  • Review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website on traveler's health
  • International SOS has an excellent section on country-specific safety concerns. Students are required to sign up for seculrity email reminders and alerts.