Health and Safety

Need to Know Information

Before You Depart

You should go for a physical and a dental checkup before you depart, especially if your time abroad will coincide with when you would normally schedule these appointments and/or the program is in a developing country. This will give you an opportunity to talk with familiar health care professionals about any general health precautions that are necessary, such as vaccines.

Bringing Medication Abroad

What medication can I bring abroad?

Some medications that are quite common in the U.S. could be illegal in some countries.  In some countries, even over-the-counter medications are prohibited. While enforcement may be inconsistent, you certainly do not want to take the risk that your medication is confiscated at customs.

Prescriptions and Letters

If you take prescription medications regularly, you should bring a supply to last throughout your time abroad, if possible. It would be wise to also carry with you a letter from your home physician or pharmacist at the customs inspection when entering a country describing your medicines, their dosage, generic names, and the condition(s) being treated.  This letter could be helpful at border crossings or in an emergency.  Make sure all drugs are in the original pharmacy containers and are clearly labeled. 

Narcotic Medication

Travelers should check with the foreign embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure any required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics. (A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.)

In the case of narcotic medicines, it may not be prudent to carry additional supplies because of possible customs difficulties.  In that case, bring a prescription with the drug’s generic name.  Foreign drugs are not necessarily closely related to those in the U.S., even if they have the same chemical formula.  They may be marketed under different names and may not be available in the strengths you desire.

Click here for more information.

Familiarize yourself with conditions at your destination that could affect your health (high altitude or pollution, types of medical facilities, required immunizations, availability of required pharmaceuticals, etc.). The key resource for health information is the Travelers’ Health page of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. The CDC website also provides general guidance on health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect-bite protection. The CDC also maintains an international travelers’ hotline at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or, by fax, at 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299). See this website for more resources.

For a full list of health issues to consider, visit Students Abroad Handbook.

Click here for country specific information.

Academic and Physical Accommodations

Bring along letters from the UMaine Office of Disability Support Services if you need academic or physical accommodations for your program.  Remember, an education abroad is hard work and not therapy. For more information, visit Students Accessibility Services.

Mental Health

Emotionally and mentally, international living can be stressful.  Most travelers will experience a degree of culture shock during the normal adjustment period.  Culture shock causes feelings of disorientation and unease, which can be intensified for students dealing with ongoing unresolved emotional or medical issues. It is thus very important that students with such problems discuss these with their education abroad advisors, mental health providers, or other trained medical personnel before leaving.  Check with the program to see what psychological counseling is available, should the student need it. 

What is "STEP"

All UMaine students are REQUIRED to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to departure.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens 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.

Your UMaine Contact

The UMaine Police (1-207-581-4040) is your first point of contact at UMaine in case of a non-life threatening emergency. They can give you tools and advice as well as connect you to appropriate resources during and after business hours.

Watch the Culture of Safety video.

Travel Safety Orientation Program  – hands on tips and tools for students going abroad. See a full list of tips below.

How to Find Out if it's Safe to Go

Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, either transnational or within a particular country, that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.

Travel Warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff. The countries listed below meet those criteria.

In Case of Emergency

  • Find out the 911 equivalent in the host country immediately upon arrival and keep it with you at all times.  It is advised that these services be called first in any emergency.

  • Students and families should be familiar with a local program representative (Resident Director, Education Abroad advisor on site, or similar liaison) and should follow instructions provided for emergency situations.

  • Only after contacting the local emergency services and receiving help should the student contact his or her family and notify the UMaine education abroad advisor.

  • UMaine resources for dealing with non-life-threatening emergencies:

  • Public Safety – 24-Hour Assistance – 1-207-581-4040 (can reach Education Abroad Advisor after hours)

  • Counseling Center, Crisis Line Nights/Weekends  –  1-207-581-4040

  • Student Health Services, Emergency Number Nights/Weekends – 1-207-581-4000

  • Education Abroad Advisor (during business hours) – 1-207-581-1509

Family Emergencies: Discuss with your family what you will do in the event of a family emergency, illness or death.  It is much easier to have these conversations around the kitchen table prior to your departure than on Skype or on an intercontinental phone call in the midst of a crisis.

How to Create a Data File

All students should create a data file to leave with a trusted person (parent) who will assist the traveling student if any documents are lost or stolen. Gather all of the information and documents you and you family might need while you are away; leave with your parent/guardian or trusted friend:

  • Leave with your family prior to departure – your travel itinerary (flight numbers, etc), contact info for UMaine OIP office, contact info for host program resident director/center and/or host family

  • Contact information for you (street address and cell phone number abroad)

  • Contact persons – on-site resident director or education abroad advisor at the host school – and for recommended programs the home office of the provider

  • U.S. State Department Office of Overseas Citizen Services −Citizen assistance section of the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest your program site

  • Insurance policy number and how to submit claims

  • Emergency and communication plan

  • Your bank account and credit card numbers, and contact info in case of loss

  • Your passport number and duplicate lost passport kit containing: two passport photos, official copy of your birth certificate, copy of your passport information and visa pages

  • Program calendar

  • Name of local physician if you require medical supervision

How Foreign Laws Apply

Not knowing local laws can get you into serious trouble. Just because something is legal in the United States doesn’t mean it is legal in the country of your choice. Most students who study abroad do not break the law on purpose; instead, they end up doing something illegal without knowing it. Even as a foreigner, you must obey all a citizen of the country of your choice laws and the laws of other countries to which you are traveling.

If you break local laws while in the country of your choice, the U.S. government can do very little to help you. You are granted no special privileges or rights, and will be dealt with according to standard procedure of the legal system of the country of your choice. The U.S. and a citizen of the country of your choice governments encourage all visitors to the country of your choice to become familiar with local laws before they visit. Upon arrival in the country of your choice, you may also wish to ask your Resident Director on-site during orientation about local laws and procedures. Remember, most students who study abroad wind up breaking the law unintentionally, and alcohol or drug use has been associated with law–breaking in many cases.

  • Know the Relevant Laws: Make sure you know the relevant laws for the country of your choice and each country to which you plan to travel. Foreign laws apply to visitors, regardless of the visitor’s country of citizenship.

  • Travel Warnings  and Country Specific Information: Read the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets for information on the legal system in the country of your choice and in the countries to which you will be traveling.

  • Embassy or Consulate Assistance: If you find yourself in legal trouble in the country of your choice (arrest, car accident, etc.), the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (or that of the country where you are a citizen) may only be able to assist you in the following ways:

    • Visit you in jail after your arrest

    • Give you a list of local attorneys

    • Notify your family and friends and relay request for money and other aid

    • Intercede with local authorities to help ensure your proper treatment under the law and in accordance with internationally recognized standards

    • Protest mistreatment

  • Legal Representation: You will be responsible for bearing the financial burden of your legal representation as well as the outcome of a trial.

  • Constitutional Rights: You cease to be protected by U.S. law and Constitutional rights once you leave the country.

  • Unfair Imprisonment: If you feel you have been unfairly imprisoned by another country’s government, the U.S. State Department can provide some assistance. It may be necessary to hire a local attorney as well.

  • Kidnapping/Terrorism Situations: If you are taken hostage or kidnapped by a terrorist organization, the U.S. State Department may help negotiate for your release. Check with your insurance provider to see if you can purchase additional kidnapping, terrorism or emergency assistance insurance for the country of your choice and the other countries to which you plan to travel.

Safety Tips from the UMaine Police Department

1-207-581-4040 (24 hours)

While you are abroad, you must exercise the same safety precautions you would at home. Don’t take the attitude that you are protected and safe because you are anonymous and no one knows you. Don’t travel with anything you are not prepared to lose. Use your common sense, avoid confrontations, try to blend in as much as possible, try to familiarize yourself with the area, ask the locals where the safe part of town is, and if you feel insecure in a certain place, don’t go there. Do not expose yourself to unnecessarily dangerous situations. It will be difficult to fully hide the fact that you’re a foreigner. That may make you more vulnerable to theft and crime. While you can’t control everything that happens to you at home or abroad, you can sway the odds. Some practical suggestions include:

  • Don’t stand out. While “safety in numbers” is a good rule to follow, traveling as an identifiable group of U.S. students will attract attention and possibly cause problems. Try to fit in with the surroundings and be “invisible.” It is vital to remain alert within your environment. Always be aware of what is normal and commonplace about where you live and work so you can immediately detect the unusual.

  • In large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid possible target areas, especially places frequented by U.S. Americans. Avoid using U.S. logos on your belongings or clothing, especially athletic and collegiate wear.

  • Keep all valuables on your person in a discreet place, preferably stowed away in a money belt or a pouch that hangs around your neck and under clothing. Do not leave valuables unattended.

  • Do not wear expensive clothes or jewelry or carry expensive luggage.

  • Try to avoid arriving late at night in cities with which you are not familiar, and take along a reliable guidebook that lists resources and hotels/hostels.

  • Try to stay on well-lit, heavily-traveled streets. Avoid shortcuts through alleys. Stay in the middle of the sidewalk. Avoid walking close to the street or buildings.

  • Walk against the flow of traffic so oncoming vehicles can be observed.

  • It is preferable to travel with another person. It is not advisable to sleep on a train if you are traveling alone.

  • Do not agree to watch the belongings of a person whom you do not know.

  • Do not borrow suitcases. Ensure that nothing is inserted into yours.

  • Take off your luggage tags after arrival.

  • In all public places, remain alert.

  • Remember that hitchhiking can be as dangerous abroad as it is in the United States. Hitchhiking is not advisable.

  • Couch-serfing is not advisable. Never couch-serf by yourself.

  • Never leave handbags/purses/baggage unattended and make sure they are locked. If the item has a shoulder strap, wear it crossing the strap over your body. Do not put valuables in the exterior pockets of book bags or backpacks or in bags that are open at the top.

  • Travel light!

  • Whenever possible, speak in the local language.

  • Be streetwise. Avoid deserted areas and exercise caution in crowds.

  • Avoid impairing your judgment due to excessive consumption of alcohol.

  • Be aware that pickpockets exist and tend to prey on people who look lost or who do not seem to be paying attention to their surroundings.

  • Find out which areas are considered to be unsafe by the local people and avoid them.

  • Keep up with the local news through newspapers, radio, and television and, in the event of disturbances or protests, do NOT get involved.

  • Report suspicious events immediately. Contact your group leader if you observe suspicious persons within the premises of your educational environment. Act similarly if anything might indicate threats or an actual terrorist attack on the premises or during student activities.

  • If you have been a victim of a crime, report this immediately to your group leader.

  • Do not be free with information about other students. Be wary of questions from people not associated with your program. Do not give out your or anyone else’s address or telephone number to strangers. Do not share your class or field trip schedule.

  • Your group leader may have an agreement with you about leaving the site and staying with others. Be sure to give this person your schedule and itinerary if you are traveling, even if only overnight, and where and how to contact you in case of an emergency.

  • Develop with your U.S. family a plan for regular communication so that in times of heightened political tensions or local incidents, you will be able to communicate directly with your family about your safety and well-being.

  • Understand and comply with the terms of participation, codes of conduct, and emergency procedures of the program.

  • Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions and promptly express any health or safety concerns to the program staff or other appropriate individuals.

  • Learn the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Behave in a manner that is respectful of the rights and well-being of others. Comply with local laws, regulations, and customs of the host country, community, institution, and study abroad program, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.

  • Become familiar with the local emergency number (comparable to 9-1-1) and the procedures for obtaining emergency health and law enforcement services in the host country.

  • Be aware you are responsible for your own decisions and actions.

  • Make an agreement with your fellow students that you will look out for each other and practice peer responsibility.

Did You Know:

  • Traffic and swimming accidents are the leading causes of death for travelers.

  • AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (i.e., Hepatitis B) are a global problem.

  • Always use clean water for brushing your teeth and for drinking.

  • Swim only in well-maintained, chlorinated pools or in unpolluted rivers or in parts of the ocean.

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