How to Stay Safe While Studying Abroad

Safety is a top concern for international students looking for a university to attend. In addition to university status and cost of living, personal safety is a highly important concern for both students and their parents.

Undoubtedly, going to a different country to study presents some risks. New opportunities will bring new challenges. But, you can easily mitigate the risks and protect your personal safety no matter where in the world you are by following a few simple tips. Staying safe while studying abroad is a matter of basic preparation, observing your surroundings, and researching the local situation before you travel.

Practicing these essential safety habits can help both students and parents feel less anxious about the upcoming study abroad journey. Studying abroad can be a wonderful growth experience and a celebration of education for all involved. Don’t let fears or worries about personal safety stand in the way of what can be an incredibly fulfilling and enriching life journey!

Millions of students study overseas every year–if you want to safely join them, here are our top tips for staying safe while studying abroad.

Read More: 20 Ways to Prepare to Study Abroad & Beat Culture Shock

1. Study language basics beforehand

It goes without saying that in order to stay safe abroad, you need to be able to communicate some basic needs. Whether you are studying in a French, English, or Chinese-speaking country, you should be able to navigate some basic safety information in an emergency.

We recommend learning how to say some basic phrases in the local language, including…

  • Your name, nationality, and home address
  • The name and address of your university
  • Basic safety-related locations such as hospital, police station, and your country’s embassy/consulate in the city
  • I need food/water/help

2. Pack your bag with some student safety basics

A little bit of preparation can go a long way to helping prevent an emergency situation. Sometimes, disaster can be averted with some simple good sense and street smarts.

Make sure your backpack or purse contains these helpful items:

  • Local map
  • Address card of your university/apartment in the local language
  • Flashlight/penlight
  • Whistle or personal alarm
  • Pepper spray (It is legal to carry in many countries like the US)
  • A copy of your passport or ID card
  • Some emergency cash
  • Extra phone charger/backup battery

If you are lost in an unfamiliar area, find yourself walking alone at night, or need to show your ID/student status, these items will come in handy. A local map/printed address of your university is especially necessary if you do not yet speak the local language fluently enough to ask for directions or follow street signs.

3. Figure out public transport

staying safe while studying abroad

Are the metro lines open 24 hours? Can you buy a tram ticket at night? Which taxis are trustworthy to take? When you move to a new city, you’ll probably be getting around using the local public transportation options like metro, subway, tram, or taxi. It’s incredibly important to understand the rules and guidelines of the new city’s transport system, otherwise you might find yourself stranded at a restaurant or bar with no way back home.

Each city handles public transportation differently. Here are some examples:

  • In Germany, one ticket is valid for all kinds of public transport (trams, trains, and buses). You can buy the ticket on an app, or in-person at some stations.
  • In Dublin, you cannot buy a bus ticket at the station, so you will have to purchase one beforehand or buy an online transport card.
  • In Japan, the subways close at midnight and open around 5 AM.
  • In New York City, the metro is usually 24 hours, but some train lines do not run overnight.
  • In Shanghai, the subways are closed from 10:30 PM to 5:00 AM

Make sure you have purchased a valid public transportation ticket and keep it topped up with money. If you are traveling early in the morning or late at night, make sure you know how you will be getting back home!

4. Pay attention to the locals

A simple but extremely effective tip is to pay attention to what the locals and city natives around you are doing. Long-time residents have a great sense of which areas are safe, which parts are risky, and which behaviors are dangerous. Avoid wandering off to sparsely populated areas if you don’t know exactly where you’re walking.

This safety tip also works well for smaller situations–pay attention to how people cross the street, how cars stop (or don’t stop!) for pedestrians, whether locals are eating the street food or not, etc. A great way to avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations is by trying to adapt local behaviors as fast as possible.

5. Protect against pickpockets

Stay safe while studying abroad pickpockets

Pickpocketing is by far the most common crime facing international visitors and travelers. Wide-eyed tourists or exuberant students milling around famous monuments or shopping plazas are a favorite target for pickpockets.

Make sure your money, phone, and ID cards are secure close to your body–you can even wear or purchase a bag with a hidden zipper or a lock. Don’t flash large wads of cash around at markets. You should only carry the money that you’ll need for that day. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in large crowds.

6. Understand local laws

Stay safe while studying abroad

This is the most important tip for students, though it’s the tip that most students forget or don’t take as seriously.

Sometimes when visiting a new country, students feel that the local laws do not apply to them–if they get into trouble, the university or their embassy can help get them out of it. Who can expect foreigners to know and follow all the local laws, right?

This is a dangerous mindset. As a guest and a visitor, you are expected to follow the same laws as everyone else in order to maintain a functional and safe society. Here are some areas where we recommend students pay close attention and do some research beforehand:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: What is the drinking age and legal places to drink alcohol? What does the country categorize as “drugs,” and are they allowed?
    • Double check that your prescription medicine is not a banned substance in another country. Medical marijuana or CBD oil, for example, may be permitted in your home country but not allowed overseas.
  • Curfew and Quiet Hours: Are you allowed to be out in any area of the city at night? Are there noise restrictions?
  • Public Behavior: How does your new country treat behaviors such as fighting, kissing, dancing, protesting in public? How about littering or eating on the street?
  • Online Behavior: Which websites are permitted and safe to use? What types of content are banned?
    • Double check: some countries ban political speech, pornography, racism and sexism, and certain movie-streaming websites.
  • Reporting Crimes: If you are the victim of theft, fraud, or assault, how can you report the crime?

7. Create emergency contacts

stay safe while studying abroad create emergency contacts

In a worst-case scenario, such as major theft, injury, or hospitalization, you will need to have a way to contact emergency authorities. Make sure you know the contact numbers and emails for the following groups:

  • Local fire/police/emergency hotline
  • Your university international student coordinator
  • Your embassy
  • Your parents/guardians

Ideally, you should always know a backup way to contact these authorities. If the embassy is not checking their email, for example, you should know the emergency contact number for citizens in trouble.

8. Choose caution…at least at first

When you arrive in a new country, there will be a lot to figure out at first! You should expect a lot of adaptation, some disorientation, and even some struggles with the local language.

It’s best to focus on your university life and coursework at first, while paying close attention to local behavior and laws. Learning to adapt to a new country can be a slow process, so don’t jump into risky behavior until you have more confidence in navigating the city and language.

Choose caution and stay on the safe side…at least at first! When you understand the local situation much better after a year or two, then you will understand how to stay safe no matter what you do. Staying out late or exploring a little-known part of town will be much safer for you once you understand how to talk, act, and walk like a local.

Read More: 20 Ways to Prepare to Study Abroad & Beat Culture Shock

Stay Safe While Studying with Global Admissions

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