Health and Safety
Before traveling, be prepared for the specific safety considerations of your planned location.
Examples of incidents or emergencies
For our purposes, an emergency is any circumstance that poses a genuine risk to, or has already disturbed, the safety and well-being of program participants. Emergencies may include incidents that are "newsworthy" and reach U.S. news agencies, causing alarm to parents or colleagues.
Pre-departure loss of a passport or documents is not considered an emergency. We will assist students or leaders to the best of our ability, but response may be limited to business hours.
The first thing you should do when you arrive in your host city is to contact your family and/or friends to let them know you've reached your destination.
In addition to staying in touch with family and friends, be sure to do the following:
- Provide your local address and phone number to your emergency contacts after you are accepted to a study abroad program.
- In the case of an emergency, Edmonds College needs to be able to reach you 24/7 while you are on-site.
- Take precautions to avoid being a target of crime. To avoid being a target of crime, do not wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in public areas and do not accept packages from strangers.
- Pay attention to dressing in a culturally appropriate way.
- At night, travel in groups and never walk home alone.
- Locate the nearest U.S. embassies and consulates.
- Avoid the vicinity of any public demonstrations
- Avoid overnight travel by road
- Avoid travel to any location where the U.S. government has restricted or forbidden U.S. government personnel from visiting
- When in public, be sure to look up and observe regularly when using a phone, reading, etc.
- Never leave bags unattended
- Do not accept rides or drinks from strangers
Remember that as a traveler, you are a representative of Edmonds College, our partner
institutions/organizations and your home country. Be proud of who you represent and
always behave in a respectful manner that will leave a positive impression for your
host countries, thereby building lasting friendships for you and for all future travelers.
Students participating in all Edmonds College study abroad programs are required to
follow the laws of the country in which they are traveling (including laws relating
to drugs/alcohol) and are expected to conduct themselves within the applicable laws
and policies, as well as with respect for cultural expectations for the countries
they will be visiting (including norms relating to alcohol consumption, dress, and
Remember that you are subject to the Student Code of Conduct while participating in an Edmonds College study abroad program and that you represent both Edmonds College and the United States.
Some Health Advice:
- If you have any chronic or recurrent medical conditions (including but not limited to asthma, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, chronic pain, and immunodeficiency disorders), please consider this and make sure that you are mentally and physically capable to participate in your upcoming travel itinerary.
- If you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, you'll want to make sure you do some research to explore how difficult (or easy) it might be to manage your diet while abroad. You should also learn how to describe your dietary needs in the local/host language in an effort to minimize the likelihood that you inadvertently eat something that interferes with your health.
- Some countries will not allow you entry if you have certain medical conditions (HIV, undergoing treatment for infections, etc) and you should confirm with your host countries that your medical condition will not cause entry issues.
- If you will be going to destinations of higher medical risk (Mexico, Central/South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa) or need medical clearance forms completed for your travel, please give yourself adequate time to get a medical evaluation before your departure. We generally recommend that you obtain this evaluation at least 2 months prior to your travel, since vaccinations generally take at least 2 weeks before providing any protective effect, and some vaccinations need more than one dose. You can review in advance the standard recommendations for your destinations at www.cdc.gov/travel.
Medical Travel Insurance
All students participating in an Edmonds College study abroad program outside of the United States will be enrolled in a mandatory Lewermark health insurance plan. Edmonds College’s Lewermark insurance policy will provide you with services and protection in the event you become ill or injured while abroad. Lewermark also provides you and your family with valuable information and your own password protected Lewermark Portal (website) to help you prepare for your trip. Even if you have existing medical insurance coverage, because your policy may not cover you while outside of the U.S., your mandatory Lewermark coverage should be used as your primary insurance while abroad.
In case of an emergency abroad, you should follow these steps:
You Can Reach Us At:
- OIP Desk, Monday-Thursday 8:00 AM -5:00 PM /Friday 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
- The Emergency Phone and Backup Emergency Phone given to you at your program’s pre-departure orientation.
- Edmonds Security 24/7 Number if both emergency numbers do not pick up:
- Edmonds Security Number, Office Hours only, Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM- 5:00 PM
- Get immediate help. Know the local equivalent of 911 so that you can get immediate emergency assistance. To find the local emergency phone numbers in the country(ies) you will be visiting, visit the U.S. State Department Country Information Page for your study abroad program location.
- Notify your on-site contact. Know how to reach your Faculty Director, host institution or program provider emergency contact. Someone is available to you 24/7 on-site and you should contact this person as soon as is prudent so that they may assist you.
- Contact your insurance provider, if the emergency is medical in nature. Students covered by other policies should be familiar with their 24/7 emergency contact protocol – Edmonds College may not be able to communicate directly with your insurer (if you are not covered by Lewermark), so it is important that you know how to reach them if/when needed.
- Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy. Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies abroad are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates appears on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. Also note that the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs may be reached for assistance with emergencies at +1 (202) 501-4444.
- Contact your family. If you are involved in any emergency, it is important for you to remain in contact with your family. They will be concerned about your well-being and will be anxious for regular updates from you. There is a limit to the nature and amount of information we may disclose to your parents (and/or designated emergency contacts), so it is best for those interested parties to communicate with you directly.
- If your family needs to reach you while you are abroad because of an emergency, they can pass a message to you through the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, which can be contacted from within the United States at (888)-407-4747 (toll-free), and from overseas at (202) 501-4444. The Office of Overseas Citizens Services will contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country in which you are traveling in order to pass the message to you.
One great benefit of many of our programs is the opportunity to travel to other destinations in your free time. However, if you plan to do any extra traveling ask your on-site program director about travel procedures. Your program director may want to know where you are going, where you are staying and when you are returning, and may have restrictions forbidding your travel to particular locations in/around the host country.
If traveling alone, try pairing up with another solo traveler. Make sure someone knows where you are traveling and when you plan to return. If this happens during the official study abroad program, you will be required to at least let your program leader, such as a faculty, know.
Safe Housing Abroad
Living in safe housing means that your mental and physical well-being are protected and you are in an environment in which you can stay healthy. When you leave your accommodation, you are confident your belongings are secure, you can explore your neighborhood without fear, and you have access to clean water and healthy foods on a daily basis.
Safe housing minimizes risks, allows you to feel comfortable, and can help you thrive in an unfamiliar environment. Safe housing allows you to focus on learning while abroad without the stress of an unstable housing situation.
Country and Community Context
Housing styles and standards differ across the world and researching your chosen country and/or community is the first step to understanding the local housing context. What is realistic for where you are going? What are common or standard housing features in your host location? How will this be different from what you are used to in the U.S.? How will these differences affect the type of housing you choose?
You may need to adjust your expectations in order to adapt to the local context. What are your current priorities for housing? Are those realistic for where you are going? If not, how will you adjust? What preferences are you willing to compromise on? Keep in mind that you will rarely find housing that fulfills your entire wish-list.
The Difference Between Being Uncomfortable and Unsafe
You may be stepping outside of your comfort zone by living with a host family, other international students, or completely alone for the first time. Feeling uncomfortable in any new experience is normal, but there is a difference between feeling uncomfortable and being unsafe. Everyone has a different tolerance for new experiences, but if at any point you feel your housing situation compromises your health and safety, you should immediately reach out to your primary contact for your international experience and consider alternative options.
Using Airbnb (and similar sites) While Traveling Abroad
When securing housing through shared economy websites like Airbnb, VRBO/HomeAway or couchsurfing.com, it is not always possible to have confidence that you and your belongings will be secure and that you will be living in a safe and healthy environment. Although rare, there have been incidents of violent crime associated with the use of properties rented through sites like this. The fact that you may be in an unfamiliar city and culture can put you at even greater risk.
Because of the risks associated with booking housing through this kind of service, the Edmonds College study abroad Office does not use services like Airbnb to arrange housing for any Edmonds College study abroad program participants. If you determine that using this or other similar commercial or social websites is your most viable option to find lodging while abroad, you should proceed with the highest caution for your safety and security.
Some countries DO NOT allow certain medications (including both prescription and non-prescription) and/or may require that you obtain a medical provider note or prescription documentation. If you are in possession of illegal medications (even if you obtained them legally in the U.S.) or do not have the proper documentation, your medications may be confiscated and you can get arrested or deported.
The following are some medications that travelers may be taking, but in certain countries may be illegal or may need additional supporting documentation (this list is not all-inclusive, so if your medication is not in the list you should still check if it is allowed):
- Pain Medications (Examples: hydrocodone, oxycodone, dilaudid, fentanyl, morphine, methadone, codeine, tramadol)
- ADD/ADHD Stimulants (Examples: dextroamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine, methylphenidate)
- Steroids (Examples: testosterone)
- Sedatives or Anxiety medications (Examples: alprazolam, lorazepam, clonazepam, buspirone, diazepam)
- Injectable medications
- Sudafed decongestants & cold medicines that contain decongestants ("D" versions)
Always keep medications in original labeled bottles, and keep with your carry-on luggage to reduce the chances of lost medications. Do not plan on sending medications abroad. Make sure you have a back-up plan in case of lost/stolen medications - many prescription medications are not readily available overseas.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with family or friends. This will be invaluable in case they need to contact you in case of an emergency.
- Leave a copy of your passport biographical-data page with a friend or relative in the United States. If prompted to upload a copy of your passport within your online study abroad program application, be sure to do so. It is always easier to replace a lost or stolen passport if a copy is easily accessible.
- Sign your passport, and fill in the emergency information. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport, and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
- Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws. While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The U.S. Department of State has useful cultural, legal, safety and other information about the countries you will visit.
- Do some research to understand the known risks in your program location - the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) are great places to start.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency, if you haven’t done so already.
Although no study abroad programs will include students driving in the itinerary, it is excellent to know about road safety. ASIRT suggests that travelers can minimize their risk by assessing the road culture in travel areas and implementing safety precautions before traveling by road. For example, travelers should:
- Select the safest form of transportation in the travel area
- Avoid late-night road travel in countries with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain
- Understand how seasonal hazards affect road conditions
- Know the dates of local holidays (when road accident rates rise)
Suggestions for pedestrians are:
- Be aware of traffic patterns in the travel area (they may be very different from those in the U.S.)
- Be especially alert at intersections
- Wear reflective clothing if jogging at dusk or dawn (especially in locales where jogging may be uncommon)
- Do not walk where pedestrians cannot easily be seen
- Remember that most road fatalities are pedestrians
- Avoid hitchhiking
Suggestions for passengers are:
- Avoid riding with a driver who appears intoxicated, irrational, or over-tired
- Always ride in the back seat of a taxi cab
- Wear seat belts whenever possible
While many travelers may be tempted to rent cars, mopeds, or motorbikes during their time abroad, they often do so without regard to the risks of driving in a country whose rules of the road are unfamiliar. Although it may seem fun or convenient to travel this way, Edmonds College strongly recommends against driving any kind of motorized vehicle abroad.
Road travel in some developing countries poses additional road risks. Public transportation in some areas may consist of overcrowded, overweight, and top-heavy minivans or buses. Taxis may not appear to be in good condition, and drivers may or may not be licensed. Sidewalks may or may not be lit, or exist at all.
In these cases, follow the advice of the on-site staff, program provider, travel agent, or other responsible party administering your study abroad program. They can teach you how to minimize your risk when selecting various modes of transportation.
Although alcohol misuse may not carry the same legal penalties as the use of illegal drugs, it can create dire circumstances for you, your participation in the program, your safety on-site, and the future of your study abroad program.
Alcohol abuse and misuse are not tolerated globally and will not be tolerated on Edmonds College study abroad programs. Alcohol misuse is defined as any use that is harmful or potentially harmful to oneself or to others. Alcohol abuse is planned, systematic misuse of alcohol.
Violation of local laws and/or Edmonds College regulations or policies may result in:
- Immediate dismissal from the program
- Academic withdrawal from the college for the quarter in progress; and
- Disciplinary action upon return to campus.
Although there may be no minimum drinking age in your host country (or a lower drinking age than in the U.S.), the customs regarding alcohol use in your host country may be very different from those in the U.S. You may be tempted to slip into - or to maintain - patterns of alcohol misuse while abroad. Such use may occur for a variety of reasons:
- An incorrect impression of how alcohol is used in your new surroundings
- Cheaper costs in some countries
- A lower minimum drinking age
- More lenient laws against drunkenness
- A desire to experiment or fit in.
Students are encouraged to use good judgment if consuming alcohol at private homes or other accommodations during non-program hours. Student groups are encouraged to discuss with the program leaders(s) or resident director issues related to alcohol abuse by other members of their group. Peers should look out for each other and keep each other safe.
If a student becomes incapacitated due to alcohol overuse, or if they are in need of medical attention, others are strongly encouraged to contact a local emergency medical service, program leader, or resident director immediately in order to protect the health and well-being of the affected student. Peers are encouraged to make the responsible choice to notify program or emergency personnel quickly. The person (or persons) making the call will not be subject to disciplinary action.
Your online and pre-departure orientations will provide information on program requirements and host country laws regarding alcohol consumption and the consequences of misuse. Most countries, with the exception of those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking. Intoxication, public drunkenness and inebriating behavior, however, are seldom allowed under any circumstances.
Illegal Drug Use Abroad
There is very little that anyone can do to help you if you are caught with drugs. You are operating under the laws of the host country and the regulations of the local institution. Neither the U.S. government nor Edmonds College will be able to secure your release should you be caught.
It is your responsibility to know the drug laws of a foreign country before you go, as local authorities will not accept a plea of ignorance. Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens, even when lenient with locals.
If you are purchasing prescription medications in quantities larger than that considered necessary for personal use, you could be arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking.
If you are caught using illegal drugs, you may be immediately dismissed from the study abroad program. If you are caught by local authorities buying, selling, carrying, or using drugs it could mean:
- Interrogation and delays before trial, including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions and delays before trial including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very sub-par conditions
- Lengthy trials conducted in a foreign language, with delays and postponements
- Weeks, months, or life in prison (some places include hard labor, heavy fines, and/or lashings), if found guilty
- The death penalty in a growing number of countries
- Although drug laws vary from country to country, it is important to realize that foreign countries do not react lightly to drug offenders. In some countries, anyone who is caught with even a very small quantity for personal use may be tried and receive the same sentence as the large-scale trafficker.
- A number of countries have enacted more stringent drug laws that impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use.
- Once you leave the United States, you are not protected by U.S. laws and constitutional rights.
- Bail is not granted in many countries when drugs are involved.
- The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to prove their innocence.
- In some countries, evidence obtained illegally by local authorities may be admissible in court.
- Few countries offer drug offenders jury trials or even require the prisoner's presence at their trial.
- Many countries have mandatory prison sentences of seven years to life without the possibility of parole for drug violations.
- Don't carry a package or suitcase for anyone, no matter how small it might seem.
- The police and customs officials have a right to search your luggage for drugs.
About Medical Marijuana
According to U.S. Federal law you cannot fly on a commercial airliner with marijuana or marijuana-containing products, even if you have a doctor's written prescription for medical marijuana or a Washington Medical Marijuana Program ID Card. Possession of marijuana in a U.S airport, in U.S. airspace or on an airplane carries a punishment of up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For each subsequent conviction, the sentences and penalties increase.
In addition, many countries consider marijuana to be illegal. Students with a U.S. prescription for marijuana can be arrested, prosecuted, and/or deported, if in possession of an illegal substance abroad. Never travel internationally with any amount of medical marijuana unless you want to take the risk of being detained, arrested and charged, deported, missing your flight, and having your medicine confiscated.
Students with disabilities that require accommodation are strongly encouraged to participate in study abroad programs, though advance planning is essential. Consider the following steps:
- Plan early and register/communicate with the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and our office.
- Complete an Accommodation Form and Medical Form after you have been accepted to a study abroad program, both are available to review upon request, and will be given to any students after their application is complete and accepted.
- Identify accommodations that would minimize barriers and enhance your participation and enjoyment while abroad. Keep in mind that due to differing environments, you may need accommodations or assistance abroad that you may not typically need in the United States, or you may find that the accommodation you need is not available overseas.
- Compile information on each program relating to your individual needs (e.g. arranged and public transportation, housing, alternative test taking, course requirements, etc.). Edmonds College can work with you to find compatible sites in the host country that best coincide with your needs, though not all locations can accommodate all disabilities.
- The additional physical activity undertaken during travel is strenuous, and sudden changes in diet and climate can have serious health consequences for the unprepared traveler. Allow ample personal time, whether to adjust to the current time zone or to enjoy another travel site.
- Accommodations and Access: Learn about planned stops and ask questions about services available. Inquire about accessibility and available assistance at the airport, your hotel, on public transportation and at all travel sites. Be sure your needs are clearly understood by those who will assist you, but understand that your needs may not be accommodated in all locations.
After you have completed an accommodation form, our office will work with the program providers, including in the destination country to plan a reasonable accommodation. Even if requests are received more than 60 days before the program departure date, in all cases there is no guarantee that request can be accommodated.
Individual countries have their own standards of accessibility for disabled travelers. Some countries have nondiscrimination laws that help to protect travelers with disabilities, while other countries do not. Preparation before you go can help ensure that your planned destination will be accessible, safe and enjoyable.
Travelers with disabilities should review the U.S. State Department information for traveling with disabilities and the U.S. Department of Transportation publication New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability.
If swimming is a part of your experience abroad:
- Do not swim alone
- Do not swim where no lifeguards are present
- Heed all warning signs/flags
- Be clear about your swimming abilities
- Never dive head first into an unfamiliar body of water
- Develop a “safety plan” with fellow swimming companions
- Stay in areas designated by your program provider, travel agent, or other responsible party administering your travel experience
- Refrain from consuming alcohol prior to swimming activities
- Wear a life jacket
- Understand how to manage rip currents, a very common water danger
- Everyone, no matter how strong a swimmer, should exercise extreme caution when swimming abroad. This is particularly important in developing countries where emergency services may not be readily available, or in locations where rip currents are a known danger, but is relevant everywhere as accidents involving water are one of the most common causes of death among young Americans abroad.
- Remember that river and ocean currents have the potential to be swift and dangerous, which may be difficult for individuals from non-coastal areas (like Washington) to recognize. There may be no lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Also, in locations that experience heavy seasonal rains, currents can rapidly change in strength and speed.
Edmonds College Resources
- Campus Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness
- Guide to Emergency Preparedness
- Counseling and Wellness Center
- Services for Students with Disabilities
- Student Code of Conduct
- U.S. State Department International Travel Info
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel Advice
- U.S. State Department Considerations for Women Travelers
- U.S. State Department LGBTQ Travel Info
- Mobility International
- Overseas Security Advisory Council
- Travel Well: Health & Wellness Abroad
- SAFETI Clearinghouse (Safety Abroad First Educational Travel Information)
- Using Your Phone While Traveling Abroad
- Association for Safe International Road Travel website.
- U.S. Department of State – Driving and Road Safety Abroad
- WHO/UN Road Safety Collaboration
- Water Safety Abroad (CDC)
- American Red Cross Water Safety Tips
- INCB gives a listing of certain regulations from participating countries.
- MIUSA includes a list of 10 things you should know when traveling with medications.
- Traveling with Medication - A Resource from the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
Health and Safety Apps for Travelers
Below is a list of useful mobile apps related to international and travel safety. Each app listed here is free and is supported in some way by the U.S. Government. Many of these apps can be downloaded, preprogrammed, and then used offline, so they are particularly useful if traveling to remote, isolated areas.
- My TSA: This app from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides real-time updates on airport delays. It includes how long security lines are at various airports; information about what you can and cannot bring onto an airplane; and a frequently-asked question list, including new advanced imaging technology.
- Border Wait Time: This app from DHS makes it easier for travelers to plan their trip across U.S. land borders. The app provides estimated wait times and open-lane status at land ports of entry, which may be particularly helpful when in an area with multiple crossings. Wait times for pedestrian and passenger/commercial vehicle crossings are broken down by lane type (standard, SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, Ready Lane, etc.).
- Mobile Passport Control: This app expedites travelers’ entry into the U.S. U.S. and Canadian citizens can submit their information to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) via the app prior to arrival.
In addition to the above apps, some host governments have released mobile apps to alert users of emergency situations and offer real-time guidance.
Edmonds College does not specifically endorse any of the external links or apps listed above. There are some countries that have very strict, and often monitored, Internet usage, making apps—even ones internal to an organization—a potential security vulnerability. Certain places are known for the use of sophisticated cyber capabilities (spear phishing, targeting of mobile devices, social engineering/network manipulation). Viruses, malware, and other forms of malicious software are common. In these places, all visitors should be aware that they have no expectation of privacy in public or private locations. All means of communication are likely monitored. Other locations may not have a developed telecommunications infrastructure or may be too remote to permit mobile apps.
Adapted from similar content at Arizona State University, Michigan State University, and University of Minnesota