Health & Safety
Getting Prepared for your Health & Safety Abroad:
The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff abroad is of primary importance. While we can never guarantee complete safety abroad, we provide resources and tools to assist students and families stay well informed. Both UMass Boston and our approved study abroad/third party provider programs work together in creating resources to assist students, faculty, and staff in making decisions that support a healthy, successful experience abroad. Students, faculty, and staff are ultimately responsible to assure their own health and safety.
Preparation and information is key to a healthy and safe stay abroad; though unpredictable events occur throughout the world. It is important to keep track of individual health and safety issues, and attend to current conditions while abroad—weather, worldwide health trends, location-specific, and political factors—awareness of these matters will help to create a successful experience abroad. See below for details on how to get prepared for your health and safety while abroad.
UMass Boston International Travel Insurance
All UMass Boston students studying abroad on an approved program that have gone through all of the necessary steps through the Office of Global Programs, including paying the mandatory study abroad fee, attending a pre-departure orientation, and registering travel will be covered by UMass Boston International Insurance. This insurance is provided to all UMass Boston students regardless of their current insurance policies and will cover the student for the duration of their program dates abroad. Prior to departure, students, and families should still contact their personal health insurance company to make certain they understand what additional coverage they may have in place, or may want to put in place, while traveling abroad. Any additional coverage purchased would be at the traveler's own expense.
What you should do before you leave:
Schedule a Routine Checkup
Arrange to have a physical (and dental) checkup before you go abroad. In part, this is because you'll need to have the Physician's Release Form signed. More importantly, these routine checkups would normally occur and this will be a good way to assure your pre-departure well-being.
Consider Pre-existing Conditions
If you have an ongoing medical issue, talk to your health care professional as well as your study abroad advisor to assure that both you and they are aware of what you will need in order to stay healthy during your time abroad. If you require medication, make sure you've planned for access while abroad. Make copies of any important health records and know how to contact your physician or therapist from abroad, if needed.
Visit the TravelWell Travel Clinic located at University Health Services, University of Massachusetts Boston. The Travelwell program provides comprehensive pre-travel consultation to maximize your health during travel outside the United States at very affordable rates. To make an appointment, please contact the University Health Services Department of General Medicine at 617.287.5660.
Medications and Treatments Abroad
If you are taking medications, have your doctor provide you with an explanation and the generic name for your prescription, especially if you know you will need to fill it abroad. You cannot legally mail medication internationally. Follow the same procedures for any other type of treatments you may be undergoing. If you know you will need to see a doctor abroad for a specific reason, bring as much documentation about your condition as possible, including copies of your prescriptions to show at Customs if necessary and in some cases, a letter from your home physician or pharmacist describing the condition being treated and your medications, their dosage and a generic name for them. This way, you will be able to obtain prescriptions you need while you're abroad. If you are given a prescription, use major pharmacies, ask the embassy if you aren’t sure.
Immunizations and Regional Health Conditions
Many countries do not require that you present proof of immunizations. However, depending on where you are going, you may want to consider taking certain immunizations before you leave. To learn about recommended, or even required, immunizations, please visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website for travelers.
University Health Services at UMass Boston can provide you with immunizations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus, MMR, and Varicella.
Be sure to consider:
The food in your host country will likely be different from what you're used to consuming at home. While your stomach is still adjusting, you may wish to include some familiar foods in your diet. You may be able to find a western-style supermarket, and purchase some of the foods that you would eat at home. Restaurants in major cities and tourist areas may also serve familiar foods; basic fruits, vegetables, and starches to which you are accustomed can often be found in local food stores. Gradual transition to local food makes social and nutritional adjustment easier.
Find out before you go whether the local tap water is drinkable. (In most Western European countries, it is.) If it isn't, drink bottled water. In restaurants, order bottled water if tap water is unhealthy. If you are going to be hiking in a remote area where bottled water may not be available, bring a high-quality water filter or iodine tablets to purify water.
Regular exercise will help to invigorate you and speed you through your initial jet lag. Throughout your time abroad, you'll feel more energetic and less stressed if you stay active.
If you drink, drink wisely and responsibly. The customs regarding drinking wine and beer may be different in your host country than in the United States. The minimum drinking age may be lower, and it may be customary to drink wine or beer with meals. Try to be culturally sensitive to the drinking norms and aware of your own behavior in your host country.
AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases
In some countries, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is a widespread health problem. Take the same steps to avoid this disease as you would at home. Use a condom if you are sexually active. (It may be a good idea to bring condoms with you, because the quality of condoms in some countries is unreliable.) Other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and herpes, are also present worldwide. Use the necessary precautions to avoid these diseases.
When you study abroad, you'll be in an unfamiliar environment, away from people and situations that are predictable or the same as they were at home. Helping you stay safe in both day-to-day and emergency situations is important to us in the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange. The most important factor that affects your personal risk may be your own behavior—the one thing completely in your control. Below there are some things you may want to consider and keep in mind in order to stay safe in your host country.
Expectations & Preparation
Make sure you know what to expect by asking about things like:
- natural phenomena that can be dangerous (i.e. earth quakes, severe weather)
- environmental hazards (i.e. air quality or drinking water)
- common crimes (i.e. pick-pocketing)
- traffic and transportation precautions
- street-smart behavior (where can you go safely and at what times? if you're alone? only if you're in a group? only if you're in a group that includes men?)
- norms regarding dress and behavior (for example, is it acceptable for women to wear shorts or have bare shoulders in public?)
- what documentation should be carried at all times versus stored in a safe place
Personal Responsibility Before and While Abroad
There are certain things you can do, in order to stay safe abroad:
- Gather Information
- attend mandatory pre-departure orientation at UMass Boston
- participate fully in orientations (in the host country)
- consider information from your program provider about safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in the host country
- conduct your own research on the host country
- be aware of local conditions and customs that may present safety risks
- Obtain emergency numbers abroad and home. Please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/studentsabroad/en.html
- Obtain proper insurance coverage & learn more about the insurance you are covered under as a UMass Boston student.
- Register your travel through the UMass Travel Registry
- Learn how to obtain health and legal services abroad, including how the embassy abroad can (and cannot) help you below.
How your embassy can help you:
- Replace a stolen passport
- Contact family, friends, or employers
- Obtain appropriate medical care
- Address emergency needs that arise as a result of the crime
- Explain the local criminal justice process
- Obtain information about your case
- Connect you to local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime
- Obtain information about any local and U.S. victim compensation programs available
- Provide a list of local lawyers who speak English
What your embassy cannot help you with:
- Investigate crimes
- Provide legal advice or represent you in court
- Serve as official interpreters or translators
- Pay legal, medical, or other fees for you
Enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the state department to:
- Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
- Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
Remember, you are still a UMass Boston student while abroad. This means you still bear responsibility to the Student Code of Conduct while abroad. The Student Code of Conduct established by University of Massachusetts Boston applies to all students on and off-campus, including during domestic and international travel. Reports of violations of the Code while studying abroad could result in conduct proceedings through the Office of the Dean of Students upon return to campus.
Before you depart, you must sign a Study Abroad Program Agreement and Release which includes:
- Permission to share information in the event of an emergency
- Expulsion policy if rules/laws are broken while abroad
- Academic Guidelines on required number of credits taken, minimum grade for transfer of credits, requirement to pre-approve courses for transfer of credits
- Program participation agreement
- Health information acknowledgement
- Medical Insurance verification
Things to consider:
- consider your physical and mental health and any special needs
- comply with your program’s terms of participation, codes of conduct, and emergency procedures
- obey host country laws
- avoid irresponsible consumption of drugs and alcohol (read more)
- behave in a manner respectful of others’ well-being
- accept responsibility for your decisions and actions
- give accurate physical and mental health information to your study abroad advisor(s)
- register with local U.S. authorities (embassy, consulate, or U.S. interest section)
- keep your parents or guardian informed of your whereabouts and activities
- keep program staff informed of your whereabouts and well-being
- express any safety concerns to program staff
Staying in Touch
- stay in touch with your emergency contacts throughout your time out of the U.S. Make sure they have accurate local contact information for you at all times
- notify your host country program contact / director of any health condition that lasts longer than a day or two
- notify your emergency contacts immediately in the event of an emergency, accident, health problem, or other serious mishap
If Something Happens to You While Abroad
If you are a victim of an incident abroad, there are many resources available to you that you should seek out immediately.
Report the Incident to the UMass Boston Office of the Dean of Students.
"The State Department is committed to assisting U.S. citizens who become victims of crime while abroad. Officers support victims overseas and in the United States. Consular officers, agents, and staff work with crime victims and help them with the local police and medical systems.
If you are the victim of a crime overseas:
- Contact the local police to report the incident and get immediate help. Request a copy of the police report.
- Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate:
- Consular officers are available for emergency assistance 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.
- Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas can be found here or by going to our individual Country Specific Information pages.
- To contact the Department of State in the U.S. call 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. or Canada) or (202) 501-4444 (from overseas)."
- Visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/studentsabroad/en/whileabroad.html for more information.
Cultural Sensitivity & Respect
As you explore your new home, be aware that people will see you as a representative of the U.S. And people may associate you with American things from foreign policy to pop culture. It is not necessary to be concerned about anti-American sentiment when studying abroad; most students report that they encounter much less unfriendliness than they expect.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that values that are generally accepted in the U.S. may be different in your host country. Behavior that is considered racist or sexist in the U.S. may be social norms in many other countries. Tolerance is an important piece of cultural awareness, but be prepared to speak out when something seems very wrong or dangerous.
Be Prepared! One of the best defenses for your health & safety is common sense.
- Know how you are getting to where you need to be from the airport- research taxi companies to take in your host country!
- Check directions and your route to avoid getting lost- if you do get lost, walk with purpose and stay calm as to not arouse suspicion. Look for an authority figure first for directions, if that does not work look for a store/hotel to ask for directions.
- Protect your valuables: be wary of strangers, leave your passport in a safe place when possible and only carry a copy, and have your valuables in zipped pockets
- Be smart with your money and stick to your budget
- Keep your family and friends aware of your whereabouts
- Maintain a low profile in appearance/mannerisms
- Do not walk alone at night
- Don't accept food or drink from strangers
- Know your neighborhood and neighborhoods you should avoid
- Pay attention to the news
- Look out for scams and be aware of your surroundings.
Keep in mind three simple safety tips, provided by our affiliate provider API:
- "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what is the most important safety tip of all?
- Don’t drink too much, and make wise and thoughtful choices about your behavior and activities.
- Don’t do anything in your host country that you would not do in the United States.
- Don’t do anything that you would not want your grandma, your home university, or local media to know about!"
The University of Michigan created a resource called Resilient Traveling, a project dedicated to helping students manage stress and challenges while abroad. This free resource offers student stories, skills to foster resiliency after experiencing stressful events, and resources. It also offers a self-assessment for your own resiliency skills and what you can improve upon.
Additional Resources: Health & Safety
- USA Study Abroad
- NAFSA National Association of International Educators Health & Safety Info
- The Center for Global Education SAFETI Study Abroad Handbook
- U.S. State Department Travel and Living Abroad
- U.S. State Department Travel Warnings
- Responsible Study Abroad: Good Practices for Health and Safety
- Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI)
- Travel Health Online
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- International Student Identity Card (ISIC)