Study abroad programs have gained popularity across the world over the last 10 years. In fact, IEE reported that the 2018-2019 calendar year hit an all-time high of international students (more than one million) for the fourth consecutive year.
The benefits of these programs are no secret, as students flock to leave their country of origin to experience new cultures, learn new languages, and expand their career opportunities. With fair weather, summer has become the most popular time for students to study abroad, with 60% of students attending short-term programs less than eight weeks in length, according to data collected by USA Study Abroad.
Studying abroad doesn’t come without parameters, though. Parents and students alike should take safety precautions whilst in a study abroad program. The best tips to study abroad safely include traveling in groups, knowing where the embassy is located, keeping backup documents, securing valuables, understanding local customs and laws, and learning common phrases.
- Study Abroad Safety Tips
- Health and Safety Precautions
- Local Laws and Customs
- Study Abroad Packing List
- Best Countries for Study Abroad
- Additional Resources
General Study Abroad Safety Tips
Being psychologically ready to travel outside the country is crucial for a safe experience. Luckily, the Forum on Education Abroad notes that the dangers of studying outside your country of origin is just as dangerous as studying in your home country. Keep a clear head, and follow these basic travel rules.
Before You Leave
Be aware of travel warnings for the destination. The United Kingdom and the United States both have government websites that will notify any travel warnings within specified countries.
Next, sign up for travel insurance. Short programs don’t warrant getting an entirely new medical insurance plan. However, most travel insurance accepts the brevity of a study abroad program and will give coverage for the entire course.
Lastly, enroll in government travel programs. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is a travel resource between the government and private sectors for security issues. Additionally, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program issues communication for the nearest travel consulate and embassies to your registered location.
Before your flight, be sure to take the following safety precautions:
- Sign up for travel warning notifications.
- Buy travel insurance.
- Enroll in OSAC and STEP.
While You're There
Laws and customs in specific countries can change drastically. It’s important to know these as a foreigner to stay out of trouble and show respect to the country you’re visiting.
Keep in mind that there may be common scams that many tourists fall victim to. Ask a trusted local, or do your own research online to find out common scams that can be avoided.
Consider these best practices for safe student travel:
- Travel in groups: Especially while traveling at night, there is safety in numbers. By traveling with at least one other person at all times, you’ll have less chance for unwanted attention.
- Use official taxis: Hail all taxis from official taxi ranks. Consider keeping your bag with you instead of in the trunk. Confirm that there is a working meter and the standard tipping rate before beginning the ride.
- Be aware of pickpockets: Wear a money belt and keep valuables protected at all times. Consider purchasing RFID blocking sleeves to protect against pickpockets skimming from the chip. Take extra precautions in crowded areas.
- Avoid demonstrations: Be aware of political demonstrations and protests. Steer clear to avoid the potential for a hostile situation. Additionally, have contact info on hand at all times. Know the location of your home country’s embassy and have a local contact, even if it’s just the information for your place of accommodation.
Follow Global Health Programs
Take health and safety precautions, especially if you have any preexisting conditions. If you are traveling with a disability, understand the accessibility of your destination. Many places around the world are not up to the same accessibility standards of western countries.
Visit your local primary health practitioner and get all required vaccinations before you go. Leave enough time for medications that may require a week or more in advance to take effect.
Traveling is meant to be fun. However, the consumption of alcohol should always be monitored with scrutiny. Stay in control and know where your belongings are at all times. When the time comes for a beer, make sure to enlist the buddy system with fellow students in your program.
Know how things like mental illness and sexual health are dealt with abroad. If you have medical insurance, know if there are any limitations in the policy for specific topics, which may be sensitive in some countries.
Many travel insurance policies have strict rules against extreme activities, such as hikes at high elevations, or charge an extra fee for coverage of those activities.
What Should I Do if the Country I'm Studying in Goes on Lockdown?
If the country you’re studying in goes on lockdown, you should prepare with non-perishable food and supplies, and stay inside as much as possible. With recent movements in COVID-19, it’s important to be prepared in the event this happens. Avoid non-essential travel, and check with the disease control information center of the country that you’re studying in as well as your home country for vital updates.
Questions to ask:
- When will I be able to leave the country?
- Will I be able to return to my program?
- How will you notify me that it’s safe to leave?
If you have questions about the status of your program as it relates to COVID-19, reach out to the program organizers, your university and the applicable embassy, if necessary.
See additional resources below:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- European Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Aside from taking the proper logistical steps, it’s also vital to take care of yourself. Most importantly, don’t panic. Although the inability to move freely may feel strange, try and go about your normal routine as much as possible. Make fresh soups and other dishes and store them in your freezer to stay nutritious.
Speak to friends and family to subdue the feeling of isolation. Make sure to continue a fitness routine. Watch a video online and make sure to stay active. Lastly, make sure your hygiene does not deteriorate and clean your living space often.
- Don’t panic
- Stock up on supplies
- Gather non-perishable foods
- Cook fresh meals and freeze them
- Stay social through digital channels
- Keep up a fitness routine
- Clean your space regularly
Know the International Laws and Customs
Read up on the laws for every international country you’ll be traveling to. Consider researching specific customs and scams you may experience in specific cities as an extra precaution. As a responsible traveler, do your best to respect the culture you’re visiting by following the custom’s norms as much as possible.
International laws vary country by country. Unexpected regulations could include strict rules such as:
- Regulations for taking photographs in public buildings
- Laws against having an alcoholic beverage and riding a bicycle
- Clothing-specific limitations and rules
If you’ll be participating in an internship, understand the business customs such as eye contact and handshakes. For women, it may be important to know how females dress in specific situations, depending on the country.
If you’re driving, find out if you need an international driver’s license and if you can get one in your home country, or if you’ll need to obtain documentation once you’re there. Additionally, learn key phrases in the native tongue. It will be useful to know simple phrases such as:
- Directional phrases
- “How much is…”
- “How do you say…”
- “Can you help me?”
- “Please call the authorities.”
Sanitation standards may be significantly different than your country of origin. Understand what you should expect when arriving at public and private locations. Lastly, keep up with current events in your home country and your current and expected destinations.
Study Abroad Packing Tips
Packing, no matter the length of travel, can be stressful. It seems like forgetting something will be the end of the world. However, even if you do leave something off of your list, the destination country will likely have an equivalent, or even better, product. Give yourself a chance to explore local brands, just don’t forget your passport and reservations.
Below are important items to pack on your trip:
- Travel documents and copies: ID, passport, insurance, and accommodation information.
- Required visa or travel waiver: Keep in mind requirements can change frequently, such as with the ETIAS travel authorization.
- A list of important numbers: Emergency contact, travel insurance provider, local authorities, embassy or consulate, credit and debit card company.
- Local currency: Keep your cash safe while out and about with a money belt, and the rest at home in your luggage.
- Prescriptions: Be sure you have enough to last the entire length of your trip.
- Power adaptors: Your chargers or plugs may not work with international outlets.
- Clothing and day pack with school supplies: Keep this attune to the customs and cultures.
Best Places for College Students to Travel
The best country for your study abroad program will depend on your goals. If there are financial constraints, consider countries with a lower cost of living. For course content, consider a full-immersion program.
The countries included had secure ratings in the Global Peace Index along with the best overall prices and course ratings according to GoAbroad's top-rated organizations of 2019.
Best Countries for Course Content
- Germany: One of the most esteemed universities in Germany, Heidelberg, boasts courses for students studying abroad specifically for the resume boost.
- France: France is ideal for students interested in total language immersion. Higher education in France is praised for its distinguished teachers and programs.
- Italy: With its art and history programs, study abroad programs in Italy are second to none. Again, students have a chance for language immersion with Italian courses.
- Spain: Spain’s tuition is famously lower than in most European countries, and tourism is renowned throughout the country for being affordable.
- South Africa: With its low cost of living, South Africa boasts a low overall financial burden for students.
- Argentina: Argentina’s affordable prices don’t affect its quality of education. Be aware of inflation and tourist premiums while traveling for a budget-conscious trip.
Safest Countries to Study Abroad
- Australia: English speaking and westernized, Australia is a popular destination for students leaving their home country for the first time.
- Canada: Canada’s coined for having respectful and kind locals. Strict gun control and universal healthcare make this a common destination for study abroad candidates.
- The Netherlands: Although not native-English speakers, most citizens in the Netherlands are familiar with English and are happy to assist. With its low crime rate, the Netherlands is an ideal destination for safety-conscious scholars.
Studying abroad is a big decision, but one that warrants a truly unforgettable experience. Each country will have significantly different resources and things to know. When choosing your study abroad country and preparing for your trip, do your research, stay aware, and travel responsibly.
Resources for Health
Resources for Travelers with Disabilities
The best advice for a safe trip abroad is to be aware. If something doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t. Go with your gut, and make educated decisions about who you tell personal details to. Most importantly, enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, and jet set with confidence.
Sources: Global Peace Index | IIE | STEP | World Population Review