Issues of health and safety may not be foremost on your mind as you are engaged in the excitement and anticipation of your upcoming study abroad program. While you are ultimately responsible for your own health and safety, this webpage provides “food for thought” about some health and safety issues that you may encounter.
Falling sick in a foreign country, away from home and in a place where you may not be fluent in the language, will be a challenging and stressful experience. Likewise, as a visitor in a foreign culture, enchanted with the positive aspects of the new environment, you may be tempted to “let down your guard” and forget about safety precautions and laws and regulations that you would normally be very mindful of in the United States.
Remember to use common sense, and educate yourself about the laws and customs of the country you will be living in; you will be held accountable for them if you break them and United States laws do not cover American citizens who violate foreign laws.
Check health advisories regarding immunization requirements and recommendations for your host country with a doctor, the Public Health Department, at the State Department’s website, or the Center for Disease Control.
Before you go abroad you should register at the U.S. State Department website if you are a U.S. citizen or at the consulate or embassy website of the country of your citizenship.
While abroad, you should register at the embassy or consulate of the country of your citizenship located closest to your study abroad location. Also, in case of an emergency while abroad, you should contact the embassy or consulate of the country of your citizenship as well as your UM study abroad advisor.
Before You Go
• Routine check-ups - Have a medical and dental exam before you go abroad and verify that your vaccinations are up to date for tetanus, measles, meningitis, mumps, rubella, polio and diphtheria. Other vaccinations may be required for travel to certain parts of the world. Check the Center for Disease Control for information.
• Drugstore supplies – Purchasing medicine at a foreign drugstore can be daunting. You may find that approaches to sickness and medicine outside the U.S. are as culturally foreign to you as the food. Purchase anything you may need abroad before you go – antacids, allergy medicine, decongestants, cold medicine, antiseptics, aspirin or Tylenol, etc.
• Prescription medicine – If possible, bring an adequate supply of the prescription medication you will require. Be sure all medication is in its original labeled container. You should also bring a written prescription with the generic names of your medications.
• Contact lenses and glasses – You may also want to bring your prescription for glasses and contact lenses. Contact-lens-wearers will want to bring enough pairs to last them while abroad. Also bring your preferred brand of saline solution.
You are required to have adequate health insurance that will cover you while abroad.
Students are responsible for their own health and accident insurance while studying abroad, including coverage for medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. All insurance policies contain limits of coverage. Check with the insurance company under which you are currently covered to verify that you will be eligible for coverage overseas and inquire about the process for submitting claims. In addition, you are required to have coverage for emergency medical evacuation and repatriation. You should first check with your current health insurance plan to see how it covers you while residing outside of the U.S. You may need to purchase additional coverage. If you do not have this coverage with your private insurance policy, you can purchase the coverage at the Student Health Center or from the insurance carrier for your personal policy. Students insured through the UM Health Insurance have these coverages in their policy.
• If you have any ongoing medical problems, or are on any long-term medications, be sure you see your physician before leaving to discuss the impact of overseas travel and living.
HIV and AIDS
• Rates of HIV/AIDS infection in some areas of the world are on the rise, namely parts of China, Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. HIV still remains a serious risk worldwide.
• Both male and female travelers should protect themselves when engaging in sexual activity. Latex condoms (used with a water-based lubricant) will provide the most effective type of protection. The same precautions can be taken to protect against hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases.
• Hygiene practices in developing nations often fall short of the standard you are accustomed to at home in the U.S. If you find yourself in a developing region and need medical attention, be careful of any use of needles and request a “western” doctor.
• If possible, delay any blood transfusions until you can reach a clinic that is recommended by the U.S. embassy, or wait until you are back in the U.S.
• It is not unusual for visitors in a foreign country to experience loneliness, homesickness, and what is commonly referred to as “culture shock.” These feelings should be temporary; if your difficulties continue, you should seek help since a long-lasting condition can jeopardize your success and happiness if it is left unaddressed.
• If you have any existing conditions, traveling and living overseas could intensify the problem.
• Emergencies can range from lost passport, being the victim of a crime, medical problems, or arrest. Remember that you are subject to the laws of the country in which you are traveling or residing; therefore, you should be aware of the laws and the penalties involved. Adhering to the following general precautions may help you be better prepared during an emergency or even avoid some emergency situations:
• Maintain your emergency contacts updated
- Prior to departure, U.S. citizens must register with the U.S. Department of State at its website In doing so, the U.S. embassy located at the host country will be able to assist you in the event of an emergency. Non-U.S. citizens should register with the appropriate embassy or consulate regarding services provided to its citizens overseas.
- Keep your Study Abroad advisor and your family updated on your emergency contact information and travel plans. Give your travel itinerary to your family, Study Abroad advisor, and the program coordinator or designated emergency contact person at the host university.
- Take with your abroad the UM contact card.
• Stay informed
- Learn (or write down) local emergency phone numbers.
- Be aware of dangerous neighborhoods in your host city.
- Know the hazards of foreign roads.
- Make sure you check your e-mail daily and stay in touch with your advisor.
- Read/print out Consular Information Sheets on your host country. These reports list pertinent addresses and phone numbers and provide information on the safety issues, reliability of a country’s medical facilities and travel advisories.
• Be prepared
- Carry a copy of your passport (cover, identification page, and visa stamp) with you at all times and leave your passport at a safe place (dorm safe, hotel safe, etc.).
- When traveling with friends, agree on a rendezvous point in case of separation.
- Avoid carrying around a lot of cash and keep some money separate from your wallet, that way if it’s lost or stolen you won’t lose everything at once.
- Take a notepad or matchbook with the hotel’s address and phone number and carry it with you at all times.
• Use common sense. Avoid:
- Drawing unnecessary attention to yourself
- Being out alone after midnight
- Being alone in an isolated area – day or night
- Being in a known high-crime area
- Sleeping in an unlocked place
- Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol
• Don’t make yourself a target
- Leave valuables at home (jewelry, watch, expensive camera, etc.)
- Never leave your bags unattended. Do not carry, look after, or store items for anyone. Do not borrow suitcases and make sure that nobody puts anything in your luggage.
- If possible, do not carry a purse – purses are easy for thieves to grab.
- Never drive a car for someone else, especially across national borders.
In the Event of an Emergency
If you are faced with an emergency keep in mind the following support systems that you can contact for help and advice:
• local emergency response
• your contact at the host institution
• UM Police Emergency Contact +01 305-284-6666
• your family
• closest embassy or consulate of the country of your citizenship
If you lose your passport, you will need to immediately contact the American embassy or the embassy of your citizenship (for non-U.S. citizens). Be sure you have a copy of the information page of your passport as well as extra photos; this will facilitate replacement. You should keep the original of your passport secured in a safe place at all times. You should keep a photocopy of the information page with photo from your passport and the visa (if you needed one) on your person at all times while abroad. You should also leave a photocopy with a parent or responsible person at home.
Natural Disaster, Terrorist Attack or other Emergency Situations
• Establish contact with a friend or family member as soon as possible and let them know you’re okay.
• Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you need help.
• Monitor the U.S. Embassy and State Department home pages.
• Monitor Voice of America and BBC broadcasts for announcements.