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Safety Abroad

When traveling overseas, there are a number of precautions which you should follow in order to travel safely.

  • Do not leave your luggage or belongings unattended at any time. Security staff in airports or train stations are instructed to remove or destroy any unattended luggage. Do not agree to carry or look after packages or suitcases for anyone. Make sure no one puts anything in your luggage.
  • Never keep all of your documents and money in one place or in one suitcase. Keep a separate record of your traveler’s checks, not with the checks themselves, so that you will have a record if they are lost or stolen. Also, make several copies of your passport information page. Leave one with your parents, leave one with your Program Director, and tape a copy to the inside of each of your suitcases/bags. It is also good idea to leave a copy of your credit card numbers and your airline tickets with your parents. This will make it easier to report and locate a lost or stolen passport, credit cards, or airline ticket.
  • Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items such as train or airline tickets.
  • If you find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings, try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going.
  • Be alert to your surroundings and the people with whom you have contact. Be wary of people who seem over-friendly or overly interested in you. Be cautious when you meet new people, and do not give out your address or phone number. Meet people in public places during the day, preferably with a friend or two. Be careful with information on other student or group events. Report any unusual people or activities to on-site staff immediately.
  • Keep the on-site Director(s) informed of your whereabouts. You should let the on-site Director(s) or your host family know of any traveling you plan to do. If there is no on-site staff, please inform the Program Director at ISU of your travel plans.
  • In many countries, the legal drinking age is 18. If you plan to drink, do so in moderation, and be aware that most countries frown on getting drunk.

Americans are easy targets. We dress differently, we speak loudly in groups, we carry backpacks, wear tennis shoes and the American accent is unmistakable. Thus, and occasion could arise where someone wants to become friends with you in order to obtain your money or your passport.

Please be Aware

If you are ever considering buying or carrying drugs across international borders, think again. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can outsmart officials; they know every conceivable way people try to smuggle drugs. Every train, plane, or ferry that leaves "sensitive" countries is routinely checked by drug-sniffing dogs, If you appear even the slightest bit suspicious, customs officials have the right to search you an your belongings including a strip search.

Take, for instance, the story of one student a few years ago. This student returned to the U.K. from Amsterdam without any drugs per se, but he did have what he considered "souvenirs;" i.e. various smoking instruments. He was detained, questioned, strip searched, and almost arrested at the London Airport for the possession of these goods. The movie Midnight Express is also a true story about a Marquette University student arrested for smuggling drugs in Turkey. He was not so lucky and spent close to nine years in a Turkish prison before he escaped. Be smart, don’t try it.

If you are caught with either soft or hard drugs overseas, you are subject to local – not U.S. – laws. Penalties for possession or trafficking are often the same. If you are arrested, you will find that:

  • Few countries provide a jury trial
  • Most countries do not accept bail
  • Pretrial detention, often in solitary confinement, may last months
  • Prisons may lack even minimal comforts – beds, toilet, washbasin
  • Diets are often inadequate and require supplements from relatives and friends
  • Officials may not speak English
  • Physical abuse, confiscation of personal property, degrading or inhumane treatment, and extortion are possible

If you are convicted, you face a sentence of:

  • 2 - 10 years in most countries
  • A minimum of 6 years hard labor and a stiff fine in some countries
  • Death in some countries such as Turkey, Algeria, Iran, and Thailand, to name a few

If you are arrested on a drug charge or any other charge, it is important that you know what the U.S. Consular officer CAN and CANNOT do. The U.S. Consular CAN:

  • Visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest, if he/she is notified of your arrest
  • Give you a list of local attorneys (no governmental investigation is made into their credentials)
  • Notify your family and/or friends and relay requests for money or other aid – but only with your authorization
  • Intercede with local authorities to make sure your rights under local law are fully observed and that you are treated humanely, according to internationally accepted standards
  • Protest mistreatment or abuse to the appropriate authorities

The U.S. Consular Officer CANNOT:

  • Demand your immediate release or get you out of jail!
  • Represent you at trial or give legal counsel
  • Pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. government funds

Don’t get involved with drugs or any other illegal activities overseas. It can ruin your life!

That being said, a word about prescription drugs:

Consult with your doctor regarding prescription drugs and whatever you need to take, and pack them in your carry-on luggage. Have your doctor clearly write the name of the prescription in generic medical terms. Take an adequate supply for your trip because you may not be able to obtain certain prescriptions overseas. If you wear glasses or contact lenses take an extra pair and a prescription with you. Also, take extra contact solution and cleaners because these items may be hard to find or expensive.

AIDS and International Travel

What is AIDS?

AIDS, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the viral disease which breaks down the body’s immune system and leads to infections and cancers that may be fatal. Even though there are no known vaccines to prevent AIDS, there have been several medical breakthroughs recently in drugs and assistance in preventing AIDS.

The AIDS virus can be transmitted in four general ways:

     1. Through intimate sexual contact-the virus can be transmitted from any infected person to his or her sexual partner, when semen, blood, or vaginal fluids are exchanged.

     2. Through infected blood and blood products. This includes blood transfusions in which the blood donated either is not screened or is improperly screened for HIV antibodies.

     3. Through contaminated needles or any other HIV-contaminated skin piercing instruments.

     4. From an infected mother to her infant before or during delivery, or possibly while breastfeeding.

The AIDS virus is not transmitted through casual contact. The World Health Organization states: "AIDS is not spread by daily routine activities such as sitting next to someone, shaking hands, or working with people. Nor is it spread by insects or insect bites. AIDS is not spread by swimming pools, public transportation, food, cubs, glasses, plates, toilets, water, air, touching, hugging, coughing, or sneezing."

Why special concern for the traveler?

When traveling abroad, be aware that some countries may require HIV antibody tests, a test for antibodies to the human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Travelers should also know that some countries may not have the resources to adequately screen blood or provide sterile needles. Living oversees may present greater risks to those who test positive for the HIV virus. Many overseas locations have limited medical facilities that can not monitor the progress of such infections. Therefore, if you believe you may be infected, knowing your HIV status will help in planning your trip. Some countries now require incoming foreigners, including students, to take the HIV antibody test. Usually this is required for long-term stays. If you are studying abroad, check with the consulate to see if that country requires testing. You may need a doctor’s certificate showing the results of such a test. For those traveling abroad who are HIV positive, contact the consulate or embassy of the country(ies) you plan to visit. Each country may have specific entry requirements or requirements regarding carrying medicines that you should know about before you leave.

If the country you are going to be entering requires testing:

     1. Learn about the HIV antibody test and its ramifications. Talk to a trained counselor who can give you more information and address your concerns and questions.

     2. If you decide you want to be tested, do so only at a center that offers pre- and post-test counseling. There are many institutions whose primary focus is AIDS counseling.

     3. Allow yourself two weeks for the testing process.

     4. Consider getting tested twice-first anonymously, then again for a certificate, if needed.

While many countries such as the US and parts of Europe have mandatory screening of donated blood for the AIDS virus, not all do. Travelers should inquire at the local Red Cross office of Western embassies about safe sources of blood oversees. In some locales, ascertaining the availability of HIV screened blood and blood products may be difficult. Because of obvious uncertainties, consider these precautions:

     1. People traveling together can form a "walking blood bank" in which members know each other’s blood type and agree to be possible donors for each other.

     2. If you are injured or ill while abroad, avoid or postpone any blood transfusions unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do need blood, try to ensure that screened blood is used.

     3. If you need a doctor’s attention overseas, ask for a "western style" hospital in order to receive proper care.

Regardless of the blood screening practices abroad, always try to reduce the risk of serious injury which may require blood transfusions by taking everyday precautions such as wearing a seatbelt, driving carefully, using a condom if you are sexually active, and taking good care of yourself. Condoms are not always as easily available in many countries as they are in the US- you should take them with you. Abstinence is the safest alternative.

Here in the US, we make take for granted disposable equipment such as needles and syringes. Be advised that some foreign countries will reuse even disposable equipment. In some countries, if an injection is required, you can buy needles and syringes and bring them to the hospital for your own use. Avoid injections unless absolutely necessary. Use caution regarding instrument sterilization with all instruments that pierce the skin, including tattooing, acupuncture, ear piercing, and dental work. The CDC recommends that "Diabetics or other persons who require routine or frequent injections should carry a supply of syringes and needles sufficient to last their stay abroad." Carry a note from your doctor if you need to carry needles and syringes.

Finally, don’t be put off if other cultures treat you differently simple because you are an American. The AIDS epidemic may have given some people in foreign countries another reason to be wary of Americans.