Get Prepared to Teach English Abroad: Travel Safety

Teaching English overseas is an exciting and generally safe experience. The preparations listed below can help ensure your ESL teaching experience is both safe and rewarding.

In the United States, we take safety for granted, but the reality is that traveling outside your home country can bring some risks. Rather than think, ‘It won’t happen to me’ when you go abroad, ensure that you have a safe experience by following the helpful precautions listed below, and acting even more responsibly in your host country than you would at home.

Personal Safety
Emergencies and Emergency Procedures
Informational Resources and Links

Personal Safety

  • Research the country to which you are traveling. Knowledge will be your best tool. Know where you are going, and how you are getting there. Get directions before you leave your hotel or hostel.
  • Make sure your school has made arrangements to pick you up at the airport and drop you off safely.
  • Make copies of your travel documents – passport and visas. Keep copies in a safe place (separated from the original documents) and leave a copy in your home country with someone you trust.
  • Fill out the emergency information section of your passport. Do not list someone who will be traveling with you as an emergency contact. Carry extra passport photos – this can help to ease the process of replacing a lost or stolen passport once you are overseas.
  • Make copies of your traveler’s checks and credit cards including customer service phone numbers and account numbers; keep copies in a safe place (separated from the originals), and leave a copy in the U.S. with someone you trust. If these are stolen, you will be able to call companies to put a hold on your accounts and replace them. Many have numbers that you can call collect from abroad, so check with your providers before you leave.
  • Become familiar with the basic laws and customs of the country you plan to visit before you travel. Do not assume that because it is legal in your home nation, it is legal everywhere. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
  • U.S. citizens should register with the U.S. Embassy in the country in which they are traveling or studying.
  • Most often, victims of petty crime are those who have only been in a foreign country for a short time, and as such are still somewhat disoriented or unsure of themselves. Be particularly protective of your personal possessions and your new accommodations during the first week or two after your arrival.
  • Try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going so that you are less easily identified as a newcomer.
  • Avoid public demonstrations, even peaceful ones. If there should be any political unrest, don’t get involved. Unsuspecting guests sometimes find themselves in downtown areas during protests. If this occurs, you should leave the area immediately.
  • Whether you are on foot or in a car, be aware of everyone around you and assess their probable intentions. This means occasionally looking behind you.
  • If you’re being approached by a potentially threatening person, make some radical or abrupt change in your speed or direction, or cross the street.
  • Try to walk in groups of four or more, especially at night or in areas with high crime rates. In most cases, the bigger your group, the safer you are.
  • Women should keep their purse close to them at all times. Choose a purse that is made of strong material, and has a latch or a fold over the zipper. Travel documents should not be carried in your purse. Use a money belt or something equally as hidden and safe.
  • Avoid places where someone could be hidden (bushes, recessed doorways, back alleys, etc.), especially if you are alone.
  • As you walk, especially at night, be aware of good escape routes. Avoid wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry. Remember that your life is more valuable than any of your possessions.
  • If traveling at night in a car, keep the interior lights off.
  • Learn what the locals do to protect themselves (neighborhoods to avoid, places that are known to be safe, where to walk, where to shop, etc.)
  • Take nothing of great value with you when you go out and try to carry as little cash as possible.
  • Never keep all of your important documents and money together in one place or in only one suitcase.
  • Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items. At the same time, don’t carry excessive amounts of cash or any unnecessary credit cards.
  • Consider purchasing a portable smoke and carbon monoxide detector as accommodations in some countries may not have these devices installed.
  • Keep informed of current political situations. In an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media.

Remember, there are things that increase your risk of being a victim. Some of the things that increase your risk are:

  • Being alone at night;
  • Being in an isolated area;
  • Being asleep in an unlocked or public place;
  • Being new to the country;
  • Being unable to speak the local language;
  • Being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

Learn the transport system so you’ll know how to get home.

  • Do not hitchhike.
  • Do not ride bikes in the city or on crowded streets – you could be hit by a car.
  • Taxis are not safe everywhere, especially late at night. Read guidebooks and ask locals about the taxis.
  • Avoid being alone on trains. If, for example, you suddenly find yourself alone in a train car, move to another one where other people are sitting.
  • Do not leave your bags or belongings unattended at any time. Security personnel in airports and train stations are instructed to remove or destroy any unattended luggage. Do not agree to carry or look after packages or suitcases for anyone.

Emergencies and Emergency Procedures

Fortunately, true emergencies are actually quite rare. You may lose your luggage, your plane ticket, or even your passport while you are abroad. While any of those occurrences would certainly be inconvenient, none is an emergency. Emergencies are situations in which there is an immediate threat to a student or staff member’s health and/or safety.

  • Make sure you know how to use the telephone and have a calling card or other means of using the telephone in the country that you visit.
  • Ask your parent(s) or designated emergency contact to obtain a passport so that they’ll be prepared if they need to go abroad to help you in an emergency. S/he should be prepared to be able to get to your foreign location in less than 24 hours if necessary.
  • Ensure you have a way to communciate with friends and family. While abroad, you’ll want to be able to communicate with your parents and others directly about your safety and well-being. Also, people need to know how to get in touch with you, especially if you are away from the city you are placed in or traveling on your own. If there is a serious illness or death in your family, your family will want to be able to reach you. Even if there is a crisis in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, loved ones will often want to hear your voice and make sure you are okay.
  • Develop a plan for regular telephone calls and/or email contact with your family and others with whom you wish to stay in contact. Develop your plan before your departure. Make sure that someone always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency, and knows your schedule and itinerary when you are traveling.

Informational Resources and Links

There are many online resources that provide safety information for travelers in general as well as specifically for study abroad students. Some of those resources which Oxford Seminars recommends you consult are:

For more information on preparing to teach and travel abroad, print the Oxford Seminars Checklist of things to do prior to your departure. To learn more about the documentation needed to work and travel abroad, visit Work Visas and Travel Documentation.

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