Living abroad can be a rewarding and safe adventure, but you must keep in mind that you will be subject to the laws and customs of another nation. Here are some guidelines from the Office of Overseas Services to help you stay prepared and safe while traveling.
Although the majority of journeys abroad are trouble-free, being prepared will go a long way toward avoiding catastrophic problems. Before you go, familiarize yourself with the basic laws and customs of the country you intend to visit.
1. Preparing for Your Trip Abroad
Apply early for your passport and, if necessary, any visas. Passports are required to enter and/or depart most countries around the world. Apply for a passport as soon as possible. Some countries also require US citizens to obtain visas before entering. Most countries require visitors who are planning to study or work abroad to obtain visas before entering. Check with the embassy of the foreign country that you are planning to visit for up-to-date visa and other entry requirements.
2. Learn about the countries that you plan to visit.
Before departing, take the time to do some research about the people and their culture, and any problems that the country is experiencing that may affect your travel plans. The Department of State publishes Background Notes on about 170 countries. These brief, factual pamphlets contain information on each country’s culture, history, geography, economy, government, and current political situation. Background Notes are available at www.state.gov.
3. Read the Consular Information Sheet.
Consular Information Sheets provide up-to-date travel information on any country in the world that you plan to visit. They cover topics such as entry regulations, the crime and security situation, drug penalties, road conditions, and the location of the US embassy, consulates, and consular agencies.
4. Check for Travel Warnings and Public Announcements.
Travel Warnings recommend US citizens defer travel to a country because of dangerous conditions. Public Announcements provide fast-breaking information about relatively short-term conditions that may pose risks to the security of travelers.
5. Register with the nearest US embassy or consulate.
Register with the nearest US embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts may not be released without your express authorization.
Remember to leave a detailed itinerary and the numbers or copies of your passport or other citizenship documents with a friend or relative in the United States. (U.S. embassy and consulate locations can be found in the country’s Consular Information Sheet.)
If your family needs to reach you because of an emergency, they can pass a message to you through the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 202-647-5225. This office will contact the embassy or consulate in the country where you are traveling and pass a message from your family to you.
Remember consular officers cannot cash checks, lend money or serve as your attorney. They can, however, if the need arises, assist you in obtaining emergency funds from your family, help you find an attorney, help you find medical assistance, and replace your lost or stolen passport.
6. Find out what information your school offers.
Find out whether your school offers additional information for students who are planning to study, travel, or work abroad. Many student advisors can provide you with information about studying or working abroad. They may also be able to provide you with information on any travel benefits for students (e.g. how to save money on transportation and accommodations, and other resources.)
Before committing yourself or your finances, find out about the organization and what it offers. The majority of private programs for vacation, study or work abroad are reputable and financially sound. However, some charge exorbitant fees, use deliberately false “educational” claims, and provide working conditions far different from those advertised. Even programs of legitimate organizations can be poorly administered.