Prior to departure it is important to educate yourself about your destination country. Review the country guides and security reports from:
Be aware of any advisories and travel warnings regarding your destination(s).
Review local news websites, guidebooks, or tourist bureaus for in-depth information on local services, rules, customs, and values. Examples include Lonely Planet, Economist country briefings, and the CIA World Factbook. Harvard University research centers and programs and the Harvard Worldwide website can also be helpful.
If you are traveling to high risk or remote areas, where access to medical care may be hours away, you are encouraged to complete wilderness first aid training available through Global Support Services; please contact them for more information (+1 617-495-1111 or email@example.com). Global Support Services can also assist you in obtaining a satellite phone, should you deem it necessary.
You should be aware of the prevailing national sentiment toward the U.S. and U.S. citizens in the countries that you will visit. If you are a citizen of a country other than the United States, you should contact your consulate or embassy for travel advisories and other relevant information, and be aware of how your travel might be perceived. You should also be aware of the prevailing local sentiment toward people of your cultural background, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and the laws and codes of conduct that are likely to affect you. This page on Navigating Your Identities Abroad provides helpful information.
Preparation and Planning
Obtain the necessary travel documents. Your passport should expire no earlier than six months after your return. Your visa should cover the time of your stay and be appropriate for your activities (e.g., specific visas may be necessary for study or work). Our Passports and Visas page contains more information.
- Passport and Visa Processing: Harvard Global Support Services is able to provide advice on outbound visa requirements and has a number of resources on its website for Harvard travelers.
Register your travel. You should register your travel with the International SOS MyTrips platform and either the U.S. Department of State or your home country’s consulate if you are not an American citizen.
Consider the possible threats to your safety, when they might occur, and how you might react if you are faced with them. These include, but are not limited to, physical violence or threats of violence, theft, assault, sexual harassment, traffic accidents, health risks, natural disasters, kidnapping / hostage situations, defamation campaigns, natural disasters, and terrorist activity. Review the information from:
- U.S. Department of State – Crisis Broad: Be Ready
- Harvard University’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response
Prepare a list of key telephone numbers you may need and know how to use them. These should include International SOS, police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. (or other relevant) embassy or consulate. Compile 24-hour contact information for your sponsor/organization, not only office numbers, even if they plan to meet you at the airport, as you or they could be unexpectedly delayed. Know how many digits of the entire phone number are needed to make a local call. Research in advance how to phone the U.S. from a pay phone or house phone from each country you will be visiting. A helpful website is www.countrycallingcodes.com. Please note that 1-800 numbers will not work from outside the U.S. Check with your credit card company for the alternate number in case you need to report the card lost or stolen.
Put together a health / first aid kit. Include water purifying tablets and re-hydration salts for use in a gastrointestinal crisis. Add rubber gloves to protect you from blood-borne infections should you be administering first aid. If you are traveling to a country where hypodermic needles are routinely reused, ask your physician to provide you with a small number of needles and a note to explain they are to be used in the event of your needing intravenous treatment. Take supplies that may not be readily available, such as contact lens solution and feminine hygiene products. If possible, take a first aid course before you go. If you are traveling to high risk or remote areas, where access to medical care may be hours away, you are encouraged to complete wilderness first aid training available through Global Support Services; please contact them for more information.
Establish an emergency communications plan. Choose an out-of-town contact (e.g., a friend or family member) who will regularly check in with you by phone or email. Make sure your contact has a copy of your main documents such as passport, health insurance, International SOS evacuation services information, and Harvard Law School emergency contacts. Remember that sometimes during emergencies email can get through when calls don’t.
Familiarize yourself with the local language. Learn some basic phrases and in particular at least the key phrases to seek help for an emergency. It can also be useful to carry with you such phrases in written form so you can signal the need for assistance. You should also know which non-verbal behaviors are considered rude or inappropriate and which are commonly used (hand gestures, greeting by bowing, kissing or shaking hands, etc.).
Take precautions to avoid HIV/STDs. Some countries may require an HIV test before allowing you to enter; check with the embassy or consulate. If you choose to be sexually active abroad, use a condom, preferably treated with a potent spermicide. Women as well as men should bring their own supply of condoms and store them in a dry place away from heat. Educate yourself on the customs, beliefs, and laws of your host country regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Basic Packing Tips
- Don’t bring anything you would hate to lose, though you might consider purchasing traveler’s insurance for items such as a laptop or digital camera.
- Be sure to have a safe place to keep your passport, visa and tickets while traveling.
- Make two photocopies of important documents such as your visa, airline tickets, driver’s license, passport, and credit cards and leave one copy at home. Pack the second copy separately from the originals.
- Scan a copy of your important documents and email them to your own account.
- Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport’s information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event that it is lost or stolen.
- If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair.
- Leave at home valuable jewelry, unnecessary credit cards, social security card, library card, etc.
- Pack any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
- To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Bring copies of your prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs. If a medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug. If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country before you travel.
- Put your name, address, and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality. If possible, lock your luggage.
- Bring a guidebook and map.
- Harvard’s Global Support Services can assist you in obtaining a satellite phone prior to travel, should you deem it necessary. Upon arrival, you may purchase a local cell phone or SIM card that allows you to refill minutes as needed.
Precautions While Traveling
In addition to pre-departure preparations, you should continue to take active precautions after arriving at your destination. The advice below is intended to help you minimize health and safety risks while in-country.
Money and Valuables
- Be careful with your passport and visa documents and do not give them to anyone who asks to view them without checking credentials.
- Do not carry large amounts of cash. Determine in advance whether you will be able to use credit/ debit cards or have access to ATMs. Use credit/debit cards for most purchases if possible. Withdraw money only from well-lit ATMs and in busy places. Carry the minimum number of valuables, and put them in various places rather than all in one wallet or pouch.
- Do not leave money and other valuables in a hotel room while you are out; use a hotel safe.
- If you are confronted, don’t fight back — give up your valuables.
- Avoid handbags, fanny packs, and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves. Keep cameras in bags or pockets rather than in plain view.
- If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight. After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or theft of:
- travelers’ checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company
- credit cards to the issuing company
- airline tickets to the airline or travel agent
- passport to the nearest U.S. (or relevant) embassy or consulate
Computers and Data
Review and follow Harvard University’s guidelines and other useful tips on protecting your computer and your data. Learn more on our Data Security for International Travel page.
- Determine which areas are considered unsafe in the city or country where you will be traveling and either avoid them or, if travel is necessary, take appropriate precautions.
- Know how extensive, safe and reliable the public transportation system is in the country or region you will visit and which forms of public transportation are safest to use.
- Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs. Also, avoid cabs where the cab driver’s friend is in the front passenger seat.
- Travel with others and avoid traveling at night if possible.
- If your internship or research requires travel within the country, leave a copy of your itinerary with your supervisor or other appropriate person.
- If you are driving, make sure the car has a spare tire and a jack, and that you know how to change the tire on that type of car.
- Do not hitchhike and do not pick up hitchhikers.
- If encountering checkpoints is a standard part of travel in the country:
- assume the people staffing the checkpoint are armed
- always slow down as soon as a checkpoint comes into sight and put on the car lights, both inside and out, so you are visible
- when your documents are examined it is desirable that you maintain possession of them throughout the proceedings
- whatever the procedures, and they may take a long time, maintaining patience and good humor is important; avoid arguments or confrontations
- Check carefully to ensure that the area you will be staying in is considered safe.
- Avoid staying on the ground floor and top floor of hotels and hostels to prevent easy access for thieves.
- The U.S. Department of State also warns that in many communities fire equipment may not reach above the 7th floor.
- Be aware of body language and other non-verbal signs — both your own and those of others.
- Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices. Be aware of other common ploys to distract tourists such as spills or requests for assistance.
- Try to seem purposeful when you move about and be careful at all times.
- Be cautious about discussing personal matters with strangers, including your itinerary, place of lodging, or mode of transportation.
- Know which precautions to take when eating local food and do not accept any kind of food or drink from strangers, even if the container appears to be sealed.
- Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
- Be aware of dress codes and what constitutes appropriate attire. In some parts of the world anti-American feeling is strong, so don’t wear clothing that makes you an American billboard.
- Your ethnicity may provoke curiosity or even mild hostility. Be careful about discussion of political and religious issues, particularly in public places.
- Remember that use of alcohol and drugs greatly increases risk of accidents and injury.
Local Laws and Customs
- Remember that you will be subject to the laws of the country to which you are traveling; also remember that you are a guest in the country and a representative of Harvard Law School.
- Though you may not agree with prevailing opinion in the country on various issues, remember to be respectful in expressing your views and bear in mind with whom you are speaking.
- Be aware of and respect local norms in dressing, social relations between men and women, social consumption of alcohol, etc. Tank tops, shorts, and tight-fitting clothes may be seen as inappropriate, disrespectful, or intentionally provocative.
- Be aware that in some countries it is not permitted to take photographs of security-related institutions such as police stations, government buildings, and military installations.
- Be aware that land mines are a continuing threat to life and limb in many places.
- Wandering from paved roads or exploring abandoned military installations when you are sightseeing can be lethal.
Risk tolerance tends to creep up. It is well known that expatriates over time get a little blasé about security and even start to take foolish risks. Be cautious and trust your own judgment even though an ex-pat may claim “I do that all the time.”
The U.S. Department of State website offers more information relating to travel and safety.