Safety & Security
Traveling carries inherent risks, but as long as you make sensible decisions and maintain a basic level of caution, you can often reliably travel safely. Explore our resources and learn how to travel smart, no matter where you go.
Safety & Security Checklist
- Research host country visa requirements early on to ensure adequate time to obtain a visa if one is required
- Register your travel and include any side trips (any trip outside of your host city for one night or more) by adding the location under the itinerary portion of your registration
- Register your travel through the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
- Create an emergency response plan (additional resources found below)
- Research health, safety and security issues prevalent in your host country (additional resources found below)
- Familiarize yourself with your host country's local laws
- Identity in-country local media and information sources and monitor them prior to your departure and while abroad
- Provide friends and family with your itinerary and ensure that they know how to reach you in an emergency
- Download the International SOS Assistance App
General Safety Tips
General Safety Tips
- Practice situational awareness, which means being aware of your surroundings and proactively identifying potential threats and dangerous situations
- Rely on your common sense when encountering the unexpected
- Use the buddy system
- Pay attention to safety at ATMs and avoid using ATMs in the evening, particularly in isolated areas
- Safeguard your belongings; always lock doors and secure valuables
- Minimize any display of valuable items
- Make copies of passport, credit cards, insurance details and other important info and store them in a safe place in case originals are lost or stolen
- Avoid engaging in risky activities (additional information found below)
- Avoid demonstrations, rallies and large gatherings due to the potential for clashes and violence
- Be aware of varying cultural norms and dress appropriately
- Share your itinerary with emergency contacts
- Know who to contact in the event of an emergency
- Download the International SOS Assistance App.
Travelers should avoid potentially risky behavior while abroad, which can include alcohol and drug use, adventure activities, making ill-informed decisions, etc. It is important to research the local laws of your host country and take time to understand culturally appropriate behavior while in-country. Additionally, all University student travelers are bound to the DU Honor Code.
Those in violation of local laws, the Honor Code or program standards may be dismissed from their program or experience abroad, may be required to cover the costs of return travel, and may forfeit academic credit if applicable.
Drugs & Alcohol: Keep in mind that excessive drinking may impair good judgment and may be seen as culturally inappropriate in some cultures. Do not purchase, possess or use recreational drugs abroad. Recreational drugs are illegal in many countries and the consequences for possession or use are often much stricter than in the U.S. If found in possession, you are no longer protected by U.S. laws or constitutional rights, and there is little that the University or the U.S. government can do to assist you.
Risky Activities: Adventure activities are not recommended by the University. If you engage in such activities, you do so at your own risk. Be sure to verify your coverage with your personal medical insurance provider, and if medical treatment abroad for such activities is not included, plan to purchase additional, special medical insurance. If you decide to engage in any adventure activities, be sure to work with a vetted vendor and research their safety records beforehand.
Be aware of the following exclusions through International SOS's evacuation/repatriation coverage - these exclusions mean that you will be personally responsible for the most of a medical evacuation, which could be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, if your injury occurs while participating in any of the following:
- Participation in any way, invasion, acts of foreign enemies, hostilities between nations (whether declared or not) or civil war, rebellion, revolution, and insurrection, military or usurped power
- Participation in any military maneuver or training exercise
- Traveling against the advice of a physician
- Traveling for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment
- Piloting or learning to pilot or acting as a member of the crew of any aircraft
- Commission or the attempt to commit a criminal act
- Hang gliding
- Mountaineering (does not apply to school-sponsored trips)
- Any motorized speed race
- Bungee cord jumping
- Speed contests
- Spelunking or caving
- Extreme skiing (which can include backcountry skiing but does not generally apply to skiing inbounds at a ski resort)
Housing options vary and safety precautions may be different from those that one experiences in the United States. The University recommends that you conduct a walk-through of your accommodations to assess safety standards and inspect your new surroundings. Some considerations are:
- Is there a lock on the exterior of the building? Are there interior locks?
- Do you have ways to keep your valuables safe (i.e. a safe or locker)?
- What are the exit options? Is there a fire escape?
- Are there EXIT signs in the building hallways?
- Are there maintained fire alarms? A fire extinguisher? A sprinkler system?*
- Are there any noticeable electrical fire hazards?
- Do you know what numbers to call to contact emergency responders?
- Is the building address clearly posted to allow emergency services to find the building?
If you are uncomfortable with the findings of your safety assessment, contact relevant persons to determine if issues can be fixed or consider looking for other arrangements.
*See the Fire Safety section below for additional information and resources.
Homestays: Homestays provide an unparalleled way to learn about the culture of a host nation and/or learn a new language, and they can often result in life-long friendships. However, as is the case with international travel in general, pre-planning is necessary to ensure that homestays are positive and safe experiences for the students and their host families. Host families should meet certain requirements, and the expectations of students and host families should be clear from the onset. Click here for more information about vetting homestays, expectation setting and advice.
Couchsurfing/Shared Economies: The University strongly recommends that travelers do not make any accommodation arrangements through Couchsurfing or shared economies, aside from Airbnb, as they have been found to be underinsured and unregulated in many regions around the world. While Airbnb appears to have sufficient liability insurance in place worldwide, there are still risks. Click here for advice on mitigating risks associated with AirBnB type of accommodations.
All University travelers should be prepared for possible emergencies and should develop a written emergency management plan before departing for international travel. The plan should identify key in-country risks like health, crime and personal safety, political or civil instability or terrorism, transportation and housing, natural disasters, etc. The emergency management plan should include the following mitigation components for the identified risks, as appropriate to the particular travel, and should be readily accessible while traveling:
- A plan to maintain all necessary documents, such as passports, visas, proof of international health insurance coverage, proof of vaccinations and an International SOS card
- A list of emergency contacts and a plan for reaching out to those contacts
- Contact information for the local U.S. (or appropriate) embassy, local law enforcement and information on local International SOS-approved medical facilities and medical practitioners
- A plan for coordinating an evacuation
- A communications plan with back-up options, keeping in mind that communications often break down in a crisis; landlines, wireless communication and the internet may not work in an emergency situation
- A plan for arranged meeting points and/or safe havens for various scenarios, particularly if communications fail
- A plan for provisions – the acquisition of food, water, and other essential items
The following resources are helpful when drafting an emergency plan:
- DU's Best Practices for International Crisis Planning document provides a good basis of topics to consider when drafting your plan.
- Centers for Disease Control provides destination-specific health and safety information including recommended vaccines and other prevention measures.
- International SOS gives destination-specific information regarding medical and travel risk ratings, security and medical overviews, and additional travel advice.
- U.S. Department of State also outlines country-specific health and safety information as well as Travel Alert and Warning details and embassy and consulate information.
Note that fire safety regulations, building codes and emergency response procedures are different and vary greatly from location to location. Below are tips from the Fire Safety Foundation to reduce the risk of fire as well as how to react should you find yourself in a fire:
Reduce the risk of fire:
- If possible, stay on floors where fire truck ladders can reach. In industrialized countries, avoid living above the 7th floor, and in developing countries, avoid living above the 3rd floor
- Ensure that windows are not obstructed by bars and make sure that exits are not blocked
- Check for fire escapes, working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
- If there are no smoke detectors, purchase one for about $15 from the Fire Safety Foundation
- Plan and practice at least two escape routes
- Use best practices for safe cooking
- Be aware of electrical safety concerns and avoid overloading an electrical outlet
- Incorporate a nightly routine that includes locking all doors/windows, making sure the stove and oven are off and extinguishing any candles in use
If you are in a fire:
- Check to see if a door is hot using the back of your hand before opening it. If the door is hot, stuff the cracks around the door with wet linens or tape. If a hot door is opened, the backdraft can pull all the available oxygen out of the room and make it more difficult to breathe
- Most people die of smoke inhalation before coming into contact with fire. If you need to pass through smoke to exit a building, stay low to the ground and cover your mouth and nose with a wet towel
- Do not take an elevator; use the stairs to exit the building
- Contact the 911 equivalent for your travel country. It is recommended to add emergency responder information to your phone before departure
You'll encounter numerous opportunities for water activities such as swimming, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. while traveling abroad. However, travelers, even expert swimmers, may not be aware of the water risks and features of their destination, which can increase the risk of drowning. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional death worldwide. The CDC and SAFETI share the following tips to help one stay safe in the water:
- Learn to swim and learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) techniques
- Swim only when lifeguards are on duty; use the buddy system and never swim alone or in unfamiliar waters
- Obey posted signs and warnings and recognize that warnings may not always be present
- Learn about the local water conditions, currents including rip currents, and rules before entering the water
- Ask about local sea animals, such as urchins, jellyfish, coral and sea lice
- Use proper safety equipment (such as life jackets)
- Use experienced guides when boating, scuba diving or participating in other water-related activities
- Make sure your gear, such as scuba masks and tanks, is properly fitted and maintained
- DO NOT drink alcohol or consume drugs before or during swimming, diving or boating; alcohol and drugs affect balance, coordination and judgment
- DO NOT dive in shallow water; always enter water feet first
- Don't swallow or drink the water
- Be aware of hidden obstacles in the water that could cause injury
- Be careful about swimming or wading in freshwater as waterborne infections are common in some countries
General Safety: According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), the single greatest cause of death and serious injury abroad is road accidents. These far exceed deaths resulting from disease, violence or terrorism. Driving norms, laws, road conditions and motorized vehicle safety standards vary widely abroad. The University strongly discourages travelers from renting or driving any motorized vehicles while abroad because they can be difficult and dangerous to operate in unfamiliar conditions. Please refer to the guidelines and recommendations of the U.S. State Department to make informed decisions.
Both the ASIRT and the U.S. Department of State suggest that travelers minimize their risk by assessing transportation options (whether public transportation, taxis, by foot, etc.) and implementing safety precautions:
- Select the safest form of transportation in your area (regulated and properly licensed)
- Wear a seat belt whenever possible
- Avoid nighttime road travel in countries with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain
- Avoid riding with a driver who appears intoxicated, irrational or over-tired
- Understand how seasonal hazards affect road conditions and take hazards into account when deciding whether to travel
- Remember that most road fatalities are pedestrians
- Choose walking routes based on safety and not convenience
- Wear reflective clothing if jogging at dusk or dawn (especially in locales where jogging may be uncommon)
- Be especially alert at intersections
- Do not participate in risky transportation options like hitchhiking, motorbikes, or riding in the back of a pick-up truck
Rideshares: The University strongly recommends that travelers do not use any shared transportation economies, like Uber and Lyft, as they have been found to be underinsured and unregulated in many regions around the world. Exception: sufficient liability insurance extends to the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario for Uber and to the Canadian province of Ontario for Lyft.
DU Drivers & Insurances: Note that all DU travelers driving a vehicle while attending to University-related academic or business matters abroad must review DU Driving procedures, request a review of their personal motor vehicle driving record (MVR), and complete an online Driver Safety Training course before departure. For more details and instructions, visit the DU Driver Responsibilities webpage.
Even though DU provides liability insurance for international travelers, when renting a vehicle, we strongly recommend you also buy supplemental liability protection (SLP) to ensure adequate coverage and potentially easier in-country claims-handling in the event of an accident. We also strongly recommend that you purchase Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) and the Collison Damage Waiver (CDW) for similar reasons.
If you are using a P-card for the rental transaction, you do not need to buy Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) or the Collison Damage Waiver (CDW) because rental transactions with P-cards include these coverages.
Note that DU policy prohibits employees from renting and operating fifteen-passenger vans because they present significant rollover hazards, require special training to operate, and are not covered by DU's liability insurance. Rentals of twelve-passenger vans or smaller are permissible.
Also, DU does not allow night driving in foreign countries because of the increased risks posed by limited sightlines in unfamiliar areas. Please see below for information on the different types of car rental insurance coverages:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) or Physical Damage Waiver (PDW) - with this coverage, the rental company waives all or part of its costs if the rental car is stolen or damaged by accident or vandalism, as long as the renter complies with the terms of the rental agreement (for instance, the car cannot be driven by an unauthorized driver or driven recklessly).
- Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) - this coverage provides medical, ambulance, and death benefits for the renter and passengers of the rental car in the event of an accident.
- Supplemental Liability Protection (SLP), Additional Liability Insurance (ALI), Liability Insurance Supplement (LIS), or Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) - this coverage usually provides $1 million or $2 million of additional liability protection.
Should there be damage to a rented vehicle, be sure to adhere to the car company's policies, take notes and photos of the damage, keep all paperwork and report the damage to Enterprise Risk Management immediately. Note that even with the recommended insurance coverage, there may be a deductible in case of a claim, and the responsible individual or department would be responsible for making payment.
Before departure, consider how you'll stay in contact while abroad. Do your research to ensure that you will have the means to stay in touch with family and friends as well as the University. There may be instances when the University needs to be in contact with you, especially during an emergency situation.
It's recommended that all travelers draft a communications plan with backup options, keeping in mind that communications often break down in a crisis; landlines, wireless communication and the internet may not work in an emergency situation.
If planning to bring a satellite phone, be sure to research your host country's laws regarding possession. Restrictions can be found under the 'Local Laws & Special Circumstances' section of the U.S. Department of State's country-specific information. For example, satellite phones are prohibited in India and may result in arrest and prosecution if you're found to be in possession of one.
If you are traveling with potentially export-controlled equipment, data, or software, or traveling to an embargoed country, contact Jerry Mauck (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Export Control.
Information Technology Services developed an IT Travel Checklist to help users operate devices securely and to protect sensitive information while traveling abroad. Please contact the IT Help Center at 303.871.4700 or in person in the Anderson Academic Commons if you have questions or need help implementing these guidelines.
There are numerous U.S. Government supported mobile applications that can help prevent or resolve normal travel and safety concerns for overseas travelers.
Additionally, below are some tips from the U.S. Department of State regarding traveling with your devices:
- Back up all important data
- Fortify passwords
- Update software and apps
- Encrypt files
- Delete sensitive information
- Enable screen lock and timeout
- Enable firewalls
- Disable Bluetooth and GPS
- Maintain physical control
- Terminate connections after WIFI use
- Use a VPN
- Only visit secure websites
- Disable file sharing
- Avoid public WIFI networks
- Never use the 'remember me' function for passwords
- Do not download new apps
- Do not connect to unknown devices
- Avoid immediately connecting device to personal or business networks
- Scan devices for malware
- Change all passwords
- Contact Export Controls if you think your data has been compromised
Identity and Diversity Abroad
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Questioning (LGBTIQ) travelers face different challenges as they travel to locations where the rights and cultural/societal expectations for LGBTIQ people are different than what they're used to. Laws, as well as popular attitudes pertaining to sexual orientation, same-sex sexual contact and gender expression vary widely around the world. Cultures also vary in terms of how sexual orientation and gender identities are defined and understood.
When considering a potential destination, it is important to consider the following:
- How important to you is being open about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity while abroad? Some countries may be supportive of LGBTIQ rights. In other cases, it may be inadvisable or even dangerous for you to come out to people in your host community. If you choose a location where you will need to hide your identity, how will this impact your overall experience?
- How important is it to you to be part of a supportive LGBTIQ community? Are there LGBTIQ organizations in your host community?
- What are laws and cultural norms surrounding relationships and dating?
- What types of housing options are available? If you will live with a host family, do you want to specifically request a family that is known to be supportive of LGBTIQ travelers? Some past travelers have wanted to come out to their host families prior to arrival, while others prefer to get to know them first and then make that decision.
- If you regularly utilize any health or counseling services at home, will these be available and covered by insurance abroad?
- If your gender presentation is different from your legal sex, or if you are in the process of transition, what types of challenges might you face with travel, immigration, and documents?
The U.S. Department of State provides some pointers for staying safe while abroad:
- Remember you are subject to the laws, justice system and cultural norms where you travel.
- Be cautious of potentially risky situations. Don't do anything you wouldn't do at home.
- Avoid excessive physical displays of affection in public, especially in more conservative countries or regions.
- Watch out for entrapment campaigns. Police in some countries monitor websites, mobile apps or meeting places, so be cautious connecting with the local community.
- Be wary of new-found "friends." Criminals sometimes exploit the generally open and relaxed nature of the LGBTIQ scene.
- Some resorts or LGBTIQ neighborhoods can be quite segregated. Be aware that local residents may not approve of expressions of sexuality when you are in surrounding areas.
- You are more likely to experience difficulties in rural areas, so consider being discreet.
- The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association is an excellent tool for researching laws related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. You can search by issue area, country or region.
- The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission offers country-specific information on human rights campaigns related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
- U.S. passport information for transgender travelers.
- National Center for Transgender Equality offers air travel tips for transgender people.
- International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association connects and educates LGBTIQ travelers and the businesses that welcome and support them along the way. All members can customize their travel experience and share it with others.
- Out Traveler offers information on LGBTIQ destinations and events.
- International SOS Regional Resources for LGBTIQ travelers:
Persons of Color
People of color can have a variety of experiences abroad in terms of host country attitudes toward racial issues. Many travelers find differing levels of sensitivity in the host country challenging. For example, in some cultures, it is common to give individuals nicknames based on physical characteristics such as weight, hair color/texture and skin color. This habit can be disconcerting for those from the U.S. but is often not meant to be offensive and can even be intended as a term of endearment. Researching your host country in advance can provide a better understanding of potential attitudes towards race and ethnicity in general, and your own identities specifically.
- All Abroad.us is a clearinghouse for advice, information and mentors to encourage more diversity within study abroad. This site includes group-specific information for African American, Asian American, Native American and Latinx travelers.
- DiversityAbroad.com offers destination-specific information, student advice and blogs, and information regarding financial aid and scholarships for diverse students.
Travelers with Disabilities
Every country has its own standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities. Travelers with disabilities are encouraged to contact their relevant department and the University's Disabilities Services Program (DSP) well before departure. U.S. laws and regulations related to disabilities generally do not extend beyond this country's borders, and hosting sites vary greatly regarding their capacity for accommodation.
When considering a potential destination, it is important to consider the following:
- Remember that other cultures may provide disability access in a different way—learn about what types of accommodation are typically provided in your host country, and be flexible and open to different ways of accommodating your disability.
- Before you go, find out as much as you can about your host culture and how they view disabilities. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the interaction between your disability and the new environment.
- Think about how you will answer questions about your disability in the language of your host country—look up key vocabulary words ahead of time.
- Access Abroad offers quick tips for students with disabilities and learning differences.
- DU Disability Services Program can work with you and your department to research services available abroad and outline available accommodations.
- Mobility International USA, MIUSA, along with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, manages the National Clearinghouse of Disability and Exchange. MIUSA publishes books and other resources, many of which are free for you to download from its website.
Many women travel safely each year without incident. However, when it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to be affected by the religious and cultural beliefs of the foreign countries they visit. The truth is that women face greater challenges, especially when traveling alone.
Be sure to research regional medical and security issues, as well as local culture and etiquette before you depart. Consider safe options in terms of accommodations, transportation and food and drink.
When considering a potential destination, it is important to consider the following:
- Is it safe for me to go out alone? At night?
- What areas at my destination should I avoid?
- How are women expected to behave and dress?
- What are the cultural norms regarding friendship, dating and sexual relationships?
- What are the safety and self-protection practices women follow at my destination?
- Do people in my host country have stereotypes of women from my home country?
According to the U.S. Department of State, women travelers should:
- Know the location of the U.S. embassy or consulate for your destination
- Research your destination before departure
- Pack accordingly and wear culturally appropriate attire
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Create boundaries and exercise those boundaries if you become uncomfortable with a situation