Return to:Index of "Economic and Business Issues" || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

U.S. Department of State
96/06/05 Quick Security Guidelines: Security Guidelines for American Families Living Abroad
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
Published by The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
November 1995
Effective security precautions require a continuous and conscious 
awareness of the environment, especially when living in a foreign 
country.  Security precautions lessen vulnerability to criminal and 
terrorist acts and greatly facilitate the assistance the U.S. Government 
can provide.  Levels of risk in a foreign country can change very 
rapidly, sometimes overnight, and can be triggered by internal or 
external incidents or circumstances.  Continually monitor the political 
climate and other factors that may impact the level of risk.  Security 
precautions must be constantly reviewed so they may be adapted for 
effective response to changes in the level of risk. 

Preliminary Residential Security Planning 

Begin to develop a tentative residential security plan for yourself and 
all members of your family before leaving the United States.  This is 
essential in providing you with guidelines for selecting a home and 
determining where your children will go to school, the type of car you 
will buy, the kind of clothing you will and will not wear, and the 
information required to live securely in your overseas location.  This 
plan should progress from tentative to active.   

Obtaining Information 

Become informed about your new location.  Much professional help is 
available for the family moving overseas.  Major multinational 
corporations have large international travel and security departments 
that may serve as valuable resources. Contact the U.S. Government 
Printing Office at telephone number (202) 512-1800, or fax (202) 
512-2158, to acquire current issues of the U.S. Department of State 
publications entitled Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts, Guide for 
Business Representatives and Background Notes for your country of 
assignment.  Obtain a current political profile of the country to which 
you will be moving to aid you in assessing the level of risk.  Study the 
culture and customs of the country.  Use library sources and reference 
works.  If you have school-aged children, obtain information and advice 
about schooling abroad from the Office of Overseas Schools at the U.S. 
Department of State, telephone number (703) 875-7800. 

Assessing the Level of Risk 

Two factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating the 
seriousness of the personal risk to you and your family when living 
abroad:  a risk assessment of the location to which you will be moving 
and the profile of the company for which you work.  The threat 
assessment designators below were formulated by the Department of State, 
Diplomatic Security Service, Intelligence and Threat Analysis Division.  
This assessment is available to the business community through the 
regional security officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy.  Risk levels are 
defined as: 

--  CRITICAL:  Constant criminal activity is reported and the threat of 
criminal violence is serious and abiding, with a history of recurrent 
incidents against expatriate personnel and interests. 

--  HIGH:  Frequent criminal activity is reported and the threat of 
criminal violence is serious, but more sporadic, with incidents against 
expatriate personnel and interest occasionally reported. 

--  MEDIUM:  Some criminal activity is reported and there is a potential 
for serious criminal violence; incidents against expatriate personnel of 
interest occur, but are infrequent. 

--  LOW:  There is a little indication of serious criminal activity; 
incidents against expatriate personnel and interests seldom occur and 
involve stealth rather than confrontation.  

Location of a Residence 

Choose a safe neighborhood.  The local police, the RSO or Post Security 
Officer (PSO) at the nearest U.S. diplomatic post will facilitate this 
process.  Pay particular attention to the condition of the streets.  If 
possible, choose streets that are paved, wide, two-way, and maintained.  
Dense vehicular or pedestrian traffic facilitates retention of anonymity 
of criminals and surveillants. 

Note the overall security precautions that are taken in the neighborhood 
such as barred windows, security fences, extensive lighting, or large 
dogs.  Such visible precautions may indicate a high level of security 
awareness or a high-crime area. Examine the quality of lighting at night 
to determine whether it is sufficient to illuminate the entrances to 
homes in the area.  Ensure that trees or shrubbery do not provide cover 
for an intruder. 

The vast majority of kidnappings and other serious crimes occur close to 
the residence, when the victim is leaving or returning home.  Therefore, 
it is essential that access routes to and from the residence provide 
sufficient alternatives that do not lock you into predictable patterns.  
Dead-end or one-way streets should be avoided.  Underground parking, 
unless tightly controlled, should be avoided.  Ideally, a garage that 
can be locked is the most suitable means of securing vehicles at single-
family residences.  Parking the car on the street should be avoided.  
Residing near friends or coworkers facilitates car pooling and 
observation of suspicious activities. 

Selection of Residence 

An apartment offers greater protection against intrusion than a single-
dwelling home.  A private or single dwelling affords greater opportunity 
to establish more rigid access control to the property.  In certain 
high- and critical-crime threat areas, it may be prudent to consider the 
need for a safehaven in any residence.  A safehaven should be furnished 
with a substantial door equipped with a deadbolt lock and a door viewer 
or a grill gate.  Such a safe area should also possess reliable 
communications, such as a telephone, cellular telephone, or radio to 
contact help.  Accessible windows and openings should be secured against 
forced entry. 

After Moving In 

Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your passport and register as 
soon as possible.  Registration greatly facilitates emergency evacuation 
from the country of residence.  

After moving in, immediately familiarize yourself with your new 
surroundings.  Get acquainted with at least one neighbor without delay; 
you may need a neighbor in an emergency.  Locate the nearest hospital 
and police station.    

Assistance to Terrorist Victims 

In the case of terrorist action against an American citizen or company, 
the embassy or consulate can facilitate communication with the home 
office and family of the victim, help establish useful liaison with 
local authorities, provide information, and suggest possible 
alternatives open to the family or company of the victim. 
Emergency Preparations 

Before an emergency, obtain emergency fire and safety equipment.  Train 
family members and domestic employees in the use of emergency equipment.  
Know beforehand where you will turn for help.  Participate in an alert-
calling list.  If such a list does not exist, create one.  Be aware of 
host country fire regulations and telephone numbers.  Determine if an 
emergency telephone call will be answered by someone who can understand 
English if you or family members do not speak the local language.  Fill 
out and update yearly an Employee and Family Profile form and include 
current photos. 

Perimeter Security 

Generally, there are two lines of defense for a residence:  the outer and inner perimeters.  The outer perimeter of a single residence is 
ordinarily a property line; in an apartment or high-rise condominium, the outer lobby door functions as the external perimeter.  Any perimeter 
barrier, even if it is only a symbolic hedge, serves as a deterrent by 
causing a intruder to commit an overt act to cross the barrier.  Inner 
perimeters include grills and locks.  Building exterior openings over 96 
square inches in size on the ground floor or accessible from trees, 
vehicle tops, or porches may need to be covered by grills.  At least one 
window grill in each section of the sleeping quarters should be hinged 
and equipped with an emergency release. 

All primary residential entry doors should be equipped with both a 
primary (main locks with handles) and an auxiliary lock (deadbolt).  All 
exterior locks, including the garage door and mailbox lock, should be 
changed before moving into a new residence abroad.  Maintain strict key 
control on all exterior locks.  Never hide an exterior door key outside 
the house.  Install an intercom between the primary entrance and the 
inside foyer or unprotected area.  You should consider removing all name 
identification from your gate and doors. 

Alarms, Lighting, and Absences 

In areas abroad where forced entry of a residence is commonplace, the 
use of a good residential alarm system is highly recommended.  Security 
lighting should be an integral part of the intrusion system.  The 
important elements of protective outdoor lighting are coverage and 
evenness of light.  Lighting should illuminate the walls of the 
residence and the ground area adjacent to the perimeter walls.  It also 
should illuminate shrubbery and eliminate building blind spots.  It is a 
good idea to connect lighting to a photoelectric cell that automatically 
turns lights on at dusk and off at dawn.  Ensure that all lighting 
systems are installed in compliance with local codes.  Consider the 
installation of a diesel-powered auxiliary generator that turns on 
automatically when electric power fails; test the generator periodically 
to ensure it is in good working condition. 

Extended absences present an intruder with the easiest opportunity to 
target a residence.  While residents are away, automatic timers or 
photoelectric switches should turn on inside lights.  Close friends or 
neighbors should be asked to look after the home.  In many locations, it 
is advisable to have trusted domestic employees remain in the residence 
during extended absences. 

Domestic Employees 

Domestic employees can either be a valuable asset to residential 
security or a decided liability.  The chances of obtaining the services 
of a reliable servant can be improved by hiring one employed and 
recommended by a friend, acquaintance, or neighbor.  Prospective 
applicants should be required to produce references and should be 
interviewed thoroughly.  It is wise to check references.  Do not accept 
the candidate's word as to his or her name and date of birth without an 
authentic government document to back up his or her claim.  Do not 
permit domestics of untested integrity and reliability in your home. 
Domestic help should be briefed on security practices.  It is critical 
that household help be rehearsed and briefed from time to time to 
refresh their memories and to update previous instructions.  Domestic 
employees, rather than members of the household, should be trained to 
answer the door.  They should not be allowed to admit visitors without 
specific approval and should not unlock or open a door until visitors 
have been properly identified.  Family plans and official business 
should not be discussed within the hearing of domestic employees. 

Auto Travel 

Potential victims of kidnapping and assault are probably most vulnerable 
when entering or leaving their homes or offices.  Always carefully 
observe surroundings for possible surveillance upon leaving and 
returning. Never enter a car without checking the rear seat to ensure 
that it is empty. 

Do not develop predictable patterns.  If possible, exchange company cars 
or swap with coworkers occasionally.  Know the location of police, 
hospital, military, and government buildings.  Avoid trips to remote 
areas, particularly after dark.  Select well-traveled streets as much as 
possible.  Keep vehicles well-maintained at all times.  When driving, 
keep automobile doors and windows locked.  Be constantly alert to road 
conditions and surroundings.  Never pick up hitchhikers.  Carry 3 x 5 
cards printed with important assistance phrases to aid with language 

Always carry appropriate coins for public phones.  Practice using public 
telephones.  Report all suspicious activity to the company security 
contact.  Always lock the doors when parking a car, no matter where it 
is located.   

Telephones and Mail 

Do not answer the telephone by stating the name of the family or giving 
the residence telephone number in response to wrong-number calls.  Be 
suspicious of any caller alleging to represent the telephone company.  
Be skeptical of telephone calls from strangers advising that a family 
member has been injured, followed by a request for another family member 
to leave the home immediately.  Children should be advised not to 
converse on the telephone with strangers for any reason.  When 
practical, home telephone numbers should be unlisted and unpublished.  
Emergency telephone numbers should be available for quick reference at 
each telephone in the home.  A programmable telephone can be very useful 
during any emergency. 

Businessmen should discourage the delivery of mail to their private 
residences.  Family members and domestic help should not accept 
unexpected mail deliveries unless sure of the source.  The door should 
not be opened to accept strange deliveries.  Packages should be left by 
the door.   Continuously remind yourself and others in the household to 
be suspicious of all incoming mail and parcels and to remain alert for 
the following danger signs: 

--  Unusual Appearance 
--  Peculiar Odor 
--  Suspicious Weight 

If a parcel is at all suspicious, STOP further handling and call 
appropriate authorities. 

Miscellaneous Items 

It may be prudent to use major U.S. credit cards, as opposed to writing 
checks on local banks, to reduce the audit trail your financial 
transactions can leave.  DO NOT imprint your home address or phone 
number on personalized checks. 

You should be aware of the attitude of the government, police, and the 
populace toward other nationals, particularly Americans.  A strong anti-
American attitude may be cause for diminished police responsiveness.  
Where police capability is in doubt, the use of a private guard service 
should be considered.  All guards should be subjected to a security 
check.  At a minimum, guards should be physically capable of performing 
their shift duties during the normal workday. 

When children are to be picked up at school by anyone other than 
immediate family members, an established procedure should be coordinated 
with school officials to assure that children are picked up only by 
authorized persons.  Children should be instructed in observing good 
security procedures. 

In the event of a coup d'etat, establish contact, if not already done, 
and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. diplomatic post.  DO NOT 
automatically pack and leave the country on your own initiative.  
Monitor local news media for any evidence of anti-American activity.  In 
certain locations, it is recommended that adequate supplies of 
nonperishable foods and drinking water be stockpiled in the home to 
sustain family members for a reasonable period of time.  Have a bag 
packed for each family member in the event you have to leave on short 
notice.  An appropriate amount of currency and traveler's checks should 
be kept on hand.  Maintain current passports and, where applicable, 
visas for a safehaven country. 

Employees in high-threat areas should avoid social activities that are 
conducted at a set time and place, such as the same church service every 
Sunday morning.  Each family member should be familiar with basic 
security procedures and techniques.  Persons in high-threat areas should 
consider whether or not to participate in recreational or exercise 
activities that are conducted at a set time and place. 

Despite repeated warnings, drug arrests and convictions of American 
citizens are still on the increase.  If you are caught overseas with 
either soft or hard drugs, you are subject to local, not U.S., laws.  
All U.S. citizens living abroad should familiarize themselves with the 
selected laws of the host country, especially those relating to illegal 
drugs.  All medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics should 
be left in their original labeled containers; a copy of the doctor's 
prescription should be maintained. 

Many people have been victimized by crime, and most individuals are 
acquainted with victims of crime.  Yet, it is perhaps the most difficult 
job in the world to convince people to practice security and safety in 
their lives.  Individuals must assume responsibility for their personal 
security and ensure that their loved ones do the same. 
To the top of this page