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U.S. Department of State
96/06/10 Quick Security Guidelines: Personal Security for the
American Traveler Overseas
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
Published by The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
Effective security precautions require a continuous and conscious
awareness of one's environment as well as the need to exercise
prudence, judgment, and common sense. This is especially true
where the traveler must adapt to new cultures, customs, and laws.
Personal security cannot be delegated to others; it is a
responsibility of each one of us, as we promote American economic
and commercial interests around the globe.
DO NOT publicize your travel plans, but limit that knowledge to
those who need to know. Leave a complete itinerary (including
contact numbers, if known) with your office and with family or a
-- At least 6 months remaining validity?
-- 3 copies of the page containing your photograph:
--Place one in carry-on bag
--Place one in luggage
--Leave one with office or family
-- Current/appropriate visa(s) (tourist/business)
-- Visa application information must be accurate. False
information may be grounds for incarceration.
-- Take only the credit cards you need.
-- Carry only the documents you will need in a wallet or purse.
-- Realize all business documents might be subject to search,
seizure, or copying.
-- Carry a U.S. driver's license with your photo on it.
-- Make two copies of the numbers of credit cards and traveler's
checks, and telephone numbers to report loss, and air ticket
numbers and store in your wallet or briefcase. (These items should
be stored in separate locations to preclude loss of all the
-- Carry a copy of prescriptions and an ample supply of any
prescription medications, in original containers if possible.
-- Bring an extra set of eyeglasses or contact lenses. Carrying
your prescription with you will expedite the procurement of
-- Carry an international shot record that certifies appropriate
-- List with your blood type, allergies, medical conditions and
special requirements. (Medical alert bracelets are a good idea.)
-- If you do not have comprehensive medical coverage, consider
enrolling in an international health program. (Hospitals in
foreign countries do not take credit cards and most will not honor
U.S.-based medical insurance plans.)
-- Keep your personal affairs up-to-date. Have an up-to-date will
and insurance policy. Leave a power of attorney with a family
member or friend should anything happen to you.
-- While traveling, eat moderately and drink plenty of water to
-- If possible, before you travel, make an effort to adjust your
-- Sleep as much as possible during the flight.
-- Carry air sickness medication with you. Even the best traveler
sometimes experiences air sickness.
-- Avoid a demanding schedule upon arrival. Give yourself a
chance to adjust to your surroundings.
Sources of Information
-- Talk with people who have visited the country recently.
-- Check with the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Consular
Affairs for traveling conditions and warnings. Dial (202) 647-
-- Use airlines, hotels, and car rental companies that are
recommended by your travel agent.
-- If renting a car, will you need an international driver's
permit for the country you plan to visit?
-- Items of value, such as cameras and laptop computers, can be
registered with Customs before departing the United States.
-- The embassy of the country you plan to visit can provide a
list or pamphlet describing customs restrictions or banned
materials. (Minimize the possibility of an encounter with the
-- Hand carry sensitive information.
-- Be sure that your luggage is tagged with covered tags.
-- Put your name and address inside each piece of luggage and be
sure it is secured.
-- The locks on your luggage are not secure. For added security,
run a strip of nylon filament tape around the suitcase.
-- On luggage, use your business address and telephone number.
-- Check with the airline and your personal insurance company
regarding coverage for lost luggage.
-- Use sturdy luggage and do not over pack.
-- Do not transport items for other people. Any gifts received
from a foreign business contact should be thoroughly inspected
before being placed in your luggage. If you are asked by airline
personnel if you are carrying gifts or other items, respond
affirmatively and allow the item to undergo security inspection.
-- LEAVE ALL EXPENSIVE AND HEIRLOOM JEWELRY AT HOME.
-- Never place your valuables (money or traveler's checks) in
your checked luggage.
-- Never leave your bags unattended. Be especially alert to
luggage thieves who target airline and railway terminals as well
as car rental agency counter areas.
-- If available, obtain a modest amount of foreign currency
before you leave your home country. (Criminals may watch for and
target international travelers purchasing large amounts of foreign
currency at airport banks and currency exchange windows.)
TRANSPORTATION HUB SECURITY
To diminish the risks of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack
and reduce your exposure to the criminal threat, remember the
following when checking into a transportation hub:
-- Go in the opposite direction of any disturbance. DO NOT GET
-- Always be aware of where you are in relation to exits. If an
incident occurs, you need to know how to avoid it and get out of
-- Check in early; avoid last minute dashes to the airport.
-- Go directly to the gate or secure area after checking your
-- Avoid waiting rooms and shopping areas outside the secure
-- At many airports, security personnel will ask you questions
about your luggage. Know what items you are carrying and be able
to describe all electrical items.
-- Cooperate with security personnel.
-- Do not exchange items between bags while waiting for security
screening or immigration or customs processing.
-- Cooperate if a conflict should arise while undergoing the
screening process. Discuss the matter with a supervisor from the
appropriate air carrier afterwards.
-- At most airports, X-ray will not damage film, video tapes, or
computer equipment. Therefore, such items can be cleared in this
way without being handled by a screener.
-- Arrange to be met upon your arrival whenever possible.
-- Alternately, consider transportation to and from the airport
by a hotel vehicle.
-- Declare all currency and negotiable instruments as required by
-- NEVER leave your luggage or briefcase unattended at anytime.
-- Dress casually when traveling to avoid attention.
-- Always reconfirm onward flights at least 72 hours in advance.
-- DO NOT accept or deliver letters, packages, or anything else
from anyone unknown to you. It could result in your being arrested
for illegally exporting a prohibited item.
Use hotels recommended by the corporate travel agency, where
-- Make your own reservations when practical and consistent with
company policies. (The fewer people who become involved in your
travel and lodging arrangements, the better.)
-- If traveling abroad, especially in high threat areas, consider
making reservations using your employer's street address, without
identifying the company, and using your personal credit card.
Again, the less known about your travel itinerary, and who you
represent, the better.
-- If arriving in midafternoon, ensure that reservations are
-- Request information about hotel parking arrangements before
renting an automobile.
-- Be aware that credit card information may be compromised by
hotel, rental car, and restaurants. Always audit monthly credit
card statements to ensure that unauthorized use has not been made
of your account.
-- Join frequent travelers' programs. They are available with
many lodging companies. These programs enable upgrades to
executive or concierge floors where security is generally better.
Arriving At and Departing From the Hotel
The most vulnerable part of your journey is traveling between the
point of debarkation and embarkation and the hotel.
-- Disembark as close to a hotel entrance as possible and in a
lighted area. Before exiting the vehicle, ensure there are no
suspicious persons or activities.
-- Do not linger or wander unnecessarily in the parking lot,
indoor garage, or the public space around hotel.
-- Parking garages are difficult to secure. Avoid dimly lit
garages that are not patrolled and do not have security telephones
-- Watch for distractions that may be staged to set up a
pickpocket, luggage theft, or purse snatch.
-- Stay with your luggage until it is brought into the lobby or
placed in your taxi.
-- Use the bellman. Luggage in the "care, custody, and control"
of the hotel causes the hotel to be liable for your property. Keep
claim checks--they are your evidence!
-- Due to hotel liability limits, personal travel documents,
laptop computers, valuables, and sensitive documents should be
hand carried and personally protected.
-- Valets should receive only the ignition key.
-- Women travelers should consider requesting an escort to their
-- In some countries, your passport may be held by the hotel for
review by the police or other authorities. If so, retrieve it at
the earliest possible time.
-- Position luggage against your leg during registration, but
place a briefcase or a purse on the desk or counter in front of
-- Request a room between the second and seventh floor. Most fire
departments do not have the capability to rescue people above the
seventh floor level with external rescue equipment (i.e.,
-- Avoid low-level rooms with sliding glass doors and easy window
access. Depending upon the situation, area, and security coverage,
exercise a higher level of security if assigned a ground-level
-- Request rooms that are away from the elevator landing and
stairwells. This is to avoid being caught by surprise by persons
exiting the elevator with you or hiding in the stairwell.
-- Accept the bellman's assistance upon check-in. Allow the
bellman to open the room's door, turn the lights on, and check the
room to ensure that it is vacant and ready for your stay.
-- Inquire how guests are notified if there is an emergency.
-- Find the nearest fire stairwell.
-- Note the location of fire alarms, extinguishers, and hoses,
and read any fire safety information available in your room.
-- Check outside your room window to ascertain if there is a
possible escape route that would be feasible in an extreme
-- Find the nearest house telephone in case of an emergency.
-- Note how hotel staff are uniformed and identified. Verify
hotel employees with the front desk before permitting entry to
-- While in the room, keep the door closed and engage the
deadbolt and privacy latch or chain. A limited number of hotel
emergency keys can override the deadbolt locks.
-- Guests should always place money or valuables in the safe
deposit box at the front desk of the hotel. Guest room safes are
-- Stay only at hotels that have smoke detectors and/or
sprinklers installed in all rooms and provide information about
fire and safety procedures.
In Case of a Fire
-- KEEP CALM--DO NOT PANIC.
-- Call the front desk and notify them of the location of the
-- Check your door by placing your palm on the door and then on
the door knob. If either feels hot, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR.
-- If it is safe to exit from your room, head for the stairs.
TAKE YOUR ROOM KEY WITH YOU; YOU MAY HAVE TO RETURN TO YOUR ROOM.
-- If the corridor is full of smoke, crawl to the exit and again
check the door before opening it to see if it is hot. The fire
could be in the stairwell.
-- DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR!
-- If you cannot leave your room or the stairwells are unsafe and
you must return to your room, notify the front desk that you are
in your room awaiting rescue.
-- Open a window for fresh air. Do not break the window as you
may need to close it again if smoke starts to enter from the
-- Fill the tub and sink with water. Soak towels and blankets as
necessary to block vents and openings around doors to keep the
smoke and fumes out.
-- Attempt to keep the walls, doors, and towels covering vents
and cracks cool and wet.
-- A wet towel swung around the room will help clear the room of
-- Cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth.
-- Stay low, but alert to any signs of rescue from the street or
the halls. Let the firefighters know where you are by waving a
towel or sheet out the window.
PERSONAL SECURITY IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
-- All hotel rooms and telephones are not bugged; however, your
business purpose will be more secure if you act as if they are.
-- Keep your hotel room key with you at all times, if possible.
-- At night, secure your passport and other valuables.
-- Do not divulge the name of your hotel or room number to
-- Invest in a good map of the city. Note significant points on
the map such as your hotel, embassies, and police stations. Make a
mental note of alternative routes to your hotel or local office
should your map become lost or stolen.
-- Be aware of your surroundings. Look up and down the street
before exiting a building.
-- Learn how to place a local telephone call and how to use coin
telephones. Make sure you always have extra tokens or coins for
-- Areas around public telephones are often used by criminals to
stage pickpocket activity or theft. Keep briefcases and purses in
view or "in touch" while using phones. Caution is urged in
safeguarding telephone credit card numbers. Criminals wait for
callers to announce credit card numbers on public phones and then
sell the numbers for unauthorized use.
-- Avoid jogging or walking in cities you are not familiar with.
If you must jog, be aware of the traffic patterns when crossing
public streets. (Joggers have been seriously injured by failing to
understand local traffic conditions.)
-- Speak with the bellman, concierge, and front desk regarding
safe areas around the city to jog, dine, or sight see. Ask about
local customs and which taxi companies to use or avoid.
-- Avoid renting vehicles or driving unless you are familiar with
the local traffic laws and customs.
-- Valuables should normally be left at home. The rule of thumb
is if you neither want nor can afford to lose them, DO NOT TAKE
THEM! However, if you must carry valuables, the best way to
protect them is to secure them in your local offices. Second best
is the hotel safe.
-- Keep your passport with you at all times. Only relinquish it
to the hotel if required by law when registering, or if you are
required to identify yourself to local authorities for any reason.
-- Vary the time and route by which you leave and return to the
hotel. Be alert for persons watching your movements.
-- Be cautious when entering public restrooms.
-- Purse snatchers and briefcase thieves are known to work hotel
bars and restaurants waiting for unknowing guests to drape these
items on chairs or under tables only to discover them missing as
they are departing. Keep items in view or "in touch."
-- Be alert to scams involving an unknown person spilling a drink
or food on your clothing. An accomplice may be preparing to steal
your wallet, purse, or briefcase.
-- Pools or beaches are attractive areas for thieves. Leave
valuables in the hotel, but carry a token sum to placate violent
thieves. Sign for food and beverages on your room bill rather than
-- Avoid persons you do not know. Prostitutes--both men and
women--take advantage of travelers through various ploys: "knock
out" drugs, confederates, and theft from the victim's room.
-- Safeguard all sensitive or proprietary papers and documents;
do not leave them lying around in the office or on top of a desk.
-- Guard your conversations so that unauthorized personnel are
not able to eavesdrop on discussions pertaining to proprietary
information, personnel issues, or management planning or problems.
In many countries, local employees are debriefed by the
intelligence or security services in an effort to learn as much as
possible about activities of American companies and their
-- Be careful of all communications. Be aware that the monitoring
of telephone, telegraph, and international mail is common in many
Hostile and even "friendly" intelligence organizations are always
on the lookout for sources who are vulnerable to coercion,
addictions, greed, or emotional manipulation. To eliminate, or at
least reduce, the possibility of inadvertently doing something
that would bring your activities to the special attention of one
of these agencies:
-- Do not do anything that might be misconstrued, reflect poorly
on your personal judgment, or be embarrassing to you or your
-- Do not gossip about character flaws, financial problems,
emotional relationships, or the marital difficulties of anyone
working for the company, including yourself.
-- Do not carry, use, or purchase any narcotics, marijuana, or
other abused drugs. Some countries have very stringent laws
covering the import or use of medications and other substances. If
you are using a prescribed medication that contains any narcotic
substance or other medication that is subject to abuse, such as
amphetamines or tranquilizers, carry a copy of the doctor's
prescription for all medications and check local restrictions and
requirements prior to departure. Some countries may require
additional documentation or certification from your doctor.
-- Do not let a friendly ambiance and alcohol override your good
sense and capacity when it comes to social drinking.
-- Do not engage in black-market activities such as the illegal
exchange of currency or the purchase of religious icons or other
-- Do not carry any political or religious tracts or brochures or
publications likely to be offensive in the host country, such as
pornography or radical magazines.
-- Do not photograph anything that appears to be associated with
the military or internal security of the country, including
airports, ports, or restricted areas such as military
installations, antennae, or government buildings.
-- Do not purchase items that are illegal to import into the
United States or other countries such as endangered species or
ARRESTED! WHAT DO I DO NOW?
Foreign police and intelligence agencies detain persons for a
myriad of reasons or for no other reason than suspicion or
curiosity. The best advice is to exercise good judgment, be
professional in your demeanor, and remember these suggestions:
-- Ask to contact the nearest embassy or consulate representing
your country. As a citizen of another country you have this right,
but that does not mean that your hosts will allow you to do so
right away. Continue to make the request periodically until they
accede and let you contact your embassy or consulate.
-- Stay calm, maintain your dignity, and do not provoke the
-- Admit nothing; volunteer nothing.
-- Sign nothing. Often, part of the detention procedure is to ask
or tell the detained to sign a written report. Decline politely
until such time as the document is examined by an attorney or an
embassy or consulate representative.
-- Accept no one at face value. When the representative from the
embassy or consulate arrives, request some identification before
discussing your situation.
-- Do not fall for the ruse of helping those detaining you in
return for your release. They can be very imaginative in their
proposals on how you can be of assistance to them. Do not sell
yourself out by agreeing to anything. If there appears to be no
other way out, tell them that you will think it over and let them
know. Once out of their hands, contact the affiliate or your
embassy for assistance in getting out of the country.
Persons traveling abroad on business should be aware that they
could be targeted by an intelligence agency, security service,
terrorists, criminals, or a competitor if they are knowledgeable
of, or carrying, sensitive or proprietary information.
In the course of doing business abroad, there are indicators that
should be recognized as potential hazards and indicate unwarranted
interest in your activities:
-- Repeated contacts with a local or third-country national who
is not involved in your business interests or the purpose of your
visit, but as a result of invitations to social or business
functions, appears at each function. This individual's demeanor
may indicate more than just a passing interest in you and your
-- A close social relationship with a representative of a host
government is often unavoidable for business reasons. Be cautious
and do not allow the relationship to develop any further than the
-- Accidental encounters with an unknown local national who
strikes up a conversation and wants to:
--Practice English or another language.
--Talk about your country of origin or your employment.
--Buy you a drink because he or she has taken a liking to
--Talk to you about politics.
--Use other excuses to begin a "friendly" relationship.
Foreign intelligence, security services, terrorists, and criminals
use surveillance for operational preparation prior to taking
-- The main terrorist threat to a traveler is that of being at
the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming an inadvertent
victim of a terrorist act.
-- Be observant and pay attention to your sixth sense. If you get
the funny feeling that something is not right or that you are
being watched, pay attention! Report your suspicions or any
information to the general manager of the local affiliate or your
embassy or consulate just in case something does occur.
-- If you have reason to believe that you are under surveillance,
continue to act naturally.
-- Do not try to slip away, lose, or embarrass the surveillance
as this may anger and alert them. It also may cause them to
question whether you are, in fact, just a business person.
-- In your hotel room, do not play investigator and start looking
for electronic listening devices. Ensure that you do not say or do
anything in your hotel room that you would not want to see printed
on the front page of The New York Times.
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