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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
SEPTEMBER 1993: A SAFE TRIP ABROAD
BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS
A Safe Trip Abroad
Millions of U.S. citizens travel abroad each year and use
their U.S. passport. When you travel abroad, the odds are
in your favor that you will have a safe and incident-free
trip. Even if you do come into difficulty abroad, the odds
are still in your favor that you will not be a victim of
crime or violence.
But crime and violence, as well as unexpected difficulties,
do befall U.S. citizens in all parts of the world. No one
is better able to tell you this than U.S. consular officers
who work in the more than 250 U.S. embassies and consulates
around the world. Every day of the year U.S. embassies and
consulates receive calls from American citizens in distress.
Fortunately, most problems can be solved over the telephone
or by a visit of the U.S. citizen to the Consular Section of
the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. But there are less
fortunate occasions when U.S. consular officers are called
on to meet U.S. citizens at foreign police stations,
hospitals, prisons, and even at morgues. In these cases,
the assistance that consular officers can offer is specific,
but limited. For a description of consular assistance
abroad, see page 19.
In the hope of helping you avoid unhappy meetings when you
go abroad, we have prepared the following travel tips.
Please have a safe trip abroad.
Before You Go
What to Bring
Safety begins when you pack. To avoid being a target, dress
conservatively. A flashy wardrobe or one that is too casual
can mark you as a tourist. As much as possible, avoid the
appearance of affluence.
Always try to travel light. If you do, you can move more
quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand. You
will also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage
down, leaving it unattended.
Carry the minimum amount of valuables necessary for your
trip and plan a place or places to conceal them. Your
passport, cash and credit cards are safest when locked in a
hotel safe. When you have to carry them on your person, you
may wish to conceal them in several places rather than
putting them in one wallet or pouch. Avoid hand bags, fanny
packs and outside pockets which are easy targets for
thieves. Inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the
strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer. The safest
place to carry valuables is probably a pouch or money belt
that you wear under your clothing.
If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Carry them and any
medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep
medicines in their original, labeled containers. Bring a
copy 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 first.
Bring travelers checks and one or two major credit cards
instead of cash.
Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy
of your passport information page to make replacement of
your passport easier in case it is lost or stolen.
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.
Last of all, lock your luggage.
What to Leave Behind
Don't bring anything you would hate to lose. Leave at home:
-- expensive or expensive-looking jewelry,
-- irreplaceable family objects,
-- all unnecessary credit cards.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at
home in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
A Few Things to Bring and Leave Behind
Make photocopies of, your passport identification page,
airline tickets, driver's license, and the credit cards that
you bring with you. Make two copies. Leave one with family
or friends at home; pack the other in a place separate from
where you carry your valuables.
Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers checks
at home. Carry your copy with you in a separate place and,
as you cash the checks, cross them off the list.
What to Learn About Before You Go
Security. The Department of State's Consular Information
Sheets are available for every country of the world. They
describe unusual entry or currency regulations, unusual
health conditions, the crime and security situation,
political disturbances, areas of instability, and drug
penalties. They also provide addresses and emergency
telephone numbers for U.S. embassies and consulates. In
general, the sheets do not give advice. Instead, they
describe conditions so travelers can make informed decisions
about their trips.
In some dangerous situations, however, the Department of
State recommends that Americans defer travel to a country.
In such a case, a Travel Warning is issued for the country
in addition to its Consular Information Sheet.
Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings are
available at the 13 regional passport agencies; at U.S.
embassies and consulates abroad; or by sending a self-
addressed, stamped envelope to: Overseas Citizens Services,
Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818.
They are also available through airline computer reservation
systems when you or your travel agent make your
international air reservations.
In addition, you can access Consular Information Sheets and
Travel Warnings 24-hours a day from three different
electronic systems. To listen to them, call (202) 647-5225
from a touchtone phone. To receive them by fax, dial (202)
647-3000 from a fax machine and follow the prompts that you
will hear on the machine's telephone receiver. To view or
download the documents through a computer and modem, dial
the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB) on (202) 647-
9225, setting your software to N-8-1. There is no charge to
use these systems other than normal long distance charges.
Local Laws and Customs. When you leave the United States,
you are subject to the laws of the country where you are.
Therefore, before you go, learn as much as you can about the
local laws and customs of the places you plan to visit.
Good resources are your library, your travel agent, and the
embassies, consulates or tourist bureaus of the countries
you will visit. In addition, keep track of what is being
reported in the media about recent developments in those
Things to Arrange Before You Go
Your Itinerary. As much as possible, plan to stay in larger
hotels that have more elaborate security. The safest floor
to book a room may be from the second to seventh floors Ú
above ground level to deter easy entrance from outside, but
low enough for fire equipment to reach.
Because take-off and landing are the most dangerous times of
a flight, book non-stop flights when possible. When there
is a choice of airport or airline, ask your travel agent
about comparative safety records. There are differences.
Legal Documents. Have your affairs at home in order. If
you leave an up-to-date will, insurance documents, and a
power of attorney with your family or a friend, you can feel
secure about traveling and will be prepared for any
emergency that may occur while you are away. If you have
minor children, consider making guardianship arrangements
Credit. Make a note of the credit limit on each credit card
that you bring. Make certain not to charge over that amount
on your trip. In some countries, Americans have been
arrested for innocently exceeding their credit limit. Ask
your credit card company how to report the loss of your card
from abroad. 800 numbers do not work from abroad, but your
company will have a number that you can call.
Insurance. Find out if your personal property insurance
covers you for loss or theft abroad. Even more important,
check if your health insurance will cover you abroad.
Social Security Medicare does not provide payment for
medical care outside the U.S. Even if your health insurance
will reimburse you for medical care that you pay for abroad,
normal health insurance does not pay for medical evacuation
from a remote area or from a country where medical
facilities are inadequate. Consider purchasing one of the
short-term health and emergency assistance policies designed
for travelers that includes medical evacuation in the event
of an accident or serious illness.
Precautions to Take While Traveling
Safety on the Street
Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would
at home. Be especially cautious in, or avoid areas where
you are likely to be victimized. These include crowded
subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, market
places, festivals and marginal areas of cities.
Don't use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly-lit streets.
Try not to travel alone at night.
Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or
arguments. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal
matters with strangers.
To avoid scam artists, beware of strangers who approach you,
offering bargains or to be your guide.
Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who
-- jostle you,
-- ask you for directions or the time,
-- point to something spilled on your clothing,
-- or distract you by creating a disturbance.
A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket.
Beware of groups of vagrant children.
Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and
walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse
Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are
lost, act as if you know where you are going. When
possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority.
Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change
or token on hand.
Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can signal
your need for help, the police, or a doctor.
Make note of emergency telephone numbers you may need:
police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or
If confronted by superior force, don't fight attackers Ú
give up valuables.
Safety in Your Hotel
Keep your hotel door locked at all times. Meet visitors in
Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room
while you are out. Use the hotel safe.
Let someone know when you expect to return, especially if
out late at night.
If you are alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a
suspicious-looking person inside.
Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know
how to report a fire. Be sure you know where the nearest
fire exit and an alternate are. Count the doors between
your room and the nearest exit -- this could be a life-saver
if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.
Safety on Public Transport
In countries where there is a pattern of tourists being
targeted by criminals on public transport, this information
is mentioned in Consular Information Sheets.
Taxis. Only take taxis clearly identified with official
markings. Beware of irregular cabs.
Trains. Well organized, systematic robbery of passengers on
trains along popular tourists routes is a serious problem.
It is more common at night and especially on overnight
If you see your way blocked by someone and another person is
pressing you from behind, move away. This can happen in the
corridor of the train or on the platform or station.
Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have
been known to drug passengers by offering them food or
drink. Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train
Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be
locked securely, take turns with your traveling companions
sleeping in shifts. If that is not possible, stay awake.
If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage, strap
your valuables to you and sleep on top of them as much as
Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened
in any way. Extra police are often assigned to ride trains
on routes where crime is a serious problem.
Buses. The same type of criminal activity found on trains
can be found on public buses on popular tourist routes. For
example, tourists have been drugged and robbed while
sleeping on buses or in bus stations. In some countries
whole bus loads of passengers have been held up and robbed
by gangs of bandits.
Safety When You Drive
When you rent a car, don't go for the exotic; choose a type
commonly available locally. Where possible, ask that
markings that identify it as a rental car be removed. Make
certain it is in good repair. If available, choose a car
with universal door locks and power windows, features that
give the driver better control of access to the car.
An air conditioner, when available, is also a safety
feature, allowing you to drive with windows closed. Thieves
can and do snatch purses through open windows of moving
Keep car doors locked at all times. Wear seat belts.
As much as possible, avoid driving at night.
Don't leave valuables in the car. If you must carry things
with you, keep them out of sight in the trunk.
Don't park your car on the street overnight. If the hotel
or municipality does not have a parking garage or other
secure area, select a well-lit area.
Never pick up hitchhikers.
Don't get out of the car if there are suspicious individuals
nearby. Drive away.
Patterns of Crime Against Motorists
In many places frequented by tourists, including areas of
southern Europe, victimization of motorists has been refined
to an art. Where it is a problem, U.S. embassies are aware
of it and consular officers try to work with local
authorities to warn the public about the dangers. In some
locations, these efforts at public awareness have paid off,
reducing the frequency of incidents. Ask your rental car
agency for advice on avoiding robbery. Where it is a
problem, they are well aware of it and should tell you how
best to protect yourself.
Carjackers and thieves operate at gas stations, parking
lots, in city traffic, and along the highway. Be suspicious
of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention when
you are in or near your car.
Criminals use ingenious ploys. They may masquerade as good
samaritans, offering help for tires that they claim are flat
or that they have made flat. Or they may flag down a
motorist, ask for assistance, and then steal the rescuer's
luggage or car. Usually they work in groups, one person
carrying on the pretense while the others rob you.
Other criminals get your attention with abuse, either trying
to drive you off the road, or causing an "accident" by rear-
ending you or creating a "fender bender."
In some urban areas, thieves don't waste time on ploys, they
simply smash car windows at traffic lights, grab your
valuables or your car and get away. In cities around the
world, "defensive driving" has come to mean more than
avoiding auto accidents; it means keeping an eye out for
potentially criminal pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter
How to Handle Money Safely
To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, change your
travelers checks only as you need currency. Counter sign
travelers checks only in front of the person who will cash
Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each
Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money,
buy airline tickets, or purchase souvenirs. Do not change
money on the black market.
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
After reporting lost items to the police, report the loss
-- travelers checks to the nearest agent of the issuing
-- credit cards to the issuing company (see page 6).
-- airline tickets to the airline or travel agent.
-- passport to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
How to Avoid Legal Difficulties
When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its
laws and are under its protection -- not the protection of
the U.S. Constitution.
You can be arrested overseas for actions that may be either
legal or considered minor infractions in the United States.
Be aware of what is considered criminal in the country where
you are. Consular Information Sheets (see page 4) include
information on unusual patterns of arrests in various
Some of the offenses for which U.S. citizens have been
arrested abroad are:
Drug Violations. More than 1/3 of U.S. citizens
incarcerated abroad are held on drug charges. Some
countries do not distinguish between possession and
trafficking; many have mandatory sentences -- even for a
small amount of marijuana or cocaine. Although we know of
no U.S. citizens who have been arrested abroad for
prescription drugs purchased in the United States for
personal use and carried in original labeled containers, a
number of Americans have been arrested for possessing
prescription drugs, particularly tranquilizers and
amphetamines, that they purchased legally in certain Asian
countries and took to some countries in the Middle East
where they are illegal. Other U.S. citizens have been
arrested for purchasing prescription drugs abroad in
quantities that local authorities suspected were for
commercial use. If in doubt about foreign drug laws, ask
local authorities or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Possession of Firearms. The places where U.S. citizens most
often come into difficulties for illegal possession of
firearms are nearby -- Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.
Sentences for possession of firearms in Mexico can be up to
30 years. In general, firearms, even those legally
registered in the U.S., cannot be brought into a country
unless a permit is first obtained from the embassy or a
consulate of that country. (Note: If you take firearms or
ammunition to another country, you cannot bring them back
into the U.S. unless you register them with U.S. Customs
before you leave the U.S.)
Photography. In many countries you can be harassed or
detained for photographing such things as police and
military installations, government buildings, border areas,
and transportation facilities. If in doubt, ask permission
before taking photographs.
Purchasing Antiques. Americans have been arrested for
purchasing souvenirs that were, or looked like, antiques and
which local customs authorities believed were national
treasures. Some of the countries where this has happened
were Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico. In countries where antiques
are important, document your purchases as reproductions if
that is the case, or if they are authentic, secure the
necessary export permit (usually from the national museum).
Protection Against Terrorism
Terrorist acts occur at random and unpredictably, making it
impossible to protect oneself absolutely. The first and
best protection is to avoid travel to unsafe areas where
there has been a persistent record of terrorist attacks or
kidnapping. The vast majority of foreign states have good
records of maintaining public order and protecting residents
and visitors within their borders from terrorism.
Most terrorist attacks are the result of long and careful
planning. Just as a car-thief will first be attracted to an
unlocked car with the key in the ignition, terrorists are
looking for defenseless, easily accessible targets who
follow predictable patterns. The chances that a tourist,
traveling with an unpublished program or itinerary, would be
the victim of terrorism are slight -- no more than the
random possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong
time. In addition, many terrorist groups, seeking publicity
for political causes within their own country or region, are
not looking for American targets.
Nevertheless, the pointers below may help you avoid becoming
a "target of opportunity." They should be considered as
adjuncts to the tips listed in the previous sections on how
to protect yourself against the far greater likelihood of
being a victim of ordinary crime. These precautions may
provide some degree of protection, and can serve as
practical and psychological deterrents to would-be
-- Schedule direct flights if possible and avoid stops in
high-risk airports or areas. Consider other options for
travel, such as trains.
-- Be aware of what you discuss with strangers, or what may
be overheard by others.
-- Try to minimize the time spent in the public area of an
airport, which is a less protected area. Move quickly from
the check-in counter to the secured areas. On arrival,
leave the airport as soon as possible.
-- As much as possible, avoid luggage tags, dress, and
behavior which may identify you as an American.
-- Keep an eye out for suspicious abandoned packages or
briefcases. Report them to airport security or other
authorities and leave the area promptly.
-- Avoid obvious terrorist targets such as places where
Americans and Westerners are known to congregate.
Travel to High-Risk Areas
If you must travel in an area where there has been a history
of terrorist attacks or kidnapping, make it a habit to:
-- Discuss with your family what they would do in case of an
emergency, in addition to making sure your affairs are in
order before leaving home.
-- Register with the U.S. embassy or consulate upon arrival.
-- Remain friendly, but be cautious about discussing
personal matters, your itinerary or program.
-- Leave no personal or business papers in your hotel room.
-- Watch for people following you or "loiterers" observing
your comings and goings.
-- Keep a mental note of safehavens, such as police
stations, hotels, hospitals.
-- Let someone else know what your travel plans are. Keep
them informed if you change your plans.
-- Avoid predictable times and routes of travel, and report
any suspicious activity to local police, and the nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate.
-- Select your own taxi cabs at random Ú don't take a cab
that is not clearly identified as a taxi. Compare the face
of the driver with the one posted on his or her license.
-- If possible, travel with others.
-- Be sure of the identity of visitors before opening the
door of your hotel room. Don't meet strangers at unknown or
-- Refuse unexpected packages.
-- Formulate a plan of action for what you will do if a bomb
explodes or there is gunfire nearby.
-- Check for loose wires or other suspicious activity around
-- Be sure your vehicle is in good operating condition in
case you need to resort to high-speed or evasive driving.
-- Drive with car windows closed in crowded streets; bombs
can be thrown through open windows.
-- If you are ever in a situation where somebody starts
shooting, drop to the floor or get down as low as possible.
Don't move until you are sure the danger has passed. Do not
attempt to help rescuers and do not pick up a weapon. If
possible, shield yourself behind or under a solid object.
If you must move, crawl on your stomach.
While every hostage situation is different and the chance of
becoming a hostage is remote, some considerations are
The U.S. government's policy not to negotiate with
terrorists is firm -- to do so would only increase the risk
of further hostage-taking. When Americans are abducted
overseas, we look to the host government to exercise its
responsibility under international law to protect all
persons within its territories and to bring about the safe
release of hostages. We work closely with these governments
from the outset of a hostage-taking incident to ensure that
our citizens and other innocent victims are released as
quickly and safely as possible.
Normally, the most dangerous phases of a hijacking or
hostage situation are the beginning and, if there is a
rescue attempt, the end. At the outset, the terrorists
typically are tense, high-strung and may behave
irrationally. It is extremely important that you remain
calm and alert and manage your own behavior.
-- Avoid resistance, sudden or threatening movements. Do
not struggle or try to escape unless you are certain of
-- Make a concerted effort to relax. Breathe deeply and
prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for
the possibility of a long ordeal.
-- Try to remain inconspicuous, avoid direct eye contact and
the appearance of observing your captors' actions.
-- Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consume little food and
-- Consciously put yourself in a mode of passive
cooperation. Talk normally. Do not complain, avoid
belligerency, and comply with all orders and instructions.
-- If questioned, keep your answers short. Don't volunteer
information or make unnecessary overtures.
-- Don't try to be a hero, endangering yourself and others.
-- Maintain your sense of personal dignity, and gradually
increase your requests for personal comforts. Make these
requests in a reasonable low-key manner.
-- If you are involved in a lengthier, drawn-out situation,
try to establish a rapport with your captors, avoiding
political discussions or other confrontational subjects.
-- Establish a daily program of mental and physical
activity. Don't be afraid to ask for anything you need or
want -- medicines, books, pencils, papers.
-- Eat what they give you, even if it does not look or taste
appetizing. A loss of appetite and weight is normal.
-- Think positively; avoid a sense of despair. Rely on your
inner resources. Remember that you are a valuable
commodity to your captors. It is important to them to keep
you alive and well.
If you plan to stay more than two weeks in one place, if you
are in an area experiencing civil unrest or a natural
disaster, or if you are planning travel to a remote area, it
is advisable to register at the Consular Section of the
nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. This will make it easier
if someone at home needs to locate you urgently or in the
unlikely event that you need to be evacuated in an
emergency. It will also facilitate the issuance of a new
passport should yours be lost or stolen.
Another reason to contact the Consular Section is to obtain
updated information on the security situation in a country.
If you are ill or injured, contact the nearest U.S. embassy
or consulate for a list of local physicians and medical
facilities. If the illness is serious, consular officers
can help you find medical assistance from this list and, at
your request, will inform your family or friends. If
necessary, a consul can assist in the transfer of funds from
the United States. Payment of hospital and other medical
expenses is your responsibility.
If you become destitute overseas, consular officers can help
you get in touch with your family, friends, bank, or
employer and inform them how to wire funds to you.
Should you find yourself in legal difficulty, contact a
consular officer immediately. Consular officers cannot
serve as attorneys, give legal advice, or get you out of
jail. What they can do is provide a list of local attorneys
who speak English and who may have had experience in
representing U.S. citizens. If you are arrested, consular
officials will visit you, advise you of your rights under
local laws, and ensure that you are held under humane
conditions and are treated fairly under local law. A
consular officer will also contact your family or friends if
you desire. When necessary, consuls can transfer money from
home for you and will try to get relief for you, including
food and clothing in countries where this is a problem. If
you are detained, remember that under international
agreements and practice, you have the right to talk to the
U.S. consul. If you are denied this right, be persistent;
try to have someone get in touch for you.
Thank you for taking the time to become an informed
traveler. We wish you a safe and wonderful journey.
For general travel information, the following pamphlets may
be ordered from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402; tel: 202-
783-3238. The price of each publication is $1, except where
Your Trip Abroad (price $1.25)
Travel Tips for Older Americans
Tips for Americans Residing Abroad
Country specific information can be found in the following
Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa
Tips for Travelers to the Caribbean
Tips for Travelers to Central and South America
Tips for Travelers to the People's Republic of China
Tips for Travelers to Mexico
Tips for Travelers to the Middle East and North Africa
Tips for Travelers to South Asia
Tips for Travelers to Russia
The following publications may be ordered from the Consumer
Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009. The price is 50
Foreign Entry Requirements
Passports -- Applying for Them the Easy Way
DEPARTMENT OF STATE PUBLICATION 10110;
Bureau of Consular Affairs;
Revised September 1993
The information in this publication is in the public domain
and may be reproduced without permission. When this
material is reproduced, the Department of State would
appreciate receiving a copy at: CA/P - Room 6831,
Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.
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