While it’s common for travelers to focus their concerns on violent crime, kidnapping or terrorism, the most common crimes abroad are petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing and non-violent theft.
In a foreign culture, it is more challenging to read situations and to assess risks to your physical safety than it is at home.
- Focus on situational awareness. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times, but even more so when in crowded areas such as on public transportation, in busy tourist destinations, and in other high-traffic areas. Pick-pocketers can be a child or adult and can blend easily into large crowds.
- Watch your possessions. Do not leave a phone or wallet on a table unattached to yourself. Do not leave luggage unattended, especially in airports. Make multiple copies of important documents such as your passport and visa.
- Use the buddy system. There is safety in numbers, especially when traveling in a foreign area. In certain areas, it may be advisable to not travel alone. Especially when solo traveling, always inform somebody you know (a friend, director, host) of your travel plans and basic itinerary.
- Lower your profile. In some countries, travelers and/or Americans are assumed to be wealthy, which may increase the risk of being targeted for theft. Do not wear expensive jewelry when traveling and do not make expensive possessions (e.g. cameras, cell phones, etc.) easily accessible to someone walking by, as thieves can easily take something like a phone out of travelers’ hands.
- Trust your instincts. When in a situation that feels dangerous, always trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up or leave. Your safety is more important that hurting someone’s feelings!
- Know key phrases. It’s a good idea to know a few basic phrases in the native language of each country you visit, such as "Yes", "No", "Thank you", “Hello”, “Where is the bathroom?”, “Do you speak English,” “Where can I find a bus/taxi/train/metro?”, “Can you show me on the map?”, “I need help”, “Please call the police,” and “Please call the American Embassy.”
- Avoid protests. While demonstrations and protests can be interesting, they can deteriorate into violence with little warning. Furthermore, it is illegal to hold demonstrations in some countries and illegal for foreigners to participate in demonstrations in other countries. Even as a bystander you stand the risk of fines or incarceration depending on the country’s laws, or you can be an easy target if the demonstration deteriorates into violence. The best way to stay safe is to avoid the area entirely.
- Attitudes towards gender & sexual orientation. Culturally normative behavior for specific genders varies across the globe, as does
the perception on interaction between genders. Make sure to research the cultural
norms of the country to which you are traveling.
- Research common dress and culturally normative behavior between men and women before you depart to enhance your knowledge of the culture you'll be visiting.
- Research the political and social opinions, as well as laws, regarding members of the LGBTQ community in your host country.
- Catcalling is a cultural norm in many parts of the world. This may be extremely uncomfortable, but does not always represent a threat to your immediate safety. However, contact authorities if you ever feel that your immediate safety is threatened.
- Some foreigners may associate a friendly smile as romantic interest. It’s okay to not acknowledge others when passing by on the street.
- When meeting an unfamiliar person, do so in a public place such as a café or major landmark.
- Above all, trust your instincts. If a situation feels unsafe, remove yourself from it, even if that makes you feel rude.
- Sexual Assault. If you are a victim/survivor of sexual assault while abroad, you can contact your on-site program staff, the Education Abroad Office, USC Police, or USC's Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention & Prevention office. Please be aware that any staff member employed by the University in a division other than Student Health Services is a mandatory reporter and required to report a sexual assault involving a student to the USC Office of Equal Opportunity Programs to help ensure the student is safe and connected with all available resources at USC. We can keep a student’s disclosure private, but not strictly confidential. For confidential reporting, please contact the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention office or Counseling Services.