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Study Abroad Office

Health & Safety Abroad

It is important for you to take care of your physical and mental health while abroad. Before departing the U.S., you should review the pertinent health and safety information below. There are certain steps you may need to take and forms to complete before leaving the U.S., as well as important tips that could prove beneficial while traveling.


Opting-Out of Global Partner Housing

In accordance with industry standards, USC requires students participating in a Global Partner program to reside in the housing provided by that partner.  We follow this practice to promote the health and safety of students, as independently found housing arrangements do not always represent a safe or positive living experience for the study abroad students whom we support. If you feel your circumstances merit an exception to this policy (e.g. you require accommodations that are not available in program housing), please contact the Study Abroad Office as early in the application process as possible.


By participating in an overseas program sponsored by USC Columbia, students, faculty and staff are required to be enrolled in a specialized emergency medical insurance coverage plan for the duration of their program abroad. Insurance coverage is provided by Cultural Insurance Services International, an organization dedicated to providing insurance specifically to students traveling abroad. This plan is not intended to take the place of your primary health insurance coverage. It is only supplemental and intended to provide coverage specific to overseas travel. Purchasing this insurance coverage is required. Many domestic insurance policies do not cover you while abroad and do not provide assistance in the case of a natural disaster or political uprising, or if you are in a remote area and need to be airlifted to medical facilities. For a complete list of benefits provided by this program, view the CISI Policy Brochure.

Faculty and staff traveling internationally for a university-related purpose in furtherance of study abroad (e.g. leading a Global Classroom, conducting a Global Classroom pre-implementation site visit, visiting a potential exchange partner, etc.) should submit the Faculty/Staff Insurance Enrollment Form for Study Abroad Travel to the SAO 30 days prior to their departure.  The charges for this coverage are calculated in weekly increments at the rate of $9.35/week (as of 8/22/2019).  

Faculty and staff traveling internationally for a university-related purpose that is not connected to study abroad (e.g. conducting research, attending a conference, etc.) should submit the Faculty/Staff Insurance Enrollment Form for Business Travel to the SAO 30 days prior to their departure.  The charges for this coverage are calculated in weekly increments at the rate of $15.75/week (as of 8/22/2019).  

Students will see the charges for this insurance coverage posted to their student account.  The total should be paid in full prior to departure. Please contact the Study Abroad Office by phone or email if you wish for your department to be charged instead of your student account. The cost for this insurance coverage is $30 per calendar month of travel, rounding up to the nearest complete month(s). For example, if a student’s study abroad programs takes place from September 15-December 15, the student will be enrolled from September 1-December 31 and billed $120. 


  • Check the immunization requirements for your destination and make sure you are up to date before departure.

  • You can visit the USC Thomson Student Health Center Travel Clinic for any immunization needs, questions or additional travel health information.

  • Travel Clinic appointments should be scheduled at least eight weeks prior to the date of anticipated travel to ensure that vaccines are administered in time.


  • Bring an adequate supply of medication to last the entire duration of your program, and be sure to bring a copy of any prescriptions or other documentation proving a doctor prescribed you the medication.

  • If your medication needs to be refrigerated, you should contact your airline to ensure it has the ability to refrigerate your medication during your flight.

  • Some medicines may not be available in your host country, or are very difficult to secure. However, you should not ship your medications from home after arrival in your host country. They could be held in customs for months.

  • Research comparable over-the-counter medications in your host country prior to departure. Something like Tylenol/acetaminophen may go by a different name, come in different doses, have different ingredients, or not be available at all.

  • Be sure to speak with your doctor prior to departure to discuss the best plan regarding the transport and use of your medications while abroad.


  • Keep in mind that the typical diet may vary in your host country, and that it may take time for your stomach to adjust. Be careful when consuming tap water (including ice), and consuming raw foods until you know the food standard. Avoid eating street food in developing countries to limit risk of food-borne illness. If you are concerned about a specific dietary requirement or preference, please share it with your study abroad advisor.


  • Mosquitos carry diseases such as Chikungunya, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Zika. There are no cures for any of these diseases, and although the symptoms are usually not life-threatening for otherwise healthy individuals, they can be extremely uncomfortable and could have lasting effects. The best way to reduce your risk of exposure is to prevent mosquito bites. Prior to departure, you should review the precautions to prevent mosquito bites prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studying abroad can be both an exciting and challenging experience for everyone. There are stresses associated with leaving your comfort zone and entering a foreign environment. For those with a current mental health issue, it is beneficial to have conversations with your mental health care provider before departure to ensure resources are in place to address any issues that may arise while your are abroad. Additionally, it is normal for many travelers, whether they have previously experienced a mental health issue or not, to experience new challenges and emotions that may impact their mental well-being. Here are a few guidelines and resources to better address mental health needs:

  • Meet with your mental health provider prior to departure to discuss any anxieties, depression, or other mental health issues that may impact your experience. Such conversations can help in identifying resources in a study abroad destination.

  • Feeling bouts of homesickness and loneliness can be common while studying abroad. Maintaining a strong support system at home and abroad can help cope with those feelings.

  • Culture shock can be difficult for many students. Keep in mind that part of studying abroad is learning about and experiencing new cultures, and that you will soon adapt to your new surroundings.

If you feel like you or a friend would benefit from additional resources prior to studying abroad, contact the USC Counseling Center at any time. Additionally, if you or a friend experience mental health issues while abroad, please reach out to the main Study Abroad Office at 803-777-7557 or to any of the staff in our office.  

Anxious, stressed and/or sad while abroad? Sign up for Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) wherever you are and receive access to evidence based educational modules and practice tools that can help. Learn stress management, mindfulness skills, problem-solving and more while abroad. For more information, visit  Student Health Services and be sure to use the enrollment key: StudyAbroad#2018. Therapy Anytime, Anywhere!

Remember that sexual health may be addressed differently in the country to which you are traveling. If you choose to be sexually active, it is important that you take control of your sexual health. Here are a few guidelines to address sexual health needs:

  • Contraceptives such as condoms may not be regulated or readily available in other countries. If you use these in the U.S., it is best to bring a supply from home to be better prepared.

  • If you take birth control, speak with your doctor before departure to secure an adequate supply for the duration of your program. If you are unable to do so, research equivalents in your host country and the best manner to secure it. (See the Immunizations & Medications tab above for more information regarding prescriptions.)

  • Just as in the United States, STI/STDs and HIV/AIDS are present abroad. Maintain safe sex practices abroad to reduce your risk. The only guaranteed form of protection from disease and pregnancy is abstinence.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind while abroad to keep you as safe as possible:

  • Be alert. 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.

  • Guard 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. Avoid traveling alone when possible and never travel with strangers. Always inform somebody you know (a friend, director, host) of your travel plans and basic itinerary.

  • Lower your profile. In certain countries, foreigners or Americans are assumed to be wealthy, which heightens 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.

  • 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.

It is important to remember that laws and customs regarding drugs and alcohol vary abroad and ignorance to the local laws does not excuse you from its jurisdiction. Here are some tips to protect yourself:

  • Pay attention to the drinking culture and laws. While the drinking age may be lower in some countries, it may be frowned upon to consume alcohol quickly or in large quantities. Conversely, alcohol consumption is illegal for people of all ages in some countries.

  • Even if it is legal for you to consume alcohol in your host country, do not consume excessive quantities as intoxication puts your safety at risk. Intoxicated travelers are more likely to be victims of crime or injure themselves due to alcohol-related incidents.

  • Stay in a group. Don’t leave an intoxicated friend alone.

  • Abstain from all types of drug possession or use while abroad, even if it may be legal in the country. Drug laws in some countries can be very strict, with some leading to mandatory imprisonment or even the death penalty.

  • Never accept a package from a stranger, or offer to deliver an unknown item. You may unknowingly be involved in a drug smuggling operation.

If you are arrested abroad the Study Abroad Office, nor the U.S. government, can get you out of jail. You will be subject to the laws of arrest in that country and may have limited, or no, access to a U.S. representative, lawyer, phone call, etc.

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.

Traveling in an area that draw large crowds, but lacks a robust security apparatus, can carry heightened risk.  Additionally, terrorism can occur anywhere in the world. In order to promote your own health and safety, the following tips are recommended.

  • Do not participate or loiter in the vicinity of protests and demonstrations

  • Maintain higher vigilance when in crowded areas or using public transportation

  • Keep your mobile phone charged and with you and be responsive to messages from your program/USC

  • Memorize on-site emergency contact information

  • Check in with your program staff if you are planning to travel away from your program location and follow any guidelines or regulations they have

  • Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into your travel plans and activities

  • Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency

While traveling around a foreign city, or in between countries, you should remember the following transportation tips:

  • Avoid traveling late at night, particularly alone.

  • Use official transportation when available. Never hitchhike or use unregistered taxis.

  • Pay attention to the flow of traffic and speed regulations, and do not listen to headphones while walking in public.

We recommend against renting a car and/or driving in a foreign country.  Unfamiliar traffic patterns, driving laws, and styles of driving can present health and safety hazards to study abroad students.  Additionally, automobile insurance in foreign countries is not necessarily as comprehensive.

If you are ever a victim of sexual assault while abroad, you can contact your on-site program staff, the Study Abroad OfficeUSC Police, or USC's office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention. 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 Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention or Counseling Services.

When traveling, it is important to keep your electronic devices as secure as possible.  Data that you carry may be valuable to individuals, foreign governments, and other entiities.  The use of unsecured networks, as well as the physical threats of damage to or theft or your devices are heightened while traveling.  

Consider taking these steps before you leave the United States:

  • Back up your data and keep a copy of it in a secure location.  As possible, delete all sensitive information from your device (e.g. any sensitive personal information or proprietary institutional data, etc.) and password protect or encrypt anything that you cannot remove.
  • Change your UofSC network password and change passwords for your frequently-accessed sites (e.g. email accounts, etc.).  Ensure multi-factor authentication is installed and you have a way to use this mechanism while abroad.
  • Update all software, and ensure that you have up to date anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software installed.
  • Ensure that your internet browsers are set to not remember passwords.
  • Turn off Bluetooth.
  • Be aware that in some countries, businesses and/or governments may attempt to steal valuable intellectual information saved on your device.  Be aware which countries carry a heightened risk for this activity and if visiting one, avoid bringing sensitive information.

Consider taking these steps while you are abroad:

  • Remember that at points of entry and exit, countries claim a right to search and seize your technology.  If you experience this, comply with the official's request.  Once there is a resolution, please contact UofSC.
  • Remember that public networks should not be trusted.
  • Remember that in some countries, governments may monitor your internet use without informing you.  Do not assume your internet presence or your internet conversations are private.
  • Be cautious with your electronic devices at all times, especially in crowded and public places.
  • Assume that any computer you use, other than your own, is unprotected.

Consider taking these steps after you return to the United States:

  • Change your UofSC network password and change passwords for your frequently-accessed sites (e.g. email accounts, etc.). 

While nearly everyone looks forward to documenting their travelers through photography, it is important to keep certain cultural and legal considerations in mind, as norms around photography can greatly vary across the globe.

  • In some areas, taking photographs of individuals (especially women) is considered culturally inappropriate and may cause offense.  In other places, individuals may expect a tip if you take a photograph of them.  At some cultural or religious sites, or in some museums, it may be inappropriate to take photographs or use selfie sticks.  When in doubt, always ask before snapping a picture.
  • Sometimes, there are legal issues surrounding photography.  Do not take pictures of military facilities or in secure government facilities, such as the airport security line.  Depending on where you are, it might be illegal to photograph government buildings or certain religious structures.  If you see a sign or receive a warning not to take a photograph, abide by it.  Ignoring such restrictions may result in the confiscation of your camera or even your arrest.


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