GET SET: Prepare Yourself
1. Guard Your Personal Info: The US Department of State is reviewing the risk of personal profile pictures and age on foreign student exchange profiles. Foreign exchange and travel abroad students have been placed in the homes of known felons inside America. It happens abroad too.
Your cute photo and age on a student profile is not necessary. Does your abroad program do criminal background checks of your homestays and chaperones? Unknown felons should not be given a pick list of beautiful young ones to select from.
“More than 2,000 children have been victims of systematic grooming for sex but many agencies are not doing enough to tackle the problem…” ~GMA News 2011
2. Insurance: Don’t assume your health insurance is enough. Purchase international healthcare, medical assistance, security and repatriation services from a reputable provider. It’s a relatively low cost investment to safeguard your health and minimize security risks abroad. Some offer international hotline and emergency evacuation during natural disasters or other threats. (Please check with your medical provider before going abroad. You might consider supplementing with CSA, International SOS or HTH Worldwide.)
You’ll need to read the fine print and check the reputation of your insurer. Berkeley Care would not pay accidental death insurance for a student death abroad – by their definition, because of illness. Check your vaccinations – don’t be a victim of meningitis!
You can be guilty until proven innocent while abroad. For this reason, some programs recommend kidnap and ransom insurance. Review the case of Amanda Knox’s murder trial. Read the fine print.
“A student from New York would pay about $160 for $1 million worth of ISOS coverage for a four month trip to Japan.” ~New York Times, April 15, 2011
3. Healthcare: Many students trust their programs to advocate for them and get them healthcare when they are ill. It doesn’t always happen. Be aware that bacterial infections and serious illnesses are higher risks in densely populated areas – H1N1, community bacterial pneumonia, etc. If you get sick, get appropriate help, and notify your emergency contact.
Be cautious of healthcare in third world countries – rely on your US Consulate or insurer. Double check your insurance – many global travelers are shocked to learn they have no health coverage for illness or injuries abroad.
Dental hygiene, eye care, physicals and immunizations are recommended prior to departure.
“Health insurance should be portable.” ~John Mackey, Cofounder Whole Foods.
4. Medications: If you take medications, have a prescription in the foreign language and your physician’s contact information. Translators may be necessary. Keep your prescriptions in the official containers. Travel with your prescriptions and medications in separate locations in case a bag is lost or stolen. A letter from your doctor explaining why you take medication or carry sharps (needles) can help you avoid problems entering customs. Some medications are illegal in foreign countries. You’ll need to find out.
Travelers never think that they are the foreigners. ~Mason Cooley
5. E-FILES: Deposit your passport, bank card, insurance card, driver’s license and emergency contacts online in a repository like Drop Box or with your trip insurer. If your wallet or identification is lost or stolen you can retrieve them electronically.
Guard your credit card and personal info at all times. If lost, contact your embassy or consular immediately. Do not wait! Replacing a passport can cost $80-150. A temporary passport to get you home is free.
“According to the Privacy Rights Center, up to 10 million Americans are victims of ID theft each year.”
6. Emergency Contact: An emergency contact card in your wallet or on your person is valuable. Please be sure the emergency contact on your passport is valid. They may also need ‘legal’ approval to advocate for you in case of severe illness or injury.
An active passport for your emergency contact is a must in case they need to get to you. They should have a contingency plan in case they have to leave abruptly to reach you – work, home, pets, daycare, etc. You might consider using or modifying the US Department of Homeland Security’s Family Emergency Plan developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA.
You have the right to phone home. Don’t be discouraged from contacting your loved ones. Set-up a schedule to stay in touch. Skype is a great option to let your loved ones see your healthy self. There are low cost Wi-Fi finder apps that will help you connect back home. Or, you can purchase a wireless internet device from a carrier in the country you are visiting to stay connected.
You should know how to dial your emergency contact abroad without third party help – international dialing plans are different. Disposable phones are generally not hard to find or overly expensive. Phones purchased in America may or may not work abroad. If they don’t – a disposable phone is an easy option. Your emergency contacts should be in your one button speed dial. Test it to make certain it works.
“Being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety and losses that accompany disasters.” ~FEMA.gov website
7. Emergency Services: You and your chaperones/teachers should have contact numbers for the US embassy / consular abroad. Chaperones have been known to break the law and have criminal histories. You may not be able to count on your chaperone, teacher, guide etc. during bad times. If not, what is your plan B?
Check with the US Department of State for the US Embassy nearest you. Keep your US Embassy consular’s name, address and phone number with you at all times.
You should also know how to dial emergency services abroad. It’s different almost everywhere else. (119 in Japan for example.)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not advise dialing emergency services in some third world countries.
“Be Prepared!” ~Boy Scouts of America
8. Contingency Plan: In anti-USA sentiment areas the US Embassy may or may not be the safest place to get to. Talk with your loved ones to have a contingency or emergency plan and repatriation assistance to help you. Register your trip at www.travel.state.gov.
In times of natural disaster or international unrest – 9/11 for example, rely on the US Department of State for guidance. Trust your safety to the experts.
“Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” ~Arnold Glasgow
9. Voice: Families should check that their homeowners insurance covers liable and slander. When children and students are harmed abroad, families need to speak out. Having liable and slander insurance protects your right to do that by providing legal counsel and insurance against potential lawsuits. Lawsuits have to be defended, even when there is no merit. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) define defamation suits that are often meritless and abused.
“We must remain vigilant to ensure that there remains a proper balance between libel law and the First Amendment.” ~Freedom Forum
10. Small Affordable Products to Consider:
- smart home door stop
- vibration-sensing window alarm
- portable smoke alarm
- portable ladder
- portable siren
- shoulder bag with anti-theft zipper locks
- computer cable lock
- money pouch or belt