International travel can be more complex and entail greater risk than other travel. You may be in unfamiliar surroundings, in a new culture, and with varying levels of support that differ from what you're accustomed to at home. Health, safety, and security risks vary in environments abroad and it is important to be adequately prepared. This page provides information and resources to prepare for your trip. You can also schedule an individualized itinerary review with the international risk management team to get customized advice and guidance on your trip.

Health and well-being while traveling

International travel presents unique health risks. Some regions have endemic diseases and health risks that may not be present in your home. It is important to make sure you are getting proper immunization, prophylactic medications, and medical advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a public tool to provide health alerts and information as well as required, recommended, and routine vaccinations by destination country, but visiting a medical provider is the best way to prepare.

The best way to prepare for the health risks is to visit a travel clinic. Travel clinics are specialized healthcare facilities offering a range of services designed to address the unique health risks associated with international travel.  Prior to departure, travel health professionals may review your specific travel plans, medical history, and destination health risks to provide personalized recommendations for vaccines, medications, and preventative measures. 

One of the primary services offered by travel clinics is travel vaccinations.  They can provide travelers with essential immunizations such as those for typhoid, hepatitis, and yellow fever, as well as prescribe prophylactic medications for diseases such as malaria.  Additionally, clinics can offer guidance on general health precautions, food and water safety, insect-borne diseases, and altitude sickness preventions, tailored to your needs based upon your destination.

The CDC offers a tool to search for travel clinics, but here are a couple of options located in Ames:

McFarland Clinic offers a travel clinic is available to all travelers.

Thielen Student Health Clinic offer travel clinic services to ISU students.

It is recommended to schedule a travel clinic appointment at least 4-6 weeks prior to travel. Some immunizations require time before they offer protection or require a series of injections over months, some medications may need to be ordered by your pharmacy, and some visa applications require proof of immunization prior to applying for your visa.

Immunization is a great way to protect yourself from health risks, but some vaccines are required by authorities to travel to the country. In many parts of Africa and South America one of the most common required vaccines is for yellow fever. You must obtain this vaccine prior to traveling to these countries or you will not be permitted to enter the country and may be denied boarding your flight.

Vaccines for yellow fever are only available at certain clinic, so plan ahead and ensure that you allow enough time to book an appointment before you depart. The CDC estimates that it takes roughly 10 days after vaccination for an individual to be fully protected against yellow fever.  Vaccine certificates issued for destinations which require them will not be valid until 10 days after inoculation.

In rare instances, some individuals should not be given the yellow fever vaccine.  Consult with your physician or a travel health professional if you have any concerns about receiving the vaccine.

Entering foreign countries with prescription medications requires special considerations and advance planning.  Different countries have different restrictions on bringing medications through customs and may have different controlled substances laws than the United States.  Certain prescription medications may also be unavailable in your destination country.

If you are currently taking a prescription medication, take enough of your medication to last for the duration of your travel.  Medications cannot be shipped internationally and overseas pharmacies generally cannot and will not refill U.S. prescriptions.  Discuss your travel arrangements with your healthcare provider to ensure you have a sufficient supply before you depart.  You may need to contact your health insurance company to arrange a larger-than-usual prescription authorization.

All prescription medications must be in their original packaging and must be accompanied by their original prescription and must include your name.  Consider carrying a doctor’s note explaining the need for the prescription medications you have packed in English and, if possible, the language of your destination.

Certain prescribed medications which are common in the U.S., such as those to manage chronic or severe pain, ADHD, or psychosis may be unavailable or even illegal in certain countries.  Contact the Global Assistance and Insurance Program to determine the legal status of any medications that you are currently taking and alternative arrangements that may be possible.

While general travel advice recommends taking certain over-the-counter pain relieve or digestive medications with you, ingredients in certain medications, particularly cold medicines, contain restricted ingredients.  Research the restrictions for your destination or consider buying such medicines in-country.

Traveling abroad, whether as an experienced traveler or for the first time, brings inherent stressors from changes in culture, language, diet, climate, or even elevation and air quality.  Extended travel also results in the loss of a support network, regular routine, and familiar environment.  Any one or combination of these factors can impact a traveler’s mental health.  Prepare ahead of time and have a plan to address difficulties that arise while traveling abroad.

Establish a support system at home and make sure you have someone you can contact if issues arise.  If you’re currently seeing a mental health provider, discuss your travel plans with them to make a mental health care plan if you will be gone for an extended period of time.

ISU students, faculty, and staff have access to TAO, an online mental health self-help platform.

If you need mental health support while traveling abroad, contact the Global Assistance & Insurance Program for assistance.

Each country has its own laws regarding accessibility for or discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.  Accommodations and infrastructure for disability can vary widely, and many developing countries by have none whatsoever.  Become familiar with the circumstances of your destination prior to departure.

Mobility International USA is an excellent resource for travelers with disabilities.

Personal safety while traveling

Being aware of your surroundings and monitoring for potential risks is an important way to stay safe. Maintain situational awareness by staying vigilant and aware of current conditions and your surroundings.

  • Be mindful of your belongings.
  • Avoid behaviors that may attract unnecessary attention, such as displaying large amounts of cash or valuable items.  Avoid wearing expensive looking jewelry or accessories. Exercise additional caution when using an ATM.
  • Be cautious of gathering crowds or unusual activities or persons in public spaces.  Trust your instincts; if a situation feels uncomfortable or unsafe, remove yourself from it and seek assistance if needed.
  • Avoid distractions while walking such as listening to music or looking at your phone.
  • Plan routes ahead of time to avoid getting lost.
  • Do not travel alone, at night, and inebriated.

Crafting in advance a well-defined communication plan is essential for maintaining connectivity, especially in emergency situations.

“911” abroad

Emergency services in other countries are usually not reached by dialing 911 as they are in the United States, and many countries have separate numbers for police, fire, and ambulance services.  Know the local emergency numbers for your destination before you arrive. The U.S. State Department maintains a list of emergency numbers abroad (PDF) and Wikipedia also has a list. Save in your phone the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Emergency communications

Designate an emergency contact in the U.S. before leaving and know how to reach your points of contact and emergency contacts at your destination, as well as the 24/7 emergency assistance line maintained by the Global Assistance and Insurance Program. Your domestic phone plan may not function abroad or may incur significant fees for use.  If you intend to use your domestic plan abroad, discuss your international plan options with your carrier.

Your designated emergency contacts should know how to contact you while you are traveling, including a secondary option such as the contact information for a in-country partner, host family, or hotel. Set expectations with your emergency contacts about how often you will check in and how quickly they should expect a response if they contact you while you’re traveling.

Fire safety regulations and emergency response differ throughout the world.  Some countries may have much lower standards than is typical in the U.S., while others may have no fire safety regulations at all.  Buildings may not have been designed with fire safety in mind, and fire crews may have limited resources to respond.

If possible, choose accommodation that allows for easy egress in the event of a fire.  Avoid upper floors or rooms with barred windows.  Know the locations of fire escapes and fire extinguishers.  Ensure that fire extinguishers and, if present, smoke detectors are functional.

Plan an escape route and implement a fire safety routine.  Check nightly to ensure electrical circuits are not overloaded, cooking implements are off, and candles are extinguished.

If you are caught in a fire, do not panic.  Move quickly to exit the building; do not waste time dressing or collective valuables.  Check doors for heat before opening them; a hot door indicates fire on the other side.  Stay low to remain below the smoke; if you must cross through smoke, cover your nose and mouth with a wet shirt or towel.  Never use an elevator during a fire.

If you cannot exit a building during a fire, stuff wet towels, blankets, and clothing around the base of the door, move to a window, and open it.  Call the local emergency number and tell them where you are located in the building.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, road traffic crashes are the leading cause of unnatural death for U.S. citizens abroad.  This includes accidents involving drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Road conditions abroad vary significantly and often present extraordinary hazards. Roads may be poorly maintained, drivers may be poorly trained, and vehicles may be ill-equipped. To learn more about road conditions in your destination, you can contact the international risk management team to obtain a driving safety report for your destination.

When traveling by road:

  • Always utilize vehicles with enclosed compartments and safety belts. Avoid motorcycles, rickshaws, tuktuks, minibuses, and other unsafe vehicles.
  • Do not travel between cities after dark.
  • Keep vehicle windows rolled up and doors locked at all times.
  • In many countries it is safest to rely on a hired driver rather than drive yourself, especially in countries with more hazardous road conditions.
    • If driving yourself, attempt to utilize the ISU contracted providers when possible. Unlike domestic rentals, travelers should obtain insurance from the rental company when renting a vehicle abroad.
  • Only rely on transportation that operates on a fixed schedule or can be scheduled in advance.

While driving can be hazardous, most road fatalities are pedestrians.  Be aware of traffic patterns at your destination, as vehicles may signal differently, drive faster or slower, or travel a different side of the road than what you are used to in the U.S.  Only walk in places where you can be easily seen and wear reflective clothing if you decide to jog at between dusk and dawn.  Be particularly alert at intersections.

Public transportation can be an excellent option in many countries but can be very unsafe in others. Public transportation is often crowded, presenting an opportunity for thieves and pickpockets.  In some countries, public transportation consists of overcrowded, overweight, and top-heavy buses or vans which frequently travel at unsafe speed.  Public transportation can also present increased risk for female or LGBTQIA+ travelers.

Exercise caution and good judgment when swimming while abroad.  In many developing countries, emergency services may not be readily available, and lifeguards may not be common.  River and ocean currents may be much swifter and more dangerous than they appear, and signage indicating dangerous beaches may not be present.  Seasonal rains may also cause currents to rapidly change in strength and speed.

You should not consumer alcohol before or during swimming or other water-related activities, and never swim alone.  When possible, swim only at designated beaches with lifeguards present and heed all signage and lifeguard instruction.  Never dive headfirst into an unfamiliar body of water. Be realistic about your swimming abilities.

When engaging in other water-related activities, such as boating, exercise caution and always wear a life jacket.

Security risks while traveling

The United States is a multicultural, multiethnic, diverse nation, and travelers from the U.S. reflect this diversity.  However, when traveling to any country, you should consider aspects of your identity and how these may be perceived and treated in the local culture.  Understand laws, social norms, cultural mores, and local practices in your destination before departure to understand what challenges you may face and mitigate any potential risks. You can find links to resources on identity-based risks in the policies and resources section at the bottom of this page.

LGBTQIA+ Travelers

LGBTQIA+ travelers may face unique challenges when traveling internationally.  In some places, people may be more open and accepting than in mainstream U.S. culture.  In others, being identified as LGBTQIA+ could put you at legal risk or be dangerous.  Laws and attitudes in some countries may affect safety and ease of travel.  Legal protections vary from country to country.

Remember that while abroad, you are subject to the laws of your destination country.  Dozens of countries consider consensual same-sex relations a crime, sometimes carrying severe punishment, including death.  Many others also criminalize public gathering and dissemination of pro-LGBTQIA+ material, among other things relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.

While rare, police in some countries monitor websites, mobile apps, or meeting places frequented by LGBTQIA+ people, so watch for entrapment campaigns.  Be wary of newfound “friends” who are eager to meet you alone; criminals may target or attempt to extort LGBTQIA+ foreigners.

Female and Gender-Based Traveler Safety

In some destinations women travels may face additional health and security risks.  Cultural differences might be reflected in expectations about women’s clothing and appearance.

Avoid unsafe situations and think proactively about a safety plan if you find yourself in one.  Avoid walking outside alone at night and minimize use of overly-crowded public transportation.  Utilize trusted taxis or apps which allow for friends or family to track your ride, and be sure that the driver follows the correct route.

Be cognizant of situations in which someone may attempt to victimize you.  When in establishments that serve alcohol, always watch your drinking and do not accept drinks from strangers. 

Some countries may criminalize reproductive health services.  Consider that some women’s health and feminine hygiene products may be difficult to obtain at your destination.  Some countries also penalize individuals who are pregnant outside of marriage.  Some airlines my not allow individuals in later stages of pregnancy to board an aircraft without medical documentation that they are cleared to fly.

Racially and Ethnically Diverse Travelers

You may face additional risk in some countries based on your ethnicity, national origin, or race.  Foreign laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin may be different from those in the U.S., may not be enforced, or may not exist altogether.  Travelers may be subject to surveillance, racial or ethnic profiling, detentions, increased questioning, and requests for identification.  Always carry proof of citizenship, such as a copy of your passport, and legal entry, such as a copy of your visa.

Customs and norms in other countries can be quite different from those in the United States.  Some countries prohibit certain behaviors, ways of dressing, or specific speech, or find some behaviors acceptable which would not be in the U.S.  Travelers may be exposed to discrimination, slurs, hate speech, or hate crimes.  In destinations where people of diverse appearance are uncommon, you may also be openly stared at, be stopped in the street, be asked for photos or have your photo taken without your consent, have your skin and hair touched without your consent, or be asked uncomfortable or invasive questions.  Try to remain calm and remove yourself from the situation if you feel unsafe.

Travelers may be subjected to additional forms of discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and prohibited entry to privately owned facilities such as hotels and restaurants.

Many countries have financial systems that operate differently from the United States.  Some may readily accept foreign credit cards, while others rely primarily on proprietary payment systems that require a local bank, and still others are almost entirely cash based.  Be sure to have a diversity of payment options with you. 

Bring some amount of U.S. currency into the country with you that you can exchange for local currency if your ATM card does not work.  Ask your bank for the newest, most crisp $100 bills they have, as many currency changers will not accept old or damaged bills or small denominations.

When withdrawing cash, use ATMs located within reputable banks or secure areas such as a hotel lobby to minimize the risk of skimming devices or theft.  Consider limiting ATM usage to daylight hours when access to assistance is more readily available.

Divide your cash, carrying no more than you need on your person and keep the rest in a secure location in your accommodation.  When paying with cash in public, be careful not to show that you may be carrying relatively large amounts.

Avoid carrying large amounts of currency greater than $10,000 across international borders as it may be prohibited or cause concerns with customs authorities.

You may be at greater risk of cybersecurity threats while traveling abroad. Depending on your type of trip and destination you may need to do a few simple things or work with IT Services to bring secure devices. You can find additional guidance from IT Security.

Faculty, researchers, and employees should also consult with office of research integrity’s guidelines on international travel.

Prior to travel, ensure your devices are updated with the latest security patches and antivirus software to guard against digital threats. Use unique, strong passwords on all accounts, and use a password manager if you find multiple passwords difficult to remember. Make sure all of your devices require a password or passcode to access them.

Be mindful of what you post on social media. Avoid disclosing your precise travel itinerary and refrain from posting photos of important documents like passports, visas, or boarding passes. Do not take photos of sensitive sites and personnel, such as those relating to the military, police, airports, and government buildings. Posting content which is political in nature or critical of the government of your destination country may also draw unwanted attention and scrutiny and may even result in legal consequences.

For certain high-risk destinations, consider leaving unnecessary devices at home.  Individuals traveling to these countries on university business may be able to obtain a clean device from IT Services depending on their circumstances.  Some travelers working in certain disciplines may need to comply with export control regulations.  Contact international risk management with questions relating to high-risk destinations and technology.