Preparing to Teach English Abroad: Travel Safety

Preparing to Teach English Abroad: Travel Safety

In Canada, we take safety for granted, but the reality is that travelling outside your home country does bring some risks. Do not think, 'It can't or won't happen to me.' It's very unpleasant to consider the possibility of danger when thinking about how exciting it is to be in a new place. However, the fact remains that consequences can be more severe and unpleasant because it is a new place and should, therefore, be more seriously considered. Our advice to you is to try to think, 'It can happen to me' and then act even more responsibly than you would at home.

Review this checklist before you travel overseas, to help ensure that you have a safe experience.

Personal Safety

We advise you to take the following steps to ensure your safety while abroad:

  • Make copies of your travel documents - passport and visas. Keep copies in a safe place (separated from the original documents) and leave a copy in your home country with someone you trust.
  • Fill out the emergency information section of your passport. Do not list someone who will be travelling with you as an emergency contact. Carry extra passport photos - this can help to ease the process of replacing a lost or stolen passport once you are overseas.
  • Be sure that a parent or emergency contact also has a valid passport in case of an emergency. They should be prepared to be able to get to your foreign location in less than 24 hours if necessary.
  • Make copies of your traveller's cheques and credit cards including customer service phone numbers and account numbers; keep copies in a safe place (separated from the originals), and leave a copy in Canada with someone you trust. If these are stolen, you will be able to call companies to put a hold on your accounts and replace them. Many have numbers that you can call collect from abroad, so check with your providers before you leave.
  • Become familiar with the basic laws and customs of the country you plan to visit before you travel. Do not assume that because it is legal in your home nation, it is legal everywhere. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
  • Canadian citizens should register with the Canadian embassy in the country in which they are travelling or studying.
  • Be particularly protective of your personal possessions and your new accommodations during the first week or two after your arrival. Most often, victims of petty crime are those who have only been in a foreign country for a short time, and as such are still somewhat disoriented or unsure of themselves.
  • Consider purchasing a portable smoke and carbon monoxide detector as accommodations in some countries may not have these devices installed.
  • Try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going so that you are less easily identified as a newcomer.
  • Avoid public demonstrations, even peaceful ones. If there should be any political unrest, don't get involved. Unsuspecting guests sometimes find themselves in downtown areas during protests. If this occurs, you should leave the area immediately.
  • Whether you are on foot or in a car, be aware of everyone around you and assess their probable intentions. This means occasionally looking behind you.
  • If you're being approached by a potentially threatening person, make some radical or abrupt change in your speed or direction, or cross the street.
  • Try to walk in groups of four or more, especially at night or in areas with high crime rates. In most cases, the bigger your group, the safer you are.
  • Avoid places where someone could be hidden (bushes, recessed doorways, back alleys, etc.), especially if you are alone.
  • As you walk, especially at night, be aware of good escape routes. Avoid wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry. Remember that your life is more valuable than any of your possessions.
  • Learn what the locals do to protect themselves (neighbourhoods to avoid, places that are known to be safe, where to walk, where to shop, etc.)
  • Take nothing of great value with you when you go out and try to carry as little cash as possible.
  • Never keep all of your important documents and money together in one place or in only one suitcase.
  • Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items. At the same time, don't carry excessive amounts of cash or any unnecessary credit cards.
  • Keep informed of current political situations. In an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media.

Remember there are things that increase your risk of being a victim. Some of the things that increase your risk are:

  • Being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs;
  • Being alone at night;
  • Being in an isolated area;
  • Being asleep in an unlocked or public place;
  • Being new to the country;
  • Being unable to speak the local language.

Learn the transport system so you'll know how to get home.

  • Do not hitchhike.
  • Do not ride bikes in the city or on crowded streets - you could be hit by a car.
  • Taxis are not safe everywhere, especially late at night. Read guidebooks and ask locals about the taxis.
  • Avoid being alone on trains. If, for example, you suddenly find yourself alone in a train car, move to another one where other people are sitting.
  • Do not leave your bags or belongings unattended at any time. Security personnel in airports and train stations are instructed to remove or destroy any unattended luggage.
  • Do not agree to carry or look after packages or suitcases for anyone.

Emergencies and Emergency Procedures

Fortunately, true emergencies are actually quite rare. You may lose your luggage, your plane ticket, or even your passport while you are abroad. While any of those occurrences would certainly be inconvenient, none is an emergency. Emergencies are situations in which there is an immediate threat to a student or staff member's health and/or safety.

We advise you to:

Make sure you know how to use the telephone and have a calling card or other means of using the telephone in the country that you visit.

Again, we recommend that you ask your parent(s) or designated emergency contact to obtain a passport so that they'll be prepared if they need to go abroad to help you in an emergency.

While abroad, you'll want to be able to communicate with your parents and others directly about your safety and well-being. People need to know how to get in touch with you, especially if you are away from the city you are placed in or travelling on your own. If there is a serious illness or death in your family, your family will want to be able to reach you. Even if there is a crisis in Canada or elsewhere in the world, loved ones will often want to hear your voice and make sure you are okay.

We advise you to:

Develop a plan for regular telephone calls and/or email contact with your family and others with whom you wish to stay in contact. Develop your plan before your departure. Make sure that someone always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency, and knows your schedule and itinerary when you are travelling.

Informational Resources/Links

There are many online resources that provide safety information for travellers in general or specifically for study abroad students. Some of those resources, which we advise you to consult, are listed below; we advise you to consult any and all which may be appropriate.

Association for Safe International Road Travel -

Federal Aviation Administration - This site has security tips for travellers as well as information on a variety of aviation safety topics. Handbook for Students -

Canadian Government Offices Abroad -

Travel Reports and Warnings from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada -