Safety Abroad

The University of Michigan-Flint recognizes the importance of establishing policies and procedures to help facilitate the safety and well-being of education abroad participants and facutly or staff leaders. While acknowledging that no single plan can address all contingencies, below are a few of the ways UM-Flint strives to keep education abroad, before and during students' participation, as safe as possible:

  • The U-M International Travel Policy is a system-wide policy that applies to faculty, staff and all students traveling outside of the United States of America for University-related purposes, which may include but are not limited to, study, research, internships, service, conferences/presentations, teaching, performances, or athletic competitions. Schools, colleges and business units may have additional policies and procedures that support this overall policy. The University reserves the right to prohibit or suspend travel for University-related purposes to any destination by faculty, staff, or students if significant health, safety or security concerns pose extreme risks that warrant such a decision.
  • The International Travel Oversight Committee (ITOC) is a U-M system-wide health, safety, and security advisory board who is responsible for the overall management of the University Travel Registry (where international student/faculty/staff is recorded) and assists with the coordination of crisis response when international emergencies occur. ITOC members consist of staff and faculty individuals from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses. ITOC is chaired by Kimberley Coyne, Senior Advisor for International Health, Safety and Security. 
  • All UM-Flint faculty/staff-led programs are evaluated for health, safety and security by the University of Michigan-Flint's International Travel Advisory Committee (ITAC) headed by a senior university official appointed by the Chancellor and Provost.  ITAC has ultimate authority for approving the safety of group programs and sites, and has the ability to cancel programs or revise them to address safety and security concerns.
  • All participants are required to participate in one or more general orientation sessions that outline safety issues and cultural adjustment.  An addition, all faulty/staff programs also provide a country-sepcific orientation in which safety precautions are outlined
  • All participants are required to register travel information in the UM Travel Registry
  • All participants are required to enroll in Highway to Health Insurance.
  • Emergency procedures are in one place, including medical and general emergency evacuation procedures

To Report an Emergency While Abroad

Call the UM-Flint Department of Public Safety (DPS) direct or collect-call. 810.762.3335

Document Safety

Leave at home all credit cards, keys, and other items not needed abroad. Make photocopies of your valuable documents and maintain an “emergency file” at home containing: airline ticket, passport, traveler's checks, driver's license, blood type, eyeglass prescription, name of doctor and dentist, supplemental insurance policies, and the credit cards you take abroad. Leave one set at home and keep another with you in a separate place from the originals.

Leave a copy of your itinerary and contact information with family or friends at home.

NEVER pack your passport or any other important documents in your checked-in luggage or your carry-on luggage. Passports including visa page, credit cards, and money should be worn in a pouch or a money belt as close to your body as possible. If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.

Know The Country

Read books and explore websites about the country or countries you will visit and learn about any cultural taboos in the countries you plan to visit. For example, there are restrictions on photography in certain countries.  Be aware that certain reading material or literature may offend officials of some countries. Know the location of the nearest embassy or consulate for your country of citizenship. U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

 Express yourself with patience, diplomacy, and an unassuming manner in an effort to be perceived as a welcomed visitor.

Safety Precautions

  • Use the same precautions abroad that you would in any U.S. metropolitan area.
  • Avoid poorly lit places and walking alone. Stick to well-traveled streets, and try to walk in groups at night. Be especially cautious when you are new to a city and do not yet know what parts of town may be less safe.
  • Don’t carry valuables, even in a backpack or locked luggage. If you must carry cameras, radios, etc., don’t leave them unattended.
  • Don’t flaunt wallets, purses, or cameras. Wear a money belt, concealed under your clothing.
  • Put valuables in the hotel safe or ask your local contact about storing valuables at the program site.
  • Leave expensive or expensive-looking jewelry at home.
  • Be proactive in ensuring your safety. Be aware of your surroundings.
  • When possible, avoid traveling by car. More people are injured or killed abroad in automobile accidents than through violent crime.

Keep Informed

The Education Abroad Office strives to keep students, faculty, and parents informed of conditions and decisions related to student safety and well-being. However, in these changing times, it is necessary that each student take responsibility for his/her own safety by staying informed and using good judgment.

Between now and your departure, it is your responsibility to stay informed about developments in the country/countries where you will spend time (including any countries you'll visit that are not part of your study abroad program's itinerary). The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs assists American citizens traveling or living abroad. The Bureau also issues Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements that provide important information regarding foreign travel.

On the U.S. Department of State’s Web page, you will find three different types of information: Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. This information is updated based on current events worldwide. We ask that you read this information carefully before you depart the United States. Please feel free to call the Education Abroad Office if you have any questions or concerns regarding the information on this site.

Consular Information Sheets. These are available for every country of the world. They include such information as location of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. If an unstable condition exists in a country that is not severe enough to warrant a Travel Warning, a description of the condition may be included under an optional section entitled “Safety/Security.” Sometimes, U.S. Embassy information given to official employees is restated here. Consular Information Sheets generally do not include advice, but present information in a factual manner so the traveler can make his or her own decisions concerning travel to a particular country.

Public Announcements. Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information about relatively short-term and/or transnational conditions posing significant risks to the security of travelers. They are made any time there is a perceived threat and usually have Americans as a particular target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with short-term coups, bomb threats to airlines, violence by terrorists, and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events.

Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets. For University guidelines on travel to countries for which a Travel Warning is in effect, please see  the U-M Traval Policy.

Women Travelers

While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel abroad. Due to language and cultural differences, the men—and the women—of your host country may have very different expectations than you do about what is appropriate behavior and attire for a woman. You should be aware that behavior that is considered acceptable in the U.S. may not be viewed this way abroad. A smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way you carry yourself can connote different things in different cultures. In many ways, you are your own best resource. The reaction of local residents to women’s behavior and attire may be compounded by the fact that people in some countries may have distorted or stereotypical notions about American women based on images acquired through American film and advertising. Read travel guides or articles, and talk to women who have traveled to your host country. The more familiar you are with the customs and traditions of your host country, the more you will understand why such customs exist—and the safer you will feel while you are abroad.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Travelers

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Emergency Contacts

The Office of Study Abroad strives to keep students, faculty, and parents informed of conditions and decisions related to student safety and well-being. However, in these changing times, it is necessary that each student take responsibility for his/her own safety by staying informed and using good judgment.

Between now and your departure, it is your responsibility to stay informed about developments in the country/countries where you will spend time (including any countries you'll visit that are not part of your study abroad program's itinerary). The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs assists American citizens traveling or living abroad. The Bureau also issues Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements that provide important information regarding foreign travel.

On the U.S. Department of State’s Web page, http://travel.state.gov/travel, you will find three different types of information: Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. This information is updated based on current events worldwide. We ask that you read this information carefully before you depart the United States. Please feel free to call the Office of Study Abroad if you have any questions or concerns regarding the information on this site.

  • Consular Information Sheets. These are available for every country of the world. They include such information as location of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. If an unstable condition exists in a country that is not severe enough to warrant a Travel Warning, a description of the condition may be included under an optional section entitled “Safety/Security.” Sometimes, U.S. Embassy information given to official employees is restated here. Consular Information Sheets generally do not include advice, but present information in a factual manner so the traveler can make his or her own decisions concerning travel to a particular country.
  • Public Announcements. Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information about relatively short-term and/or transnational conditions posing significant risks to the security of travelers. They are made any time there is a perceived threat and usually have Americans as a particular target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with short-term coups, bomb threats to airlines, violence by terrorists, and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events.
  • Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets. For University guidelines on travel to countries for which a Travel Warning is in effect, please see http://www.umich.edu/~itoc/guidelines.html.

Illegal Substances

The University of Michigan-Flint has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, manufacture, production, sale, exchange or distribution of illegal drugs by students participating in UM-Flint affiliated study abroad programs. Violation of this policy may result in (i) immediate dismissal from the program; (ii) academic withdrawal from the University for the term in progress; and (iii) disciplinary action upon return to campus.

Each year 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad. One third of the arrests are on drug-related charges. Many of those arrested assumed that as U.S. citizens, they could not be arrested.   There is very little that anyone can do to help you if you are caught in a foreign country with drugs. You are operating under the laws of the host country and the regulations of the local institution. Neither the U.S. government nor UM-Flint will be able to secure your release should you be caught.

It is your responsibility to know the drug laws of a foreign country before you go, because "I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of jail. Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens; therefore, don't assume that just because local people are using drugs, it's acceptable for you to use drugs. Information regarding drug penalties of your host country is available at the website, http://travel.state.gov/travel/warnings_consular.html.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of women arrested abroad. These women serve as drug couriers or "mules" in the belief they can make quick money and have a vacation without getting caught. Instead of a short vacation, they get a lengthy stay or life sentence in a foreign jail.

If you are purchasing prescription medications in quantities larger than that considered necessary for personal use, you could be arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking.

Arrests

What if I am Arrested?

You may say "it couldn't happen to me" but the fact is that it could happen to you if you find yourself saying one of the following:
"I am a U.S. citizen and no foreign government can put me in their jail."
"If I only buy or carry a small amount, it won't be a problem."

If you are arrested, the U.S. consular officer CANNOT get you out.

If you are arrested on a drug charge it is important that you know what the U.S. government can and cannot do for you.

The U.S. Consular Office CAN:
  • visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest
  • give you a list of local attorneys (The U.S. Government cannot assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of these individuals or recommend a particular attorney)
  • notify your family and/or friends and relay requests for money or other aid - but only with your authorization
  • intercede with local authorities to make sure that your rights under local laws are fully observed and that you are treated humanely, according to internationally accepted standards
  • protest mistreatment or abuse to the appropriate authorities
The U.S. Consular Office CANNOT:
  • demand your immediate release or get you out of jail or the country
  • represent you at trial or give legal counsel
  • pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. government funds

If you are caught using illegal drugs by UM-Flint on-site personnel, you may be immediately dismissed from the study abroad program. If you are caught by local authorities buying, selling, carrying or using drugs it could mean:

  • interrogation and delays before trial including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions
  • lengthy trials conducted in a foreign language, with delays and postponements
  • weeks, months or life in prison (some places include hard labor, heavy fines, and/or lashings), if found guilty
  • the death penalty in a growing number of countries

 

A few words to the wise...

  • A number of countries, including the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico and the Philippines, have enacted more stringent drug laws that impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use.
  • Once you leave the United States you are not covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights.
  • Bail is not granted in many countries when drugs are involved.
  • The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
  • In some countries, evidence obtained illegally by local authorities may be admissible in court.
  • Few countries offer drug offenders jury trials or even require the prisoner's presence at his/her trial.
  • Many countries have mandatory prison sentences of seven years to life without the possibility of parole for drug violations.
  • If someone offers you a free trip and some quick and easy money just for bringing back a suitcase...SAY NO!
  • Don't carry a package for anyone, no matter how small it might seem.
  • The police and customs officials have a right to search your luggage for drugs. If they find drugs in your suitcase, YOU will suffer the consequences.
  • You could go to jail for years with no possibility of parole, early release, or transfer back the United States.
  • Don't make a jail sentence part of your trip abroad.
Overseas Citizens Services

The Office of Study Abroad will register participants of UM-Faculty led programs with the U.S. Department of State.  The Overseas Citizens Services of the Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS), a branch of OCS, assists in all matters involving protective services for Americans abroad, including arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts inquiries. Log-on to http://travel.state.gov/travel/overseas.html for details on their services.

The OCS toll-free hotline is 1-888-407-4747. If you are unable to use the toll-free number, call 202-501-4444. An OCS duty officer is available for after-hours emergencies and during Sundays and holidays at (202) 647-4000.

Alcohol

Although alcohol misuse may not carry the same legal penalties as use of illegal drugs, it can create dire circumstances for you, your participation in the program, your safety on site, and the future of the program. Remember that you are serving as an ambassador of UM-Flint, Michigan, and the United States.

Although there may be no minimum or a lower drinking age in your host country, the customs regarding alcohol use may be very different from ours. You may be tempted to slip into – or maintain – patterns of alcohol misuse while abroad. Such use may occur for a variety of reasons: a mistaken impression of how alcohol is used in your new surroundings; lower costs in some countries; a lower minimum drinking age; more lenient laws against drunkenness; or a desire to experiment or fit in. Alcohol abuse and misuse are not tolerated anywhere in the world and will not be tolerated on UM-Flint study abroad programs.

Violation of local laws and/or UM-Flint regulations or policies may result in (i) immediate dismissal from the program; (ii) academic withdrawal from the University for the term in progress; and (iii) disciplinary action upon return to campus. During your orientation you will be informed of program requirements and host country laws regarding alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences for misuse. Most countries, with the exception of those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking. Intoxication, public drunkenness and inebriating behavior, however, are seldom allowed under any circumstances. If you are covered by additional insurance for an extended stay, note that many insurance policies will not cover expenses incurred for injury resulting from your being legally intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol misuse is defined as any use that is harmful or potentially harmful to self or others. Alcohol abuse is planned, systematic misuse of alcohol. Alcohol misuse is present when:

  • A student misses any scheduled event because of the effects of alcohol consumption;
  • A student becomes ill due to the effects of alcohol consumption;
  • A student is disrespectful of others sharing the same or neighboring housing, due to the effects of alcohol consumption;
  • A student engages in inappropriate behavior toward other individuals that is the result of alcohol consumption;
  • A student engages in destructive behavior toward property that is the result of alcohol consumption;
  • A student does not abide by the alcoholic beverage laws of the country in which he or she is staying;
  • A student engages in behavior that causes embarrassment to the other members of the group, the faculty member(s) or the in-country host(s) as a result of alcohol consumption;
  • Students in a group encourage or ignore a fellow student who is misusing or abusing alcohol; or
  • A student transports quantities of alcohol to program sites with the intent of sharing the alcohol with members of the group.

 

Students are encouraged to use good judgment if consuming alcohol at private homes or other accommodations during non-program hours. Student groups are encouraged to discuss issues related to alcohol abuse by other members of their group with the faculty leader or resident director. Peers should look out for each other and keep each other safe.

Alcohol Overdose Emergency

If a student becomes incapacitated due to alcohol overuse, or if he/she is in need of medical attention, other students are strongly encouraged to contact a local emergency medical service, faculty leader or resident director immediately, in order to protect the health and well-being of the affected student.

The individual needing medical attention will not receive disciplinary sanction in these circumstances, but rather will be referred for assistance to address issues of chemical use/abuse. Peers are encouraged to make the responsible choice to notify program or emergency personnel quickly.