Health and Safety
- Staying Healthy
- Travel Planning Appointment
- Health Insurance
- Local and National Laws
- Taking Personal Responsibility
- For information on worldwide health conditions, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
- The U.S. State Department provides information on medical, financial, and legal problems while abroad (you can also call 888/407-4747).
Staying healthy while traveling abroad may depend on three important factors: making adequate preparations, knowing destination-specific health risks, and following sound U.S. and local medical counsel. Living away from your usual cultural environment may also cause a degree of emotional stress—which, in turn, could trigger physiological consequences. The impact on personal relationships, counseling sessions (if you are in therapy), and your general health (especially if you are on medication of any kind) is something to consider as you prepare for your sojourn abroad.
In general, it is a good idea to find out about health care facilities in each of the countries in which you expect to spend time. Learn the name and location of the hospital nearest to your residence abroad and how to summon emergency medical care (many countries have a 911 equivalent).
Traveling in developed countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Western European countries, usually incurs no greater health risks than traveling in the U.S. On the other hand, in some regions of Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and the Middle East, sanitation and hygiene may be below U.S. standards. Cities often have better health environments than outlying rural areas, but not always. For information on worldwide health conditions, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.
All special health needs or medical conditions should be noted on the Medical Profile Form that you are advised to carry with you. If you have diabetes, are allergic to penicillin, or have any physical condition that may require emergency care, carry identification—a tag, bracelet, or card—on your person at all times. The ID should indicate the specific nature of the problem and spell out clearly what must or must not be done should you be unable to communicate this information.
Should you currently be under the care of a physician or require regular medication or injections (e.g. insulin or allergy shots), be sure to check with your personal physician for any advice concerning your welfare while abroad.
Take good care of yourself while traveling! Do not wear yourself down, watch out for excessive exposure to heat, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and get plenty of sleep! Wear a seat belt whenever you can--even if others aren't doing the same.
Travel Planning Appointment
Travelers who have a chronic medical condition, are pregnant, or are traveling to Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Eastern Europe and the NIS of the former Soviet Union, and the South Pacific (except Australia and New Zealand) should make a travel planning appointment with University Health Services.
At least four to six weeks before your departure, call University Health Services (609/258-5357) to schedule a travel planning appointment to discuss immunizations and prescriptions. Appointments can be made Monday–Friday and last approximately 30 minutes. Make this appointment as early as you can. Students planning to travel in numerous countries and across different continents should schedule their appointment at least ten weeks before departure. Visit the UHS Travel Services website for more information.
Be sure to bring any application/travel requirement forms to your appointment. This appointment covers general advice about travel and must take place before any immunizations will be given. The clinician will review your immunization record and discuss any safety precautions that should be taken during your trip. Immunization appointments may be scheduled immediately after the travel-planning visit. If a physical examination is also needed, it must be scheduled through a separate appointment.
You are also strongly urged to consult the Travel Medicine Services website provided by UHS. Additionally, the UHS Travel Tips website offers travel-related information, including jet lag reduction, food and water precautions, and insect and animal protection.
All students must carry health insurance that is valid overseas for hospitalization and physician care. Private insurance must meet or exceed the coverage provided by the Princeton Student Health Plan.
The Student Health Plan (SHP) covers you year-round and worldwide. The SHP does not make direct payments to health care providers outside the U.S. It is your responsibility to arrange for payment (or credit until the claim is handled). Your SHP identification card has the address and phone number of the SHP Office at Princeton and for Aetna Student Health, the plan administrator. Providers can contact either office directly to verify coverage and policy provisions. The SHP Office can be contacted by calling 609/258-3138 and Aetna Student Health can be contacted by calling 1-877-437-6511 (calling from within U.S.) or 617/218-8400 (calling from outside U.S.).
If you are covered by a different health insurance plan, be sure that the policy offers comparable coverage.
To limit out of pocket expenses in the event that medical services are needed, it is recommended that students purchase international health insurance that will be accepted by overseas hospitals and physicians. (Note: Students with known conditions are encouraged to carry a credit card or other form of emergency funds since many international health insurance plans exclude coverage for treating pre-existing medical conditions.) Students interested in purchasing a short-term international health insurance plan should contact Princeton’s Department of Risk Management at 8-3046 for a list of recommended carriers.
You should keep your health insurance card with your plan information and ID number with you. Make sure that you understand your insurance coverage and how the system works. You should know how bills are paid in the case of a medical emergency and for routine treatments. Should you require medical attention abroad, you will need to have sufficient cash or credit card balance to make payment at the time of treatment, since the foreign physician and/or hospital may not be able to bill you. Be sure to obtain a receipt and keep all bills to submit with your insurance claim for reimbursement upon return to the U.S. It might also be helpful to carry a few blank claim forms with you.
If you need medications regularly, take an adequate supply with you. It is advisable to keep all medicines (prescription or over-the-counter) in their original and labeled containers. A letter from your physician should accompany prescription medicines. This letter should include a description of your condition, the dosage of prescribed medications, and the generic name(s) of the medicine listed. If you are required to take medication containing habit-forming or narcotic drugs, you should consult the embassies of the countries you will visit before departing the U.S. to avoid potential problems.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that persons who require routine injections carry a supply of syringes and needles sufficient to last their stay abroad. Be aware, however, that carrying needles and syringes without a prescription may be illegal in some countries, so take along a letter from your doctor.
Do not buy medications "over the counter" while you are overseas unless you are familiar with the product. "Over the counter" drugs abroad may be below standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Local and National Laws
You are subject to the laws of any country you are visiting. You should make sure you know the laws and obey them scrupulously. Many of the legal protections you may take for granted are left behind when you leave the U.S. Embassies and consulates are limited in the assistance they can provide should you get caught up in the legal system of your host country. They cannot intervene on your behalf if you are arrested or prosecuted for violation of local laws, including laws on drug use, currency exchange, and disturbance of the peace. Do not count on the consulate or embassy assisting you in anything other than providing advice. If you so become involved in any legal problems, contact Princeton immediately.
Avoid all involvement with drugs and all other illegal substances. Do not purchase, use, or have drugs in your possession. Buying or even carrying even small amounts of drugs can result in your arrest. Drug charges can carry severe consequences, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried, and sentences ranging from fines and jail time to years of hard labor. Contraband or paraphernalia associated with illegal drug use can also get you in trouble.
Bail provisions such as those in the U.S. are rare in many countries, and pre-trial detention without bail is not uncommon. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not necessarily a tenet of legal systems abroad. Bail is often not granted for drug-trafficking cases. Many countries do not provide a jury trial, and in some cases you may not even be present at your trial. You could be in a country where prison and law enforcement officials do not speak English, the significance of which you may not fully appreciate until you are confined and feeling helpless.
Taking Personal Responsibility
Depending on where you are traveling, you may be in a place with less, more, or the same level of street crime that exists in the U.S. In any case, being a foreigner and not knowing the customs and patterns of local behavior may increase the odds of your becoming the victim of crimes such as fraud, robbery, or theft.
Safety and security depend to a large degree upon being well prepared, listening to and heeding the counsel you are given, and remaining vigilant. Here are some essential rules:
- Try to blend in with the people around you. Don't dress in conspicuous ways, speak loudly, behave inappropriately, or display expensive accessories (cameras, iPods, laptops, etc.)
- Avoid crowds, protests, rallies, or any potentially volatile situations, as well as restaurants and places where Americans are known to congregate.
- Keep abreast of local news. Read local newspapers and magazines and speak with locals to learn about any potential civil unrest. Do not get involved in protests, rallies, or demonstrations.
- Report to the responsible authority any suspicious persons loitering around residence or instructional facilities or following you; keep your residence area locked; use common sense in divulging information to strangers.
- Whenever possible, make reservations at a hotel or hostel before you arrive in a city. Check a map before you leave so you know where you are going. Looking lost or confused or holding a map can make you an easy target.
- Be careful when using ATMs on the street and avoid using them in isolated places or at times of day (or night) when you are likely to be the only person around.
- Do not impair your judgment through excessive consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs.
- Remember that safety in numbers is a good idea wherever you are.
- Do not accept help from people waiting around at the airport exist gate. Arrange for airport pick-up ahead of tie or inform yourself about the public transportation options. If you plan to take a taxi, find the official airport taxi stand.
- If you are traveling (even if only overnight), leave an itinerary with your resident director, host family, or internship supervisor.