Staying Safe and Obeying the Law
- Emergency Support and Procedures
- What to Do in Emergencies
- International SOS Emergency Assistance
- Taking Personal Responsibility
- Registering with the Local Embassy or Consulate
- Crime and Terrorism
- Local and National Laws
- Office of Overseas Citizens Services
Emergency Support and Procedures
All Princeton University travelers should become familiar with the resources available to them in an emergency or crisis. While most students experience a safe and healthy time abroad, some do encounter both minor emergencies (e.g. theft, illness, injury) and major crises (natural and environmental disasters, civil unrest, political uprising, terrorist attack, etc.).
The first step in crisis management is being prepared before a crisis occurs. In most cases, you can respond to minor emergencies in the same way you would in a similar situation at home. However, what counts as a minor emergency at home can often be more difficult to handle abroad due to language and communication barriers and a lack of familiarity with your surroundings.
Make sure you learn the name and location of the hospital nearest to your residence abroad and how to contact the local police and summon emergency medical care. A list of 911 equivalents is posted on the Students Abroad website: studentsabroad.state.gov/content/pdfs/911_ABROAD.pdf.
When traveling on weekends or over holiday periods, be sure to keep your local contacts and/or roommates or host family informed of your intended itinerary. Make sure the resident director, host family, or employer who is assigned responsibility for your welfare always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency.
If you are part of an organized program abroad, make sure you are aware of the emergency plan for your program or university. If you are studying or interning abroad independent from an organized program, consider creating a personal emergency action plan that outlines what actions you would take in the event of an emergency.
Your emergency action plan should include a list of important phone numbers (emergency numbers in your host country, numbers for local supervisors/contacts and home embassy/consulate, numbers for International SOS and Princeton Public Safety) along with copies of your insurance papers, passport, and names of any medications to which you are allergic. You should input these numbers into your cell phone, if you carry one, but should also keep this information in at least one other location.
What to Do in Emergencies
Dealing well with a crisis situation includes understanding your emotions, keeping yourself as safe as possible, and communicating with your emergency contacts. It is important to remain calm and exercise good judgment. If you encounter less serious problems while abroad, it is best to check in with your on-site coordinator or local contacts before calling International SOS, Princeton University, or your family.
Should you encounter difficulties or problems that you cannot easily solve on your own, you should follow these steps:
- Take the necessary steps to secure your immediate physical safety (e.g. call 911 equivalent, go to the hospital, seek shelter). Contact International SOS. International SOS will work to meet your needs and will contact the University through the Departments of Public Safety and Risk Management while coordinating your services.
- Keep your phone line open and check e-mail if you can. In the case of a serious international incident, International SOS and Princeton University will try to reach you by using the contact information that you provided in the University Travel Database.
- Once the immediate situation has been addressed, you should contact your sponsoring department/program at Princeton to inform them of the situation. Princeton University Public Safety can coordinate this contact. The Public Safety office is on-call 24/7 at 609/258-1000.
International SOS Emergency Assistance
All Princeton faculty, staff, and students who participate in Princeton-sponsored travel abroad are automatically enrolled in and supported through International SOS, a 24-hour emergency assistance program (at no additional cost). Always carry your International SOS card with you.
If you are not fluent in the language and need medical advice, remember to use your International SOS card. Weekend travel may present special problems, as you may find yourself in unfamiliar or remote locations.
International SOS services include extensive medical assistance (e.g. information on travel health issues, referrals to English-speaking doctors, emergency and routine medical advice, and repatriation of mortal remains), personal assistance (e.g. legal referrals and lost document advice), as well as security evacuation. Other services, such as emergency personal cash advance or translations and interpreters, are available for an additional fee. Note: International SOS is not medical nor trip cancellation insurance.
Visit the University Travel website to review International SOS services that are available at no additional cost and those that are provided at additional cost (fees will apply).
To ensure a prompt response when calling International SOS, you should be prepared to provide the following:
- Your International SOS membership number: 11BSGC000022
- The telephone number from which you are calling (in case you are disconnected)
- Name, location, and telephone number of the hospital, clinic, and treating doctor (if applicable)
Taking Personal Responsibility
Safety and security depend to a large degree upon being well prepared, listening and heeding the counsel you are given, and remaining vigilant. Here are some essential rules:
- Try not to make yourself conspicuous by dress, speech, behavior, expensive personal accessories (cameras, iPods, laptops, etc.), or careless behavior.
- 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 local officials to learn about any potential civil unrest. If there should be any unrest, do not get involved.
- 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 and be sure you know where you are going before you leave where you are staying or your mode of transportation. Looking lost or confused can often make you an easy target.
- Make sure the resident director, host family, or foreign university official who is assigned the responsibility for your welfare always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency. Leave a schedule and itinerary if you are traveling, even if only overnight.
- Develop a plan for regular telephone or e-mail contact with your family, so that in times of heightened political tension you will be able to communicate with your parents directly about your safety and well-being.
- Be careful when using ATMs on the street and avoid using them in isolated places or at times of day when you are likely to be the only person around.
- Do not impair your judgment through excessive consumption of alcohol, and do not fall under the influence of drugs.
Registering with the Local Embassy or Consulate
Embassies exist to provide assistance to their citizens while abroad, including providing information about social and political events, health and safety concerns, and educational and cultural affairs.
We recommend that all students travelling abroad register with the embassy or local consulate of their home countries so they will be aware of your presence and be able to assist you should an emergency arise. Should you encounter serious social, political, health, or economic problems, the embassy and/or consulate can usually offer limited assistance (for example, contacting next of kin in the event of emergency or serious illness, replacing a lost or stolen passport, trying to ensure that you are treated humanely under international conventions). Non-U.S. citizens should check with their embassy or consulate in the U.S. to find out what services will be available to them while abroad.
U.S. citizens can register with the U.S. embassy or consulate in their host country through the Department of State’s secure online travel registration system. This registration service allows you to update your contact information at any time. The site also provides up-to-date travel information customized to your itinerary. The data you provide is accessible only by cleared personnel in embassies, consulates, and the Department of State, and releasable only with your permission under the provisions of the Privacy Act.
The U.S. State Department provides information on medical, financial, and legal problems while abroad (you can also call 888/407-4747). The U.S. Department of State website also has useful information about travel and residence abroad. "A Safe Trip Abroad" and "Tips for Traveling Abroad" may be of particular interest.
Embassies and consulates cannot act as travel agencies, lend money, cash personal checks, arrange free medical service or legal advice, provide bail or get you out of jail, act as couriers or interpreters, search for missing luggage, or settle disputes with local authorities.
Crime and Terrorism
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. Thieves often strike when people are distracted. When making a phone call, eating at a restaurant, checking a train schedule, or reading a map, stay aware of where you are and always keep your bags in your line of vision or in hand.
Additionally, in some circumstances, it is possible that you will get caught in the midst of political strife that may not be directed at you personally, or even at you as an American, but nevertheless can be dangerous. Students abroad should check the U.S. State Department website for information about any country that they plan to visit. In the case of a serious international incident, International SOS and Princeton University will try to reach you, so keep your phone line open and check e-mail if you can. If you are part of an organized program abroad, follow the emergency plan for your program or university.
Local and National Laws
While you are visiting another country, you are subject to the laws of that country. 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 very limited in the assistance they can provide should you get caught up in the legal system of your host country. They can give you the names of competent attorneys and doctors, but not any financial assistance in paying for legal or medical services. They cannot intervene on your behalf in the administration of justice in the host country.
Avoid involvement with drugs and all other illegal substances. Do not assume that buying or carrying small amounts of drugs cannot result in your arrest. Drug laws vary, but in many countries they are extremely severe, regardless of whether the drug in your possession is for personal use or for sale to others.
Bail provisions as we know them in the U.S. are rare in many other 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. Pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement, can last for months. Many countries do not provide a jury trial, and in some cases you may not even be present at your trial. The average jail sentence in drug cases worldwide is about seven years. Americans have been jailed abroad for possessing as little as three grams (about one-tenth of an ounce) of marijuana.
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.
Office of Overseas Citizens Services
For U.S. citizens, emergency assistance is available through the Citizens’ Emergency Center of the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, operated by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. This office can transmit emergency messages from your family, provide protection in the event of arrest or detention, and transmit emergency funds to destitute nationals when banking facilities are not available. The office is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday–Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (EST) on Saturday (closed on federal holidays). The phone number is 888/407-4747. When calling after hours, you will be transferred to the Overseas Citizens Services Duty Officer. From overseas, call 202/501-4444.