DEPARTMENT OF STATE PUBLICATION 10942
Bureau of Consular Affairs
When you travel abroad, the odds are in your favor that you will
have a safe and incident-free trip. However, crime and violence,
as well as unexpected difficulties, do happen to U.S. citizens
in all parts of the world. No one is better able to tell you
this than the U.S. consular officers who work in more than 250
U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe. Every day of the
year, U.S. embassies and consulates receive calls from American
citizens in distress.
Happily, most problems can be solved over the telephone or by a
visit of the U.S. citizen to the Consular Section of the nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate. But, there are less fortunate
occasions when U.S. diplomats are called on to meet U.S.
citizens at foreign police stations, hospitals, prisons and even
at morgues. In these cases, the assistance that diplomats can
offer is specific but limited.
In the hope of helping you avoid serious difficulties during
your abroad, we have prepared the following travel tips.
Thank you for taking the time to become an informed traveler. We
wish you a safe and wonderful journey!
BEFORE YOU GO
What to Bring
Safety begins when you pack. To avoid being a target, dress
conservatively. Don't wear expensive looking jewelry. A flashy
wardrobe or one that is too casual can mark you as a tourist. As
much as possible, avoid the appearance of affluence.
Always try to travel light. You can move more quickly and will
be more likely to have a free hand. You will also be less tired
and less likely to set your luggage down, leaving it unattended.
Carry the minimum amount of valuables necessary for your trip
and plan a place or places to conceal them. Your passport, cash
and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel safe.
When you have to carry them on your person, you may wish to
conceal them in several places rather than putting them all in
one wallet or pouch. Avoid handbags, fanny packs and outside
pockets that are easy targets for thieves. Inside pockets and a
sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are
somewhat safer. One of the safest places to carry valuables is
in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Bring them and any
medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines
in their original, labeled containers. Bring copies of your
prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs. If a
medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from
your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug. If you have
any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a
country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country first.
Bring travelers checks and one or two major credit cards instead
Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of
your passport information page to make replacement of your
passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen.
Put your name, address and telephone numbers inside and outside
of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to avoid
casual observation of your identity or nationality. If possible,
lock your luggage.
Consider getting a telephone calling card. It is a convenient
way of keeping in touch. If you have one, verify that you can
use it from your overseas location(s). Access numbers to U.S.
operators are published in many international newspapers. Find
out your access number before you go.
What to Leave Behind
Don't bring anything you would hate to lose. Leave at home:
· valuable or expensive-looking jewelry,
· irreplaceable family objects,
· all unnecessary credit cards,
· Social Security card, library cards, and similar items you may
routinely carry in your wallet.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home in
case they need to contact you in an emergency.
A Few Things to Bring AND Leave Behind
Make two photocopies of your passport identification page,
airline tickets, driver's license and the credit cards that you
plan to bring with you. Leave one photocopy of this data with
family or friends at home; pack the other in a place separate
from where you carry your valuables.
Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers' checks
with a friend or relative at home. Carry your copy with you in a
separate place and, as you cash the checks, cross them off the
What to Learn About Before You Go
Security. The Department of State's Consular Information Sheets
are available for every country of the world. They describe
entry requirements, currency regulations, unusual health
conditions, the crime and security situation, political
disturbances, areas of instability, and special information
about driving and road conditions. They also provide addresses
and emergency telephone numbers for U.S. embassies and
consulates. In general, the Sheets do not give advice. Instead,
they describe conditions so travelers can make informed
decisions about their trips.
In some dangerous situations, however, the Department of State
recommends that Americans defer travel to a country. In such a
case, a Travel Warning is issued for the country in addition to
its Consular Information Sheet.
Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information
about relatively short-term and/or trans-national conditions
posing significant risks to the security of American travelers.
They are issued when there is a perceived threat, even if it
does not involve Americans as a particular target group. In the
past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with
short-term coups, pre-election disturbances, violence by
terrorists and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events.
You can access Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and
24-hours a day in several ways.
The most convenient source of information about travel and
consular services is the Consular Affairs home page. The web
site address is http://travel.state.gov. If you do not have
access to the Internet at home, work or school, your local
library may provide access to the Internet.
The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can
answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This
number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time,
Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers
who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling
from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during
these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.
By Mail/In Person
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public
Announcements are available at any of the regional passport
agencies and U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, or, by
writing and sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the
Office of American Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs,
U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520.
Local Laws and Customs. When you leave the United States, you
are subject to the laws of the country where you are. Therefore,
before you go, learn as much as you can about the local laws and
customs of the places you plan to visit. Good resources are your
library, your travel agent, and the embassies, consulates or
tourist bureaus of the countries you will visit. In addition,
keep track of what is being reported in the media about recent
developments in those countries.
THINGS TO ARRANGE BEFORE YOU GO
Your Itinerary. As much as possible, plan to stay in larger
hotels that have more elaborate security. Safety experts
recommend booking a room from the second to seventh floors above
ground level to deter easy entrance from outside, but low enough
for fire equipment to reach.
Because take-off and landing are the most dangerous times of a
flight, book non-stop flights when possible. When there is a
choice of airport or airline, ask your travel agent about
comparative safety records.
Legal Documents. Have your affairs at home in order. If you
leave a current will, insurance documents, and power of attorney
with your family or a friend, you can feel secure about
traveling and will be prepared for any emergency that may arise
while you are away. If you have minor children, consider making
guardianship arrangements for them.
Credit. Make a note of the credit limit on each credit card that
you bring. Make certain not to charge over that amount on your
trip. In some countries, Americans have been arrested for
innocently exceeding their credit limit. Ask your credit card
company how to report the loss of your card from abroad. 800
numbers do not work from abroad, but your company should have a
number that you can call while you are overseas.
Insurance. Find out if your personal property insurance covers
you for loss or theft abroad. More importantly, check on whether
your health insurance covers you abroad. Medicare and Medicaid
do not provide payment for medical care outside the U.S. Even if
your health insurance will reimburse you for medical care that
you pay for abroad, normal health insurance does not pay for
medical evacuation from a remote area or from a country where
medical facilities are inadequate. Consider purchasing one of
the short-term health and emergency assistance policies designed
for travelers. Also, make sure that the plan you purchase
includes medical evacuation in the event of an accident or
PRECAUTIONS TO TAKE WHILE TRAVELING
Safety on the Street
Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at
home. Be especially cautious in or avoid areas where you are
likely to be victimized. These include crowded subways, train
stations, elevators, tourist sites, market places, festivals and
marginal areas of cities.
Don't use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly-lit streets. Try
not to travel alone at night.
Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments. Do
not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with
Avoid scam artists. Beware of strangers who approach you,
offering bargains or to be your guide.
Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:
· jostle you,
· ask you for directions or the time,
· point to something spilled on your clothing,
· or distract you by creating a disturbance.
A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket.
Beware of groups of vagrant children who create a distraction
while picking your pocket.
Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk
with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by
Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost,
act as if you know where you are going. When possible, ask
directions only from individuals in authority.
Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or
token on hand.
Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can signal your
need for help, the police, or a doctor. Make a note of emergency
telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and
the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are confronted, don't fight back. Give up your valuables.
Your money and passport can be replaced, but you cannot.
Safety in Your Hotel
Keep your hotel door locked at all times. Meet visitors in the
Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room while
you are out. Use the hotel safe.
Let someone know when you expect to return if you are out late
If you are alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a
suspicious-looking person inside.
Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how
to report a fire. Be sure you know where the nearest fire exit
and alternate exits are located. Count the doors between your
room and the nearest exit. This could be a life saver if you
have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.
Safety on Public Transportation
If a country has a pattern of tourists being targeted by
criminals on public transport, that information is mentioned in
the Consular Information Sheets under the "Crime Information"
Taxis. Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings.
Beware of unmarked cabs.
Trains. Well organized, systematic robbery of passengers on
trains along popular tourists routes is a serious problem. It is
more common at night and especially on overnight trains.
If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another
person is very close to you from behind, move away. This can
happen in the corridor of the train or on the platform or
Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have been
known to drug food or drink offered to passengers. Criminals may
also spray sleeping gas in train compartments.
Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be locked
securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling
companions. If that is not possible, stay awake. If you must
sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage, strap your valuables
to you and sleep on top of them as much as possible.
Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in
any way. Extra police are often assigned to ride trains on
routes where crime is a serious problem.
Buses. The same type of criminal activity found on trains can be
found on public buses on popular tourist routes. For example,
tourists have been drugged and robbed while sleeping on buses or
in bus stations. In some countries whole bus loads of passengers
have been held up and robbed by gangs of bandits.
Safety When You Drive
When you rent a car, don't go for the exotic; choose a type
commonly available locally. Where possible, ask that markings
that identify it as a rental car be removed. Make certain it is
in good repair. If available, choose a car with universal door
locks and power windows, features that give the driver better
control of access to the car. An air conditioner, when available,
is also a safety feature, allowing you to drive with windows
closed. Thieves can and do snatch purses through open windows of
Keep car doors locked at all times. Wear seat belts.
As much as possible, avoid driving at night.
Don't leave valuables in the car. If you must carry things with
you, keep them out of sight locked in the trunk.
Don't park your car on the street overnight. If the hotel or
municipality does not have a parking garage or other secure
area, select a well-lit area.
Never pick up hitchhikers.
Don't get out of the car if there are suspicious looking
individuals nearby. Drive away.
Patterns of Crime Against Motorists
In many places frequented by tourists, including areas of
southern Europe, victimization of motorists has been refined to
an art. Where it is a problem, U.S. embassies are aware of it
and consular officers try to work with local authorities to warn
the public about the dangers. In some locations, these efforts
at public awareness have paid off, reducing the frequency of
incidents. You may also wish to ask your rental car agency for
advice on avoiding robbery while visiting tourist destinations.
Carjackers and thieves operate at gas stations, parking lots, in
city traffic and along the highway. Be suspicious of anyone who
hails you or tries to get your attention when you are in or near
Criminals use ingenious ploys. They may pose as good Samaritans,
offering help for tires that they claim are flat or that they
have made flat. Or they may flag down a motorist, ask for
assistance, and then steal the rescuer's luggage or car. Usually
they work in groups, one person carrying on the pretense while
the others rob you.
Other criminals get your attention with abuse, either trying to
drive you off the road, or causing an "accident" by rear-ending
you or creating a "fender bender."
In some urban areas, thieves don't waste time on ploys, they
simply smash car windows at traffic lights, grab your valuables
or your car and get away. In cities around the world, "defensive
driving" has come to mean more than avoiding auto accidents; it
means keeping an eye out for potentially criminal pedestrians,
cyclists and scooter riders.
How to Handle Money Safely
To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, change your travelers'
checks only as you need currency. Countersign travelers' checks
only in front of the person who will cash them.
Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill. Make
sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.
Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money, buy
airline tickets or purchase souvenirs. Do not change money on
the black market.
If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss
immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police
report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight.
After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or
· travelers' checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company,
· credit cards to the issuing company,
· airline tickets to the airline or travel agent,
· passport to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
How to Avoid Legal Difficulties
When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws
and are under its jurisdiction NOT the protection of the U.S.
You can be arrested overseas for actions that may be either
legal or considered minor infractions in the United States. Be
aware of what is considered criminal in the country where you
are. Consular Information Sheets include information on unusual
patterns of arrests in various countries when appropriate.
Some of the offenses for which U.S. citizens have been arrested
Drug Violations. More than 1/3 of U.S. citizens incarcerated
abroad are held on drug charges. Some countries do not
distinguish between possession and trafficking. Many countries
have mandatory sentences - even for possession of a small amount
of marijuana or cocaine. A number of Americans have been
arrested for possessing prescription drugs, particularly
tranquilizers and amphetamines, that they purchased legally in
certain Asian countries and then brought to some countries in
the Middle East where they are illegal. Other U.S. citizens have
been arrested for purchasing prescription drugs abroad in
quantities that local authorities suspected were for commercial
use. If in doubt about foreign drug laws, ask local authorities
or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Possession of Firearms. The places where U.S. citizens most
often come into difficulties for illegal possession of firearms
are nearby - Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Sentences for
possession of firearms in Mexico can be up to 30 years. In
general, firearms, even those legally registered in the U.S.,
cannot be brought into a country unless a permit is first
obtained from the embassy or a consulate of that country and the
firearm is registered with foreign authorities on arrival.
(Note: If you take firearms or ammunition to another country,
you cannot bring them back into the U.S. unless you register
them with U.S. Customs before you leave the U.S.)
Photography. In many countries you can be harassed or detained
for photographing such things as police and military
installations, government buildings, border areas and
transportation facilities. If you are in doubt, ask permission
before taking photographs.
Purchasing Antiques. Americans have been arrested for purchasing
souvenirs that were, or looked like, antiques and which local
customs authorities believed were national treasures. This is
especially true in Turkey, Egypt and Mexico. In countries where
antiques are important, document your purchases as reproductions
if that is the case, or if they are authentic, secure the
necessary export permit (usually from the national museum.)
Terrorist acts occur at random and unpredictably, making it
impossible to protect yourself absolutely. The first and best
protection is to avoid travel to unsafe areas where there has
been a persistent record of terrorist attacks or kidnapping. The
vast majority of foreign states have good records of maintaining
public order and protecting residents and visitors within their
borders from terrorism.
Most terrorist attacks are the result of long and careful
planning. Just as a car thief will first be attracted to an
unlocked car with the key in the ignition, terrorists are
looking for defenseless, easily accessible targets who follow
predictable patterns. The chances that a tourist, traveling with
an unpublished program or itinerary, would be the victim of
terrorism are slight. In addition, many terrorist groups,
seeking publicity for political causes within their own country
or region, may not be looking for American targets.
Nevertheless, the following pointers may help you avoid becoming
a target of opportunity. They should be considered as adjuncts
to the tips listed in the previous sections on how to protect
yourself against the far greater likelihood of being a victim of
crime. These precautions may provide some degree of protection,
and can serve as practical and psychological deterrents to
· Schedule direct flights if possible and avoid stops in
high-risk airports or areas. Consider other options for travel,
such as trains.
· Be aware of what you discuss with strangers or what may be
overheard by others.
· Try to minimize the time spent in the public area of an
airport, which is a less protected area. Move quickly from the
check-in counter to the secured areas. On arrival, leave the
airport as soon as possible.
· As much as possible, avoid luggage tags, dress and behavior
that may identify you as an American.
· Keep an eye out for suspicious abandoned packages or
briefcases. Report them to airport security or other authorities
and leave the area promptly.
· Avoid obvious terrorist targets such as places where Americans
and Westerners are known to congregate.
Travel to High-Risk Areas
If you must travel in an area where there has been a history of
terrorist attacks or kidnapping, make it a habit to:
· Discuss with your family what they would do in the event of an
emergency. Make sure your affairs are in order before leaving
· Register with the U.S. embassy or consulate upon arrival.
· Remain friendly but be cautious about discussing personal
matters, your itinerary or program.
· Leave no personal or business papers in your hotel room.
· Watch for people following you or "loiterers" observing your
comings and goings.
· Keep a mental note of safehavens, such as police stations,
· Let someone else know what your travel plans are. Keep them
informed if you change your plans.
· Avoid predictable times and routes of travel and report any
suspicious activity to local police, and the nearest U.S.
embassy or consulate.
· Select your own taxi cabs at random. Don't take a vehicle that
is not clearly identified as a taxi. Compare the face of the
driver with the one posted on his or her license.
· If possible, travel with others.
· Be sure of the identity of visitors before opening the door of
your hotel room. Don't meet strangers at unknown or remote
· Refuse unexpected packages.
· Formulate a plan of action for what you will do if a bomb
explodes or there is gunfire nearby.
· Check for loose wires or other suspicious activity around your
· Be sure your vehicle is in good operating condition in case
you need to resort to high-speed or evasive driving.
· Drive with car windows closed in crowded streets. Bombs can be
thrown through open windows.
· If you are ever in a situation where somebody starts shooting,
drop to the floor or get down as low as possible. Don't move
until you are sure the danger has passed. Do not attempt to help
rescuers and do not pick up a weapon. If possible, shield
yourself behind or under a solid object. If you must move, crawl
on your stomach.
While every hostage situation is different, some considerations
The U.S. government's policy is firm. We will negotiate, but not
make concessions - to do so would only increase the risk of
further hostage-taking. When Americans are abducted overseas, we
look to the host government to exercise its responsibility under
international law to protect all persons within its territories
and to bring about the safe release of hostages. We work closely
with these governments from the outset of a hostage-taking
incident to ensure that our citizens and other innocent victims
are released as quickly and safely as possible.
Normally, the most dangerous phases of a hijacking or hostage
situation are the beginning and, if there is a rescue attempt,
the end. At the outset, the terrorists typically are tense,
high-strung and may behave irrationally. It is extremely
important that you remain calm and alert and manage your own
Avoid resistance and sudden or threatening movements. Do not
struggle or try to escape unless you are certain of being
· Make a concerted effort to relax. Prepare yourself mentally,
physically and emotionally for the possibility of a long ordeal.
· Try to remain inconspicuous, avoid direct eye contact and the
appearance of observing your captors' actions.
· Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consume little food and drink.
· Consciously put yourself in a mode of passive cooperation.
Talk normally. Do not complain, avoid belligerency, and comply
with all orders and instructions.
· If questioned, keep your answers short. Don't volunteer
information or make unnecessary overtures.
· Don't try to be a hero, endangering yourself and others.
· Maintain your sense of personal dignity and gradually increase
your requests for personal comforts. Make these requests in a
reasonable low-key manner.
· If you are involved in a lengthier, drawn-out situation, try
to establish a rapport with your captors, avoiding political
discussions or other confrontational subjects.
· Establish a daily program of mental and physical activity.
Don't be afraid to ask for anything you need or want - medicines,
books, pencils, papers.
· Eat what they give you, even if it does not look or taste
appetizing. A loss of appetite and weight is normal.
· Think positively. Avoid a sense of despair. Rely on your inner
resources. Remember that you are a valuable commodity to your
captors. It is important to them to keep you alive and well.
If you plan to stay more than two weeks in one place, if you are
in an area experiencing civil unrest or a natural disaster, or,
if you are planning travel to a remote area, it is advisable to
register at the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or
consulate. This will make it easier if someone at home needs to
locate you urgently or in the unlikely event that you need to be
evacuated in an emergency. It will also facilitate the issuance
of a new passport should yours be lost or stolen.
The Consular Section can provide updated information on the
security situation in a country.
If you are ill or injured, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or
consulate for a list of local physicians and medical facilities.
If the illness is serious, consular officers can help you find
medical assistance from this list and, at your request, will
inform your family or friends. If necessary, a consul can assist
in the transfer of funds from family or friends in the United
States. Payment of hospital and other medical expenses is your
If you run out of money overseas and have no other options,
consular officers can help you get in touch with your family,
friends, bank or employer and inform them how to wire funds to
Should you find yourself in legal difficulty, contact a consular
officer immediately. Consular officers cannot serve as attorneys,
give legal advice, or get you out of jail. What they can do is
provide a list of local attorneys who speak English and who may
have had experience in representing U.S. citizens. If you are
arrested, consular officials will visit you, advise you of your
rights under local laws and ensure that you are held under
humane conditions and are treated fairly under local law. A
consular officer will contact your family or friends if you
desire. When necessary, consuls can transfer money from home for
you and will try to get relief for you, including food and
clothing in countries where this is a problem. If you are
detained, remember that under international treaties and
customary international law, you have the right to talk to the
U.S. consul. If you are denied this right, be persistent. Try to
have someone get in touch for you.
U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs
The U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs
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