Health and Safety Tips

What to Know about Your Country

Learn all you can about the health and safety issues of the countries you plan to visit. This includes reading about the cultural and political climate of those countries, as well as learning about how others view people from your country, race, ethnic group, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

Is Water Safe to Drink?

Find out before you go whether the local tap water is drinkable. If it isn't, drink bottled water. As an alternative, you can boil tap water for ten minutes, and then let it cool; it will then be safe for drinking, cooking, and brushing your teeth. In restaurants, order bottled water if tap water is unhealthy, and don't request ice – it is usually made from tap water. If you are going to be hiking in a remote area where bottled water may not be available, bring a high-quality water filter or iodine tablets to purify the water.

Mental and Physical Health

Emotionally and mentally, international living can be stressful. Most travelers will experience a degree of culture shock during the normal adjustment phase (see Culture Shock). Culture shock causes feelings of disorientation and unease, which can be intensified for students dealing with ongoing unresolved emotional or medical issues. Thus, it is imperative to discuss these issues with your study abroad advisors, mental health providers, or other trained medical personnel before leaving.

First-Aid Kit

Consider a well-stocked first-aid kit as a first line of defense. Some items to include are: sunscreen, bandages, flashlight, sterile pads, insect repellent, adhesive tape, aspirin, antacid, anti-diarrhea tablets, anti-malarial medication, extra bottled water, feminine protection, condoms, rubber gloves, etc.

Fitness and Exercise

Ensure a healthy body before you leave, which will help you to fight off illness and recover faster if you do get sick. Also, try to stay fit while abroad, even though it may be harder to follow a structured workout routine. The physical state of your body often affects your mental state. It is good to practice a balance of mental & physical meditation.

Prescriptions & Non-Prescription Drugs

Take along sufficient quantities of prescription drugs and prescriptions from your medical, eye or dental providers. Some prescription drugs are illegal in some countries; verify this with a consulate or your host program beforehand. If possible, it is a good idea to bring enough medication for your entire stay abroad. Some prescriptions may need to be translated if you wish to fill them abroad. Include your glasses or contact lens prescription. Bring an extra pair of glasses.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Bring with you a supply of any over-the-counter medications you normally use. If you bring pills, keep them in their original packaging.

Here’s a list of a few over-the-counter items you may wish to take:

  • Aspirin or Tylenol – for headaches, fever, etc.
  • Vitamins – in case you are not eating a regular diet
  • Medications for diarrhea and constipation
  • Antacid, antihistamine, motion-sickness tablets
  • Decongestant, hydrocortisone cream
  • Water-purification tablets


The food in your host country is almost guaranteed to be different from what you’re used to. In many places, the local diet may be based on meat, entirely vegetarian, very spicy, or just “odd” by U.S. standards. While your stomach is still adjusting, you may wish to include some familiar foods in your diet. In areas with poor sanitation and hygiene avoid street vendors, milk and milk products, raw fruits, raw vegetables, and raw fish and meat.

Respiratory Sickness

While traveling, you will probably be more susceptible to cold, coughs, etc. The best safeguard is a balanced diet, liquids, and rest. Don’t forget to wash your hands often!


If you happen to pick up an infection while you’re abroad, whether it be a virus, a bacterium, or a parasite, you may not get sick right away, but weeks after your return. Some diseases can take up to six months to show up. If you get sick, tell your physician what countries you have visited and when. This information might prove to be helpful in making a diagnosis.


Keep the program staff and an emergency contact at home well informed of your whereabouts and activities and provide these people with copies of your important travel documents (i.e., passport, visa, plane tickets, traveler's checks and prescriptions).

Download and print the CGE's Emergency Contact Card and carry it on you at all times. Make a copy for your family back home.

For emergencies, please take the following steps:

  1. Contact the Resident Director or Official Contact at your host university or international internship site if any emergencies arise.
  2. Contact the USF Public Safety’s Emergency Number at +1 (415) 422-2911 for more information and instructions.

Women Travelers

Female travelers are sometimes more likely to encounter harassment, but uncomfortable situations can usually be avoided by taking the following precautions:

  • Dress conservatively. While short skirts and tank tops may be comfortable, they may also encourage unwanted attention.
  • Avoid walking alone late at night or in questionable neighborhoods.
  • Do not agree to meet a person you don't know in a nonpublic place. Be aware that some men from other countries tend to mistake the friendliness of American women for romantic interest.
  • Exercise the same precautions you would in any U.S. city and use common sense. Carry some form of identification with you at all times (your name, host country address, host country phone number, passport and visa number). Never carry large amounts of cash. Use money belts or a concealed purse for your passport, visa, money, credit cards and other documents. You will look like a tourist, at least for a while, and people may "target" you, so be aware. Pickpockets will take advantage of your jacket pockets in the most surprising of places. Keep important items on your body, and keep your pack closed. Do not wear expensive clothes or jewelry, or carry expensive luggage. Never leave any luggage or bags unattended.