Studying abroad is an exciting experience for international students. Travelling to a different country can provide you with more educational and career opportunities. But studying overseas can also be intimidating, and moving to a new country with a foreign language and customs might feel overwhelming at times.
When you’re in a new and unfamiliar place, safety is often top of mind. From resources to precautions, it’s a good idea for students and their families to feel prepared before making the move. To help you get started, we’ve outlined a few ways international students can stay safe while studying abroad.
One of the simplest things students can do to keep safe is to stay aware of their surroundings. Familiarize yourself with your routes and local neighbourhoods as best you can. Check-in with your school before you leave—they’ll likely have resources on staying safe. To optimize your safety, you should ensure you’re:
- Not walking around with your headphones blocking surrounding sound
- Avoiding unfamiliar or poorly lit areas at night, and are walking with a friend if possible
- Asking your advisors, host family, or someone else you trust for recommendations on the safest routes
- Keeping your friends or your host family updated on your location
Check out your International Student Office for more information on navigating your neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, scams that take advantage of vulnerable communities, like international students, are common. To stay diligent, you should always be cautious when sharing personal information. When in restaurants, stores, or on the phone, don’t give your credit or debit card to anyone.
Phone scams are relatively common. For example, be cautious of anyone calling you from your host country’s revenue agency. They should never threaten you or demand immediate payment by e-transfer, bitcoin, or gift card. If needed, hang up and call the organization back using the phone number on their website.
When choosing a university or college, be careful to avoid “diploma mills.” These organizations claim they offer legitimate degrees but don’t require academic credentials. Working with a reputable recruiter can help you avoid academic scams and select an accredited institution.
Finding decent and affordable student housing can be challenging to coordinate from overseas. With reports of student housing scams growing, international students need to be cautious when finding somewhere to live.
If you’re looking at rentals online, a simple Google reverse image search will tell you if any images are from another listing or website. It’s also a good idea to have someone you trust, like a reputable rental agent, view the apartment in person. There are a few red flags international students can look out for as well. If a unit is priced well below the cost of similar units, it’s likely a scam. If the landlord requests money before any agreement has been signed, that can also be a red flag. International students need to know their rights as tenants. These can vary, so look up local legislation to see what information and deposits landlords are allowed to require.
Safety at Social Events
College is a fantastic time to meet new people and make memories. There are plenty of opportunities for international students to socialize. But with social events also come opportunities to drink and enter vulnerable situations.
Before you decide to drink or go out to a local bar, confirm the legal drinking age, which can vary by region. You’ll be required to show at least one piece of photo ID and may need two in some instances. Drinking can leave you vulnerable, so make sure you’re with people you trust. Know your limits and keep your drink with you at all times. Students should always have a plan for how they’ll get home and whatever you do, don’t drink and drive. It’s also unsafe to accept rides from strangers, except for taxis and reputable ridesharing apps.
Abiding by the law is important for all students, but even more so for international students. Doing illegal drugs or, in some places, drinking in public can result in deportation.
Transportation options can vary from place to place. International students can stay safe by reviewing local bus or train schedules. There are many apps students can use to check local schedules and find routes. Transit is an excellent app that offers accessible public transit information for over 200 cities. Many public transit systems will provide their app or website.
Sitting near the driver at the front of the bus can give students some security if any incident should arise. Many transit systems will offer special services for people travelling at night, so don’t be afraid to ask your bus driver if they can stop as close to your route as possible when it’s dark out.
Taxis are also reliable, although they can be a more expensive form of transportation. Students can keep a local taxi company’s phone number in their contacts to have on hand. Taxi metres will show the current cost of the ride and no negotiating is needed.
Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft are a popular and more affordable alternative to taxis in many cities. These companies have some safety features in place. When using a ridesharing app, always be sure to check the vehicle’s license plate number and wait for your driver to confirm your name before entering.
Many colleges and universities operate a safe ride or walk program on campus. Making a note of pickup locations and any program phone numbers will allow you to use the service when on campus at night.
Staying Safe at Home
There are a couple of simple things international students can do to stay safe where they live. Don’t let anyone you don’t know into your dorm or apartment. This includes propping any entrance doors open or holding doors open for people you don’t know. Ensure you keep your doors and windows locked at all times, even when you’re at home. Students can also get to know their neighbours. This may help you notice any unfamiliar guests and give you someone to turn to should anything happen.
What to Know About Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a safety concern shared by many international students. Here are a few things international students can look out for with personal or professional contacts:
- Offering you an opportunity that feels unrealistic, like very high wages for easy work
- Demanding a response to their offer immediately or pressuring you into a decision
- Denying you contact with family or friends
- Attempting to cut you off from your financial resources
- Asking you to do things you’re not comfortable with
- Threatening violence or responding aggressively
If you feel like you may be in danger, leave the situation or alert a trusted contact as soon as possible, even if it feels rude. As a precaution, you may even want to develop a safety word you can communicate over the phone to a friend to indicate if you’re unsafe.
Keep all critical documentation and identification with you. Employers and partners do not have the right to demand possession of these items. Make copies of any important documents and keep them with a family member. International students should make sure they always have access to money and a line of communication. Carrying a prepaid calling card can be a great backup plan.
Accessing Emergency Resources
Before leaving for your destination, be sure to look up the emergency number for that region. In Canada and the United States this number is 911, in the United Kingdom it’s 999, and in Australia it’s 000 or 112, depending on your location.
Calling the local emergency number will get you access to police, fire, and ambulance services. In many areas, interpreters may be available if English isn’t your first language. University and college campuses will often have services available to international students. From counselling to medical clinics, your school will likely have resources you can take advantage of.
Trust Your Instincts
Studying abroad is a fun and rewarding experience! Considering schools around the world opens up countless educational and career opportunities.
Independent travel and living in a new place always come with potential risks. International students can help themselves stay safe abroad by coming prepared, trusting their instincts, and using available resources. By planning, you can feel secure in your decision to study internationally and leave more time for new experiences.