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Safe Travel

Information provided by the National Counterintelligence Center.

Before You Go:

The preparations you make before you depart for your trip will depend upon the destination, length, and purpose of your trip. Before leaving, be sure to confirm lodging and travel reservations and obtain traveler's checks. Unless anonymity is an issue, also leave a copy of your itinerary with a relative or close friend. You should take with you pertinent information regarding health insurance coverage that might be useful in an emergency. In addition, you will need certain official documents and perhaps vaccination information for some areas. The following is a checklist that will help you prepare for your trip.

Checklist:

  • Learn about the places you plan to visit. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs in those areas. Information can be obtained from your public library or local travel agency.
    Leave behind photographs of family members/loved ones that could be used as coercion by terrorists or criminals.
  • Ensure that you have all official documents; i.e., passport, shot records, official orders, international driver's license, etc.
  • Grant power of attorney to an immediate relative/close friend. Complete or update your will to include naming a guardian for any minor children.
  • Establish a point of contact for your family to call in an emergency.
  • Carry an extra set of eyeglasses and any necessary medications (along with a copy of the prescription and the generic name of the drug) in your carry-on luggage. Keep all medications in their original containers.
  • To avoid inviting crime, plan to dress inconspicuously to blend into the international environment. Avoid the appearance of being wealthy. Consider not taking or wearing any jewelry.
  • Try to use a closed name tag, so that all personal information is concealed from casual observation. Do not display company logos on your luggage.

Carry Identification:

Make copies of your airline ticket, passport identification page, driver's license, and the credit cards you take with you. Carry this record, along with two extra passport photos, in a separate place from the originals. These items will help speed the replacement process should the documents be lost or stolen.

Take all essential personal and medical identification and information you will need to get you successfully through your trip. Items to consider are telephone numbers of relatives, health and life insurance policy numbers, the telephone numbers of the insurance companies, and the telephone numbers of credit card companies to report the loss or theft of any credit cards.

Never leave your wallet or purse unattended.

Passport Protection:

Your passport is the most significant identification you will cary. Passport theft, particularly of American tourist passports, is on the increase. Take extra precautions to protect your passport because its loss or theft may cause you unnecessary travel complications as well as significant expenses.

To minimize potential loss or theft, it is recommended that you carry your passport in a front pocket or in a pouch hidden in your clothes. The only time your passport should leave your possession is if the hotel requires you to leave it at the desk during your stay. Some areas use this procedure to register you with the local police - a routine policy. Don't forget to ask for a receipt and be very sure to retrieve your passport before continuing your trip.

Use discretion in displaying your passport, as it could draw undue attention to you. Memorizing your passport number and other essential information will help you avoid flashing your passport around when filling out items such as landing cards and hotel registration forms. If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, report the situation IMMEDIATELY to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and to the local police authorities. Again, having copies of your passport identification page and/or birth certificate, along with extra passport photos, will help speed the replacement process.

Establish Points of Contact:

Establishing points of contact is important. Someone should know your whereabouts from the time you depart the United States until you return home. Provide your contact with a detailed copy of your itinerary and advise him/her of any changes. If you are traveling on business, you should establish a point of contact in the country you are visiting. Be sure to carry that person's name and telephone number with you.

Depending on your personal circumstances or if your travel involves an extended stay, it may be advisable to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This will make it easier should someone at home need to locate you urgently or in the unlikely event that you need to be evacuated due to an emergency.

Keep a Low Profile:

You need to use common sense and be extra conscious of your appearance and actions so that you do not attract unwanted attention. Take a good look at the items you plan to take with you such as clothing, jewelry, and even religious items. This is especially true for reading materials that may be considered offensive. Keep in mind that certain items may not be appropriate in the country you are visiting.

Avoid clothing and other outward vestiges that unnecessarily advertise that you are an American citizen. Wear nondescript, casual apparel that enables you to blend in as much as possible. Leave behind professional sports apparel items; i.e., hats, coats, shirts, etc.

Shun Publicity:

Shun publicity and inquiries by the local news media.

Avoid discussing personal and background information concerning yourself and family members with nationals of the country you are visiting.

Avoid Civil Disturbances:

Every effort should be made to avoid civil disturbances and disputes with local citizens.

Use caution if you come upon a demonstration or a rally. Should violence break out, arrests are sometimes made indiscriminately. In the confusion, you could be arrested or detained even though you are only an "innocent bystander."

Local Laws:

Remember that although you are an American citizen, you are subject to the laws of the country in which you are traveling. Don't assume that what is acceptable in the United States is acceptable abroad.

Taking photographs of government facilities and religious symbols is also prohibited in many countries. As a general rule, do not attempt to take photographs in the vicinity of foreign military bases, buildings, or personnel.

Money Matters:

Take most of your money in international traveler's checks. Do not carry large amounts of cash.

Plan ahead to ensure that you will have enough foreign currency for the expenses you anticipate during your first day in the country. It is advisable to exchange some money to cover such essentials as taxi fares, meals, tips, etc.

Do not rely on currency exchanges at airports being open 24 hours a day. Local banks usually offer the best rates, although hotel money exchanges may be more convenient.

Always deal with reputable, established currency exchanges; in many countries it is illegal to do otherwise.

Be sure to keep track of all your transactions. Each time you cash a traveler's check, record the serial number, denomination, date, and location of purchase. Keep this in a separate place so replacement checks can be issued quickly if they become lost or stolen.

Safeguard all credit cards as well as customer copies of each credit card transaction you make. Any credit cards that are unnecessary or invalid overseas (e.g., gasoline or department store credit cards) should be left behind.

Airport Safety:

Once you have landed, proceed directly to the baggage claim and customs areas. Keep a low profile. When processing through customs, be courteous and cooperative.

Stay alert, check out emergency exits, and keep your distance from unattended luggage.

Do not leave your own belongings unattended.

Report any unattended luggage to airport security personnel.

Never agree to carry a package for a stranger for any reason.

Exit the airport as quickly as possible.

Personal Safety:

Travel in a group whenever possible.

Always be conscious of your surroundings and avoid any areas you believe may put your personal safety at risk.

Be especially careful not to flash large sums of money. It is also best to leave your valuables at home.

Avoid high crime areas and never travel alone after dark.

When traveling on foot, walk only on well-lighted, heavily traveled streets whenever possible.

Avoid shortcuts through alleys or side streets. Walk in the middle of the sidewalk and secure your belonging.

Avoid being the target of a thief on a passing motorcycle trying to grab a purse or shoulder bag. Try not to walk next to the curb.

Be wary of street vendors and innocent-looking youngsters. While one person has your attention, someone else may be picking your pocket.

Should you be approached by a suspicious looking person on foot, cross the street or change direction. If you are threatened by the occupants of a car, move in the opposite direction.

Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can obtain assistance if needed. You should also learn how to use the public telephone and carry the coins necessary to do so.

Remain alert, and if you have a problem, go to the local police department.

Hotel Safety:

Avoid taking a street level room. Choose a room between the second and seventh floors; i.e., too high for easy outside access and low enough to be reached by fire equipment.

Use elevators rather than stairwells. Stand near the control panel so if threatened, you can push the alarm button.

Locate exits within the hotel and develop a plan in case of fire or other emergency.

Report lost keys immediately and consider changing rooms.

When in the hotel room, secure the door and windows and keep them locked. When you leave your room, do not leave indicators showing that you are out. In fact, leave the television or radio on, giving the impression that the room is occupied. Do not leave anything of value (money, tickets, camera, etc.) or work-related items (briefcases, computer, etc.) in your room when you go out, even if it is locked in your suitcase.

Do not accept deliveries to your room unless previously arranged and you are certain of the source and contents.

Keep your room key with you instead of leaving it at the front desk.

In some countries, you may be required to leave your passport at the hotel reception desk overnight so it can be checked by local police officials. These are normal procedures required by local laws in many countries. Be sure to obtain a receipt for your passport and any valuables you leave in the hotel safe.

When you are out, put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, to give the impression that the room is occupied. Consider leaving the light or TV on when you are out of the room.

Don't advertise to others when you are out of your room. For example, request that housekeeping make up your room while you are at breakfast, rather than leaving a "Please Service This Room" sign on the door knob.

Protecting Information:

Recognize that your lap top computer is a major target for theft. If you must take it, always keep it as carry-on baggage - never check it with other luggage. Leaving it in your hotel room also presents a significant risk. If you must leave your computer in your room, lock it in your suitcase so it is out of sight while you are out or asleep at night. If possible, copy sensitive material to a diskette and delete it from the hard drive prior to travel. Carry the diskette on your person, separate from the computer.

Beware of new acquaintances who probe for information about you or your work or who attempt to get you involved in what could become a compromising situation.

Driving Overseas:

If you plan to drive while overseas, you need to determine whether you will need an international driver's license. While some countries do not recognize U.S. drivers licenses, most do accept international drivers licenses and the latter are often required by foreign car rental agencies. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) will assist you in obtaining an international driver's license, although non-members will pay a slight additional charge above the cost of the license.

Check with your insurance company before you leave to verify that you're covered for driving while overseas.

Drive carefully while you are abroad! Many countries deal harshly with foreigners who are involved in traffic accidents.

Take care not to speed as some countries impose a speeding fine that is payable when levied.

Vehicle Safety:

Avoid selecting cars that mark you as an "important foreigner." Rental cars are easy to spot so do not choose a large, flashy vehicle.

To avoid making yourself a potential target, rent a conservative automobile. Avoid getting boxed in by other vehicles; leave an avenue of escape open should the need arise. If you have the opportunity, don't be afraid to floor it and get away quickly if your life seems threatened.

Make sure the car is in good repair and always keep your gas tank at least half full.

Always drive with the doors locked and the windows closed.

Be cautious of anything that causes you to make an abnormal stop.

Never overload a vehicle. ALL persons should use seat belts.

Whenever possible park in areas that are locked or attended.

Never pick up hitchhikers, and, if you observe an accident, drive to the nearest telephone or police station to report it.

Be aware of minor incidents that could block traffic along your route. If you see a suspicious roadblock or detour, take an alternate route.

Inform others of your travel plans, so they will expect you at a certain time.

Always lock your car when unattended and avoid leaving valuables in the car even if locked in the glove compartment or trunk.

Inspect your vehicle for tampering inside and out. If you suspect a problem, keep clear of the vehicle and contact the authorities.

Be alert to possible surveillance. If you suspect you are being followed, go to the nearest secure public place.

Illness or Medical Emergency:

Carry a summary of your medical history, including information on past illnesses, allergies, and blood type.

Carry an ample supply of any prescription medication you are required to take. It is also recommended that you take along an extra prescription in case you need a refill. Be sure to ask for the generic name of any prescription drug as brand names differ in other countries.

Always leave medicines in the original labeled containers.

Check with your medical insurance agent to make sure your medical expenses will be covered if you incur an injury or illness while traveling abroad.

To help prevent illness while you are abroad, get a medical checkup before your trip and make sure that your immunizations are up-to-date.

Do not hesitate to seek medical assistance if you need it. Should you require medical services due to injury or serious illness, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where a representative is on duty 24 hours a day. This individual can provide the names of reputable physicians and hospitals that can help you avoid improper treatment and/or large medical bills. In most cases, hotel personnel also provide good advice.

Arrests:

If you are arrested for any reason, ask permission to notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In some countries your request may not be honored immediately. Be persistent.

A consular officer cannot arrange for free legal aid or provide bail money for you. He/she can provide you with names of English-speaking attorneys and help you find adequate legal representation.

Evading Terrorists and Criminals:

Get as much information as you can about the threat in your destination before you leave, especially if traveling to a high-risk area.

It is strongly recommended that you contact the State Department for additional information prior to traveling.

Develop and implement a security plan upon your arrival.

Do not become complacent in low-risk areas.

Vary arrival times, departure times, and routes that you normally take.

If you believe that you are being followed, do not challenge your follower; instead, attempt to mentally note his/her physical characteristics, type of car, license number, etc.

Regarding street crime, never resist armed robbery; it could lead to violence. Always carry some cash to appease muggers who may resort to violence at finding no reward for their efforts. Turn over the small bills that you keep separate. If the robber presses the attack, give up your wallet. If you do not have much money on you, offer something else such as, "I don't have my wallet, here take my jacket." Never pursue a thief; call for help and contact the police.

Promptly report such incidents to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Getting Dressed To Go To The Airport:

Dress casually in case you have to climb over obstacles to leave the plane.

Wear natural fibers.

Wear bright colors.

Do not wear high-heeled shoes.

Do not wear pierced earings.

Wear laced shoes and keep them on during takeoff and landing.

Because the plane is set to a low humidity you dehydrate while in the air. Drink plenty of water or juice at home and before boarding the plane. While in-flight, drink fluids, even if you are not thirsty. A word of caution: alcohol speeds dehydration.

Do not take any medication that may slow thinking and reaction time in an emergency. Regarding prescription medication, if you are traveling in different time zones, make sure you take your medication according to the number of hours between doses, not by the time on your watch.

Where to sit: The best place to sit is either on an exit row or within two rows of one. Make sure you know where the closest emergency exits are.

Put a softer, lighter bag in the top bin. In an emergency, these bins pop open and contents become projectiles.

While on the airplane, remember to keep items like your lap top computer near your seat and not in the overhead compartment away from your view.

Pay heed to the flight attendant's emergency instructions. Know where the nearest two exits are; doors can jam because of a crash. Count the number of rows you are away from these exits. Back up what the attendant says by reading the emergency card in the flap in front of you.

Never release your seat belt until the plan comes to a complete stop.

Keep the seat belt buckled when seated.

If traveling with your family, get seats next to each other.

Agencies to Contact for Additional Information:

For Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings:

Department of State
Office of Overseas Citizens Service
(202) 647-5225

For Lists of English-Speaking Doctors Practicing in Foreign Countries:

International Association for
Medical Assistance to Travelers
(716) 754-4883

For Information on Diseases, Shots Needed, Etc.:

Centers for Disease Control
(404) 332-4559

For United States Customs:

U.S. Customs 24 Hour
Emergency Toll Free Number:
1-800-973-2867

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