Health & Safety
The Office of International Education wants everyone to have a happy, healthy and safe study abroad experience. Students should be informed about the health and safety concerns in their host country, prepare accordingly, and communicate any health and safety concerns to their program provider and the Office of International Education.
Health & Safety Considerations
The style of medical care abroad is largely dependent on the country. Some study abroad programs provide medical services for students. Other programs provide a contact list for emergencies. Non-routine medical costs (including hospitalization), dental care and eye exams are generally the full responsibility of the student. Students must ensure that their medical insurance provides complete coverage for the entire time abroad. Learn more.
As you prepare to study abroad, please notify the Office of International Education (OIE) and Study Abroad of any accessibility concerns. Students with questions or concerns about accessibility abroad should also reach out to Disability Resources.
Study abroad can be both exciting and stressful. Learning a new language and navigating a different environment and culture are experiences that require mental and emotional energy. All students should have strategies already in place for taking care of themselves while studying abroad. Learn more.
Attitudes toward sex and relationships vary culture to culture, as does accessibility of contraceptives, barriers, and other sexual health resources. It is important to know the cultural norms surrounding sex and sexual health accessibility. Learn more.
Students with food allergies, vegetarians, vegans, and students with religious dietary restrictions should take special care to ensure that their dietary needs will be met while abroad. Learn more.
Drugs & Alcohol
Culture plays a role in attitudes about alcohol and drugs. Students should determine the cultural norms and laws regarding drugs and alcohol and act accordingly. Learn more.
Culture & Identity
The majority of students who study abroad have safe and rewarding experiences. There are instances in which differing cultural attitudes make it necessary to be sensitive or cautious, however. This section contains general advice about navigating common cultural differences abroad. Learn more.
Preparing to Travel
As a precaution, students should have a routine medical and dental checkup before going abroad. It is also recommended that students pack a small first aid kit that includes their preferred and most often used over-the-counter medicines, bandages, antibiotic cream, antacids, etc. In addition, students should carry with them pertinent information from their medical record such as: medications, medical conditions, allergies, immunization history, blood type, glasses/contacts prescription, name of primary care physician at home, and health insurance information. Students with medical conditions that are not easily recognizable should wear a medical alert bracelet and inform their study abroad program of the condition and what to do in the event of an emergency.
Students without proper immunizations may not be allowed to enter a foreign country or may be quarantined at the U.S. border. Check the embassy website of the host country and all countries to be visited regarding required immunizations.
- Immunizations for Tetanus and Hepatitis A and B are recommended for all foreign travel
- No immunizations are currently required for travelers to Western Europe
- Immunizations may be required for travel in Southeastern and Eastern Europe, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania
U.S. prescriptions cannot be filled abroad. Take enough medicine for the entire trip or research how you might be able to obtain medicine while abroad. Check the embassy website to make sure that the needed medication is legal in the host country and the countries to be visited. Some commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. are illegal in other countries.
Bring a physician’s letter listing the generic and name brand of each medication, the dosage, and the condition the medicine treats. This is also the procedure for injections such as insulin.
For students who wear contacts or glasses, bring an extra pair. Consider bringing contact solution as well. Glasses and contacts can be very expensive to purchase abroad.
Medical Services Abroad
Students should not assume that the care needed will be available or available free of charge. It is the student’s responsibility to make their needs known and to ensure that the services needed are available in the host country. Contact OIE, the study abroad program or Mobility International for information and assistance.
English speaking doctors are available in most parts of the world. Your program abroad should have information on this.
Preparing to Travel
Students are strongly encouraged to have a plan in place for staying psychologically healthy while abroad. It will be important for students to inform their study abroad program of any special needs or accomodations that will be necessary while living in a different country. Students are also encouraged to research services and resources available at the study abroad location. The study abroad program will be able to help students find a counselor or therapist while abroad, if needed. Carnegie Mellon’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) will do telephone consultations with students studying abroad.
Sexual Health & Contraceptives
Sexual health resources and information about contraception may be more difficult or more available to obtain while abroad, depending on the location. OIE recommends that students purchase barriers and contraceptives before leaving the U.S. if they think they may be sexually active while abroad. It goes without saying that STIs are worldwide, so bring protection. University Health Services can provide more information on barriers, contraceptives and STIs.
Dating a local can be a great way to learn the culture, but cultural misunderstandings can cause some unwanted and unexpected situations. Go out on group dates for a while before going out as a couple, and find out the norms around dating in the culture.
Gendered/Sexual Harassment & Violence
Students who experience gendered/sexual harassment or violence should remember first and foremost that they are not to blame. It is ultimately up to survivors how to respond to instances of harassment and violence. For those who wish to report or seek support, resources are available. The study abroad program director, English speaking doctors and therapists, Carnegie Mellon’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS), and Carnegie Mellon’s Sexual Harassment Advisors are all available to provide assistance. CaPS provides phone appointments, and the Sexual Harassment Advisors can be contacted by phone, email or instant message.
Important Dietary Considerations
Many countries do not label food containing nuts or understand vegetarianism in the same way we do in the U.S. Consider packing power bars or other lightweight, nutritious food and researching where to find food that meets your dietary needs.
Students living with a host family should inform the program provider of their dietary requirements. They can work with students to find suitable living arrangements. Host families are typically willing to accommodate a student’s request, but they must be informed of the requirements.
Drugs & Alcohol
Attitudes by Culture
Culture plays a role in attitudes towards alcohol and drugs. In many countries, alcohol is much more accessible than in the U.S. In other countries, alcohol may be illegal, or at least frowned upon. At the same time, recreational drugs are legal in some countries while highly illegal and penalized in others.
Since attitudes toward drugs and alcohol can differ widely from the U.S. and since students may not know what effect these substances will have, it is important to have a strategy for staying safe while abroad. Alcohol and drugs, even if legal, can impair judgment and reduce safety. Should a student be arrested for offenses related to alcohol and drugs, the U.S. embassy will not intervene. Students caught with illegal substances will likely deal with legal penalties, which are often much more severe than in the U.S. Not knowing the law is not an excuse, so make sure to be well informed and exercise caution.
Culture & Identity
Perceptions of Americans Abroad
Americans are perceived differently from culture to culture, and being perceived as an American may afford students more privileges and safety—or less. American movies and pop culture have wide influence, and various stereotypes may lead to unwanted attention. Keep in mind that many behavioral cues taken for granted by Americans can be misinterpreted abroad. Research cultural norms before traveling.
Race & Ethnicity
Many students of color studying abroad find that they are recognized first as Americans, and then as people of color. Unfortunately racism exists in every part of the world, and though it affects different groups of people depending on the country, it is the same all over the world—the oppression of one group by another. Students studying abroad in some countries will not face any racism, overt or otherwise, during their time abroad. Others will witness blatant acts of racism. Most will see or experience a subtle form of racism or the perpetuation of a system of oppression, much like in the U.S. It is important to have a strategy to deal with racism abroad, much as students of color do in the U.S.
Students are encouraged to talk to the advisors in the Office of International Education if they have concerns about study abroad relating to race or ethnicity. OIE is committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to study abroad, and the staff is happy to assist students in finding a program. The study abroad program provider will also be a valuable resource for learning more about the host culture’s attitude toward people of different races and ethnicities.
Gender & Sexual Identity
Culture-to-culture, people have varying ideas about gender roles and presentation. Gender presentation may be a more important or less important part of a student’s identity abroad, depending on the culture. Standards of behavior vary just as widely.
Additionally, many countries are much more open and accepting of LGBTQIA+ folks, and sexual identity may be a more or less central issue, depending on the culture and the particular student. A conservative country may mean a complete change in behavior while abroad, while a more liberal country may afford a freedom not possible in the U.S.
Keep in mind that cultural norms surrounding the behavior of two people of the same gender may be different than in the U.S. In another country seeing two male-presenting people holding hands may be much more common and might not identify them as a couple. Furthermore, in some countries all public displays of affection—from all types of couples—are considered taboo.
It is important to take this into account when choosing a study abroad location and program. Students should assess the characteristics of the environment that could affect sexual identity expression and determine their comfort level with that particular environment.
Religion & Spirituality
Countries have different levels of commitment to religion and spirituality. Some countries have a state religion around which daily life is planned. Other countries have citizens of almost every religion. Religion remains a fundamental aspect of virtually every culture. It shapes worldviews, influences behavior, and is reflected in art, poetry and architecture. Students are encouraged to participate in religious/spiritual events as a way to further their cultural understanding, but only to the extent that they feel comfortable. Be sure to research the group or tradition first, and always be respectful of the rituals and the customs of the group. Remember that arms, legs, and heads may need to be covered before entering a holy place. Sometimes shoes must be removed, or hands and feet washed.