General Health and Safety Information
Emergency Phone System
If an emergency comes up during business hours (8:00am - 4:30pm Central Time), please call our office at 608-265-6329 and an IAP staff member will assist you.
If an emergency comes up during non-business hours, parents and students can reach a member of the IAP staff by calling 608-516-9440. This is for EMERGENCIES ONLY, where the health/safety of the student is an issue.
Physical Exams and Vaccinations
International Academic Programs does not require you to have a physical exam before going abroad. However, it may be required for certain countries/visas. We do recommend that you schedule a visit with your medical provider to discuss any concern; mild physical or psychological disorders can become serious under the stresses of life while studying abroad. We also recommend you have a dental check-up and complete any necessary dental work before you go abroad.
We urge you to consult with your physician about any inoculations you should have before leaving for the countries in which you will be studying or visiting. It is ultimately your responsibility to have all necessary shots. Inoculations should be recorded and certified in the yellow "International Certificate of Vaccination" pamphlet. You can get one of these from the Post Office when you turn in your passport application or from your physician.
Health and Diet
AIDS and STD's
As in the U.S., students traveling abroad should take appropriate precautions to avoid exposure to the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases. For more information, contact the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS, or the World Health Organization at 1-202-974-3000.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is transmitted PRIMARILY in the following ways:
- Blood to blood contact (i.e., unsterilized needles, ear piercing, tattoos)
- Sexual fluid to blood contact (semen and vaginal/cervical secretions)
- Congenitally (from mother to fetus; transmission may occur during breast feeding, though scientific evidence is being debated).
Blood, blood transfusions, and blood products are NOT tested for HIV in many foreign countries, especially in Africa, South East Asia, and former Communist/Eastern Block countries. In addition, because of the shortage of medical supplies, items such as hypodermic needles are often reused.
If you are in need of medical care or blood, we suggest you contact the American Embassy about where to go. If you need a transfusion, we advise that you receive blood from a travel companion who has tested negative for the HIV virus.
- Either abstain from sexual activity entirely, or practice safe sex. Use latex condoms or barriers (animal skin condoms are NOT effective) during vaginal, anal or oral sex, as well as a spermicide containing non-oxynol 9. When traveling to developing countries, purchase condoms and a spermicide or water-based lubricant before you leave the United States. Do not engage in unprotected oral sex, especially after brushing or flossing or when you have cold/canker sores.
- Do not use intravenous drugs or share needles. Tattoos, acupuncture treatments, and injections for medical or dental procedures are risky because the equipment may be contaminated.
- Avoid the use of locally produced immune globulin and blood-clotting factors in countries where the blood supply is not routinely tested for communicable diseases. If a blood transfusion is necessary, contact the nearest American Embassy/Consulate for advice.
You are strongly encouraged to talk with health professionals or go to the Bluebus Clinic, located on the first floor of the University Health Service, to obtain the information you need to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.
If you are HIV-positive, be aware that some countries may require HIV anti-body tests and there may be constraints on what countries you might enter. Contact the Consulate or Embassy of the country in which you will be studying and any others you plan to visit. In addition, be aware that many medications are not universally available; discuss with your physician the availability of medications you may need in the country where you will be staying. Be sure to follow the directions for carrying any prescription medicines. If you have any concerns or questions, we encourage you to contact a staff member in our office.
Dietary Needs for Vegetarians
Vegetarians or students on a special diet need to be aware that their dietary needs might not be easily met in some countries. Be sure to discuss this with your medical provider. You may also wish to consult the guidebooks, which include information for vegetarians.
As with many customs, cross-cultural differences exist in the consumption of alcohol. Depending on your host country, you may find the availability and public consumption of alcohol greatly increased or decreased. Often, rules about the acceptability of alcohol use in certain situations or contexts are very different than at home.
If you choose to use alcohol, use it responsibly. Keep in mind that being under the influence of alcohol also impairs judgement and increases your chances of being the victim of crime, whether robbery or sexual assault.
If you are in recovery, or think you may have a problem, we encourage you to contact an IAP staff member with whom you feel comfortable, so that we can pursue finding support contacts for you at your program site. Also, please be aware that there are Alcoholic Anonymous meetings internationally which are held in many cities abroad.
Alcohol Use for Women Abroad
Please be aware that over consuming alcohol can especially put women in unsafe circumstances. Women who are publicly drunk may be looked at differently abroad than in the U.S. In many countries, a woman who is publicly drunk is looked upon as "loose" or "unladylike" or inviting advances from men.
Though food is safe in many countries, in numerous others one needs to exercise caution. There are some basic rules of thumb that should help you stay healthy.
- Avoid uncooked food purchased from street vendors
- Be careful with dairy products that are not refrigerated or pasteurized
- Do not drink water unless you know that it is safe for drinking; bottled water is recommended
- Avoid ice cubes in soft drinks unless you know that the water is safe for drinking
- Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!
These are all precautionary measures that you should use upon arrival. Once you are more comfortable with your country's culture and food, you may decide to be more liberal in your approach to food.
Illegal Drug Use
Illegal drug use and possession are serious crimes. While drugs in some countries may seem easily available, this does not mean they are legal. Penalties for use or possession of illegal drugs can include jail terms, hard labor, and even the death penalty. If you are arrested, you are subject to the host country's laws and neither the UW-Madison, International Academic Programs, nor the U.S. Embassy can protect you from the local legal consequences. In some places, even association with people possessing or using illegal drugs is considered the same as personal use or possession. While on a UW-Madison study abroad program, you are responsible for obeying all local laws.
If IAP hears reports that program participants are using drugs or breaking other local laws, they will be confronted with the issue and may be asked to leave the program.
There are many cross-cultural differences in the meanings of food and in standards of beauty. Students with eating disorders may find these differences create additional challenges for them. A well-meaning host may insist on serving you more food than you care to eat or someone may intend to compliment you by saying that you have put on weight. Remind yourself that this is simply a reflection of the speaker's cultural beliefs and values.
Be sure to discuss your plans to study abroad with your health care providers before you leave. We also encourage you to contact a staff member in our office, with whom you feel comfortable, so that we can pursue finding support networks for you at your program site.
If you will be living with a host family, fill out your housing form completely and don't be afraid to be honest about what you need. Stating your needs before you arrive may be easier than having to explain them in person. In most other housing situations (dormitories, apartments), you have more control about when and what you eat.
Health Resources Abroad
For more information about emergency health procedures and precautions abroad, please visit the World Health Organization website and the Center for Disease Control website.
If you take prescription medicine regularly or expect to take any while away, make sure to bring a sufficient supply with you for the time you will be abroad. Your insurance company may ask you for a letter, which certifies that you will be studying overseas. Our office will issue this letter if you request it.
Ask your doctor about the availability abroad of any prescription medicine you take regularly. Even if your prescription is available, it may be simpler to take an adequate supply with you for the period you are abroad (provided it is not perishable). Be sure to keep all prescription medications in their original bottles to facilitate clearance through customs. In many places, you will also need to carry a letter from your physician, stating why you need your prescription medication. Also, be sure to carry a copy of all current prescriptions, including that for eyeglasses, when you study abroad. Pack all prescription medicines in your carry-on luggage in case your checked baggage is lost or delayed.
Safety and Security
IAP is dedicated to maintaining the personal safety and security for each of our study abroad participants. Our office takes necessary precaution, remains in close contact with the program staff, and will work with them in case of an emergency. We encourage you to contact us if you are concerned about your (or your student's) safety or welfare. We assure you we are working hard to assist all students to be safe. Listed below are a variety of resources that we monitor regularly and that are open to the public:
- State Department Resources. The U.S. government provides accurate and timely information for overseas travelers on their websites: www.state.gov/travel and www.studentsabroad.state.gov. You may find information about emergencies, country info, visas, passports, living abroad, and other topics.
- Consular Information Sheets. Consular Information Sheets are available for every country of the world and are given to all study abroad participants prior to departure. They include such information as location of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the subject country, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. If an unstable condition exists in a country that is not severe enough to warrant a Travel Warning, a description of the condition(s) may be included under an optional section entitled "Safety/Security." Consular Information Sheets generally do not include advice, but present information in a factual manner so the traveler can make his or her own decisions concerning travel to a particular country.
- Public Announcements. Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and/or trans-national conditions posing significant risks to the security of American travelers. They are made any time there is a perceived threat and usually have Americans as a particular target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with demonstrations, conferences, and violence by terrorists.
- Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Countries where avoidance of travel is recommended will have Travel Warnings as well as Consular Information Sheets.
In addition, students should consider the following safety-related issues.
Participants may want to consider having insurance to cover damage or theft of personal property, which they take with them abroad. Although occurrences are rare, your student may encounter personal property loss due to a fire or other incident in the local residence overseas. Insurance company policies vary widely on the circumstances and amount of coverage for personal property abroad. In some instances, your homeowner's policy or your student's own renter's insurance policy is enough to provide limited coverage. In other cases, a special policy must be purchased. Check with your insurance company, or contact any insurance company that provides home or renter's insurance to learn more about the extent of coverage possible for personal property that your student will take with abroad.
UW-Madison International Academic Programs study abroad participants who are US citizens must register with the nearest U.S. Embassy as soon as possible after arrival in their host country. Citizens of other countries should register at their own country's Embassy. Registering will aid students if an emergency occurs in the country in which they are studying or if they lose their passport. In addition, UW-Madison study abroad participants who are on a student visa to study in the United States should remain in close contact with UW-Madison's International Student Services office regarding their U.S. visa.
The staff in IAP monitors the U.S. State Department's consular information sheets, public announcements and travel warnings and will contact on-site staff and participants any time there is an update. Students should always check their e-mail, as it is our only way of easily contacting them. Also, students should always keep in touch with their study abroad site staff. You and your student may also check the U.S. State Department's website at http://www.state.gov
Before students travel to a country outside the host study abroad country, they should make sure to know the safety conditions of the country they will travel to as well as any countries they will be traveling through.
Most large cities as well as remote areas, in the U.S. and abroad, suffer from common crimes. Students should use the same precautions abroad that they would in any large metropolitan area. The following are some general safety precautions we give to students:
- Know where you are going. Do your homework before traveling: read guidebooks, look at maps, check with local staff, etc.
- Leave expensive or expensive-looking jewelry at home.
- Do not carry valuables, even in a backpack or locked luggage. If you must carry cameras, radios, etc. don't leave them unattended.
- Do not flaunt wallets, purses, cell phones or cameras. Wear a money belt, concealed under your clothing.
- Put valuables in the hotel safe or ask your local contact about storing valuables while at the program site.
- Avoid unlit places and walking alone. Stick to well-traveled streets and walk in groups at night. Be especially cautious when you are new to a city and know little about what parts of town may be less safe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC also provides valuable information for travelers on its website: www.cdc.gov/travel/
Personal Safety for Female Travelers
Female students may or may not have thought about what it might mean to live as a woman in the country in which you will be studying abroad, but we encourage you to do so. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel abroad. This is not to say that it is more dangerous to be a woman elsewhere in the world. In fact, the incidence of violent crime against women is higher in the U.S. than in many other countries. However, language and cultural differences might mean what you consider appropriate behavior for a woman in the U.S. will be interpreted much differently by the men-- and women--of your host country. This is further compounded by the fact that the people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American films and advertising. The very characteristics of U.S. women such as independence and strength may be conceived differently in other countries.
A smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way you carry yourself can connote different things in different cultures. While we will supply you with what information we can, you are your own best resource. Read travel guides or articles and talk to women who have been to your host country. The more familiar you are with the customs and traditions of your host country, the more understanding you will have for why they exist and the safer you will feel while abroad.
Some safety suggestions women on past programs have made include:
- Take a self-defense class before leaving the U.S., to increase your confidence and teach you important skills.
- Follow the example of women from your host country, in terms of culturally appropriate dress and demeanor.
- Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe in a situation or someone's behavior is making you uncomfortable, get out.
- Travel in groups of at least two, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city or town.
- Lock hotel rooms when traveling. Do not stay in hotels without adequate locks. The money you would save is not worth putting yourself at risk.
- Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers.
- Firmly say "no" to any invitation you do not want and turn away. Ignore persistent overtures.
- Do not drink alcohol in excess.
Safety Precautions for Times of Political / Social Unrest or Conflict
In times of political or social unrest in the host country or region, or when the United States becomes a party to a political conflict anywhere in the world, additional precautions are advisable:
- Keep in touch with the current political situations by listening daily to the television or radio if available. If not, ask friends, host family, and colleagues to share with you any relevant information they learn. In case of an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media. In case of an emergency, remain in contact with the on-site staff.
- Make sure that you are registered with the closest American Embassy or Consulate. (It is required!)
- When in large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid places frequented by North Americans: bars, discos, and fast food restaurants associated with the US, branches of US banks, American churches, US businesses and offices, US consulates or embassies.
- Keep away from areas known to have large concentrations of residents aligned with interests unfriendly to the United States and its allies. Always consult with the on-site officials before undertaking travel to neighboring cities or popular tourist destinations.
- Be as inconspicuous in dress and demeanor as possible. Wear moderate colors and conservative clothing. Avoid American logos on your belongings and clothing. Avoid large loud groups.
- Keep away from political demonstrations, particularly those directed toward the United States. If you see a situation developing, resist the temptation to satisfy your curiosity and investigate what is happening. Walk the other way.
- Do not agree to newspaper or other media interviews regarding political conflicts. It is important to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Do not make reference to your program group. In such cases, always say "no comment" and hang up or walk the other way.
Refer to your program specific handbook or sponsoring institution for more detailed information on health and safety issues as they pertain to your particular program and destination.