Our working off-site policy and associated fieldwork safety standard and placements and study abroad standard set out how to manage risks if you’re working away from University owned or managed premises. As an international institution, we regularly have staff and students working overseas in a variety of contexts. This could include attending conferences, working at partner organisations, carrying out fieldwork or taking part in placements or study in urban, rural and sometimes remote locations.
This guide offers practical safety tips you can refer to if you are travelling to overseas destinations in connection with your work. Much of this advice could equally be applied here in the UK.
The guidance is not prescriptive but provides an idea of the type of control measures that might be included, where appropriate, in associated fieldwork or travel risk assessments. This guidance does not cover specific activities you might be doing while working away from site. You should address these issues in your task risk assessments.
Know your destination
Before you travel, take time to learn about your destination and understand the culture, expected behaviours and any rules that might be unusual. Understanding and following dress and behaviour codes can help you avoid causing offence or drawing unnecessary or unwanted attention.
Visit the Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) web pages for the latest travel advice. Here you’ll find location-specific advice on local laws, customs and traditions. The website also offers specific advice and guidance for LGBTQ+ travellers and advice for female travellers.
You could also subscribe to the FCDO foreign travel advice information service to receive live travel updates before and during your trip. It's also a good idea to identify the nearest British Embassy or Consulate in case you require assistance while overseas.
If you are travelling to a location the FCDO recommend against travelling to, you must get authorisation from the Department of Risk, Resilience and Compliance. You should also contact the University’s Insurance Manager to ensure any required cover is in place.
If you have contacts in the country or region you will be travelling to, ask them for travel advice. They may be able to tell you information about local climate and conditions as well as any customs and other cultural expectations that you might need to take into account. This is particularly helpful if you are travelling to destinations where there is a history of unrest, natural disasters, extreme climate, or where FCDO travel advice is generally not to travel unless necessary.
You may also need to think about the wider region you are visiting and how that might impact on the activities that you are carrying out. Particularly if you will be working close to the border of a country where travel is not advised. You should address this in your task risk assessments.
Only pack items you really need or that are replaceable. Leave valuable or irreplaceable items at home.
If you are on regular medication, make sure you have enough supplies to cover your trip. Ensure prescription medicines are properly labelled and are in their original packaging. You should also check to make sure that your medication isn’t subject to any specific rules. The NHS Choices website provides a range of advice for travellers who need to take medicine with them. You may also want to see your medical advisor before traveling to confirm you are fit to travel and check any vaccination recommendations for your destination. If you are advised to have malaria vaccinations or to take anti-malaria tablets, then do so. And always finish the course of medication.
You may want to consider taking your own first aid kit. Depending on destination this could include sunscreen, anti-diarrhoea medication and water cleansing tablets. If you have certain health conditions, you might also want to consider taking your own sterile needles. Visit the ABTA travel website for more advice.
It’s a good idea to take photos or scans of any essential travel documents and email them to yourself in case they get lost or stolen. This could be to your work email address, or another account you are able to access remotely when away from work. This could include any medical certificates, contact details, travel and other insurance documents, passport, driver’s licence and any visas.
You should also make sure you can access contact details for campus security and your department in case you need to contact the University to help you when you are overseas. Read the University’s procedure for responding to significant overseas incidents affecting staff or students.
Ideally, our travel provider Clarity should be used for booking work-related travel (in-country as well as international). They provide a range of services − including tracking and advice for traveller services for anyone booking travel through them. They have an app and a 24-hour helpline to support you overseas. Visit Clarity’s website for further information.
Road traffic collisions are the greatest threat to people’s safety when travelling. If you need to make independent travel arrangements when overseas, always try to use licenced taxi drivers. If the driver is driving unsafely or is using a mobile phone, you should insist they slow down and/or stop using their phone (try not to distract them further when doing this). Wear seatbelts and if at all possible, avoid night driving.
When you are overseas, check in with your department regularly. You should provide them with an itinerary before you travel so they know where you are and how you may be contacted. If you change your plans, make sure you update your department so they can amend your itinerary accordingly.
Keeping safe and secure when out and about
When you are out and about, be aware of your surroundings and take care not to draw attention to yourself. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or watches and keep mobile phones out of sight.
Don’t carry large amounts of cash when you’re out. If you do need to carry large sums of money or other valuables, such as your passport and travel documents, use a money belt. Use your regular purse or wallet to hold any money you need for immediate expenses.
You could also consider taking a duplicate wallet or purse containing small denomination notes and coins and old (redundant) cards. This will be easier to hand over if threatened by robbers.
Try to avoid using ATMs in streets or outside areas. Wherever possible, use machines located inside banks or shopping centres. Be sensible and protect your pin. Take your cash quickly and put it away.
If you’re travelling with colleagues, it may be wise to stay together for meals and trips out. However, you may want to restrict the size of your group so as not to draw unwanted attention to yourselves. If travelling alone, avoid quiet and/or unlit areas.
Leave animals alone − animal bites or scratches can transmit diseases. If you are staying in an area where malaria is a risk, use a sleeping net and mosquito repellent.
Given the wide variety of locations and contexts staff will encounter when travelling overseas, the University does not place particular restrictions on the type of accommodation University staff can use. However, there are some factors we recommend you consider when choosing your accommodation.
Regulations around running hotels, guest houses and other types of accommodation vary from country to country, as do standards of hygiene, security and fire safety. Regardless of the type of accommodation selected, it is advisable to carry out as much checking as possible to ensure it will provide the necessary safety, security and comfort for your stay. If you have local contacts, it may be worth asking them to visit your proposed accommodation before your visit to confirm it’s ok. If that’s not possible, you could look at review websites to see what other travellers have said about the accommodation.
When booking rooms, try to book a room between the third and the seventh floor. Lower floor rooms should be avoided as these may be easily accessible from the outside. The higher up you are, the more flights of stairs you might have to navigate in the event of a fire. In some countries, rooms above the seventh floor may not be accessible to Fire Service ladders.
When you arrive, check that the room telephone works and dial reception to make sure you can contact them easily. Check windows and doors to make sure they can be locked shut. If the door to the room won’t fasten securely, ask for a change of room. When you are in, consider bolting any deadlocks or engaging any door stopper devices that might be fitted. Some organisations sell proprietary devices that you can use to secure your room from the inside. A simple way of achieving this is to take a door wedge to wedge the inside of your door shut.
Make sure you know where your fire exits are. The building may not be fitted with emergency lights or an audible fire alarm system, so you should check to satisfy yourself what the fire arrangements are. Taking a torch with you (or using the torch function on your phone if it has one) is useful. Counting the number of doors between your room and the fire escape is useful if you need to feel your way out in the event that your corridor becomes smoke-filled. If that does happen, keep as low as possible as the area near the floor is likely to be less smoky.
In areas where terrorism is a credible threat, avoid high profile accommodation as this may be a target. Lower profile accommodation (such as local guest houses) may be a safer option. If you are booking accommodation directly from owners − for example Airbnb − please bear in mind that you are going to be less likely to be able to check accommodation before your arrival. It may also be more difficult to make alternate arrangements if the accommodation is unsuitable. For this reason, we strongly advise that you avoid this type of accommodation where possible.
Eating and drinking
Check if local water supplies are safe to drink. If the water isn’t drinkable (or if you are unsure), avoid drinking or consuming foods (such as salad) that may have been washed in it. Avoid drinks with ice cubes, too.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, particularly in warmer climates where you may suffer dehydration. Drink plenty of safe drinkable water.
Wherever possible, avoid street food − especially if you have any food allergies or intolerances. Never accept drinks or gifts from strangers and don’t leave your drink unattended. Trust your instincts − if something feels wrong or uncomfortable, then it probably is.