Overseas travel safety guidance
This guidance provides safety advice and resources for staff and students travelling on University business.
The University’s Working Off-Site Policy and associated Fieldwork and Placements and Study Abroad Standards sets out how risks to people working away from University owned or managed premises should be managed. As an international institution, we regularly have staff and students working in a variety of contexts including overseas which can include attending conferences, working at partner organisations overseas and carrying out fieldwork, placements or study in urban, rural and remote locations.
The guidance provides a quick reference guide to offer practical safety tips for people who will be travelling to overseas destinations in connection with their work. A lot of this advice could equally be applied here in the UK.
The guidance is not prescriptive; it provides an idea of the type of control measures that might be included, where appropriate, in associated risk assessments. It does not cover specific activities that you might be doing whilst working away from site; you should address these issues in your task risk assessments.
Know your destination
Take time to learn about your destination. Try to understand the culture and 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.
Research the area you are going to; check the FCO website for the latest travel advice. You could also subscribe to the FCO’s information service to receive “live” travel updates both before and during your trip. It would also be helpful to identify the closest British Embassy or Consulate should you require assistance whilst overseas.
Remember if you are traveling to a location where the FCO recommend against travel then this must be authorised by the University Secretary’s Office. 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 that you will be travelling to then ask 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 or natural disasters or extreme climate, or where FCO travel advice is generally to not travel unless necessary.
You may also need to think about the wider region that you are visiting and how that might impact on the activities that you are carrying out, especially 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 take things with you that you absolutely need or that you can replace; leave valuable or irreplaceable items at home.
If you are on regular medication then make sure you have enough supplies to cover your trip. Make sure 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 may need to take medicine with them. You may also want to see your medical advisor before traveling to confirm that you are fit to travel and to check any vaccination recommendations that might apply to your destination. If you are advised to have malaria vaccinations or to take anti-malaria tablets then do so; 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 then you might also want to consider taking your own sterile needles. [See the NHS choices website for more advice.
It is useful to take photos or scans of any essential travel documentation in case these get lost or stolen and to email them to yourself. This could be to your work email address or some other account that you are able to access remotely whilst 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 assist you when you are overseas. You might want to read the University’s procedure for responding to significant overseas incidents affecting staff or students.
Ideally, the University’s 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 also offer an app for travellers and a 24 hour helpline to support travellers whilst overseas. For more information see the Clarity website.
Road Traffic Collisions continue to be the greatest threat to people’s safety when travelling. If you need to make independent travel arrangements whilst overseas then always try to use licenced taxi drivers. If the driver is driving unsafely or is using a mobile phone then 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 overseas, check in with your department regularly. You should provide them with an itinerary before you travel so that they will know where you are and how you may be contacted. If you change your plans then update your department so that they can amend your itinerary accordingly.
Keeping safe and secure whilst 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, keep mobile phones out of sight.
Do not carry large amounts of cash when out and about. If you do need to carry large amounts of money or other valuables, such as your passport and travel documents, then use a money belt but also carry a regular purse or wallet to hold any money that you think you might 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 only use machines located inside banks or shopping centres. Be sensible and protect your pin. Take your cash quickly and put it away.
If you are travelling with colleagues then it may be wise to stay together for meals and trips out. However, you may want to restrict the size of your group so that you don’t 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 then use a sleeping net and mosquito repellent.
Given the wide variety of locations and contexts that staff will encounter when travelling overseas, the University does not place particular restrictions on the sort of accommodation that university staff can use. However, there are some factors that staff are recommended to consider when choosing 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 make sure that it will provide the necessary safety, security and comfort for your stay. If you have local contacts then it may be beneficial getting them to visit your proposed accommodation prior to your visit to confirm that it is ok. If that is not possible, then you might want to look at one or more of the variety of review web sites 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 then 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; dial reception to make sure you can contact them easily. Check windows and doors to make sure that they can be locked shut. If the door to the room won’t fasten securely then 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, including 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 should the accommodation be unsuitable. For this reason, it is strongly advised that you avoid this type of accommodation where practical.
Eating and drinking
Check whether local water supplies are safe to drink. If the water isn’t potable, or if you are unsure, then avoid drinking or consuming food, such as salads 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” potable water.
Wherever possible, avoid street food, especially if you have any food allergies or intolerances. Never accept drinks or gifts from strangers. Do not leave your drink unattended. Trust your instincts; if something feels wrong or uncomfortable then it probably is.