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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

International Travel Safety Information for American Students


Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 22, 2009
January 22, 2009

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As spring and summer breaks approach, many students are getting ready for a trip abroad. The following information will help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.

First, a note about U.S. passports: As of January 23, 2007, everyone traveling in and out of the United States by air needs a passport. We encourage students to apply now. Processing times are traditionally faster in February.

As of January 31, 2008, all travelers must show proof of identity and citizenship when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the countries of the Caribbean by land or sea. Acceptable documents include a U.S. passport, U.S. passport card, trusted traveler card, or enhanced driver's license. U.S. citizens who do not have a single document verifying identity and citizenship must present both an identification and citizenship document; for example, a driver's license and a copy of a birth certificate or naturalization certificate.

Persons age 18 and younger need proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate - or a passport or passport card - when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the countries of the Caribbean by land or ferry. These requirements also apply to sea travel if cruises begin or end outside of the United States. Students planning cruises should confirm document requirements with their cruise line.

On June 1, 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will go into effect requiring travelers, including U.S. citizens, to present a passport or other approved travel documents that denote both citizenship and identity to enter the United States at land and sea ports of entry. In addition to the passport, approved documents include the passport card and a trusted traveler card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST). Children under the age of 16 will be able to present the original or copy of their birth certificate, or other proof of citizenship such as a naturalization certificate, or citizenship card. Groups of U.S. citizen children ages 16 through 18, when traveling with a school or religious group, social organization, or sports team, will be able to enter under adult supervision with originals or copies of their birth certificates or other proof of citizenship. Please note that passports issued to minor children under age 16 are valid for five years.

Adults who have not had a passport or whose previous passport was issued when they were minors must appear in person to apply for a passport. Locations of passport acceptance facilities and information about the new regulations regarding travel by air, land, and sea, as well as general information about traveling abroad, can be found on the Department of State's website at travel.state.gov.

Travel safety is a major concern. Although most students will have safe and enjoyable adventures, some may encounter serious problems. Each year, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad - about half on narcotics charges, including possession of very small amounts of illegal substances. Alcohol also can cause trouble for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Students have been arrested for being intoxicated in public areas, for underage drinking, and for driving under the influence of alcohol. Some people are victimized because they are unaware of the laws, customs, or standards of the countries they visit.

Disorderly or reckless behavior can have serious repercussions. Acts that are legal in the United States could lead to arrest and prosecution in foreign countries. Some Americans go abroad assuming that local authorities will overlook such conduct because they are American citizens. This is not the case. Americans who violate the laws of the countries they visit may be arrested, and they may face severe penalties, including long prison sentences. In fact, some countries have mandatory death sentences for drug offenses.

Being arrested is not the only thing that can go wrong on a foreign vacation. Americans have been badly injured or have been killed in automobile accidents, falls, and other mishaps. Many of these incidents are related to alcohol and/or drug use. Other Americans have been sexually assaulted or robbed because they found themselves in unfamiliar locales, were incapable of protecting themselves because of drug or alcohol use, or were the victim of a "date rape" drug.

The most common cause of death of Americans overseas, other than natural causes, is by motor vehicle accidents. Standards of safety and supervision overseas may be different from those in the United States. Many Americans have died after automobile accidents on bad roads and after falls from poorly-fenced balconies. Americans also should exercise caution when swimming or engaging in water sports. Obey signs and flags, and stay out of the water when red or black flags are posted.

Standards of safety and supervision overseas may also be different, even at hotels and resorts. Be cautious in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death. If you choose to swim, always exercise extreme caution. When using equipment like scooters, jet-skis, scuba gear, and personal watercraft, rent equipment only from reputable operators and insist on sufficient training. The exercise of simple common sense can help prevent serious accidents.

Obtaining medical treatment and hospital care abroad can be expensive, and medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost more than $50,000. Note that U.S. medical insurance generally is not accepted outside the United States. If your insurance policy does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy that does. There are health insurance policies designed specifically to cover travel. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations. The names of some of the companies offering short-term health and emergency assistance policies are listed on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.

More safety tips for students traveling abroad can be found on the web at travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/safety/safety_2836.html. Please also see the State Department's new website for American students traveling overseas, studentsabroad.state.gov., for safety, travel, and registration information.

Students are strongly urged to register their foreign travel on the State Department's website at https://travelregistration.state.gov before the trip begins. Travel registration makes it possible for the State Department to contact a traveler if necessary, whether because of a family emergency in the United States or because of a crisis in the foreign country.

For further information contact:
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs
Press inquiries: (202) 647-1488
Internet address: travel.state.gov; studentsabroad.state.gov
Public inquiries: toll-free (888) 407-4747

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