Know before you go: expat travel safety tips

October 03, 2017

As part of our ‘know before you go’ series we explore some travel safety tips for moving overseas.

It is important to remember that being a stranger in a strange place can take some getting used to, particularly if it is the first time you have travelled abroad for work. More important than anything else during your time abroad is your own personal security. Take a look at our travel safety tips for moving abroad:

Crucial to the success of your assignment abroad is researching your destination thoroughly. From a safety and security perspective get a good understanding of:

Political situation: this can vary from country to country however, even if the way the country is governed is different to what you are used to, you are often protected from this as an expatriate.

Economic situation: understand the currency, how it compares to your own and if it makes economic sense for you to work in that country.

Crime rates: how are rates of crime? Do you need to take more precautions than you would in your home country?

Social norms: how do people dress in public? How do they interact in public? Blending in when you are out of the office often helps when settling in to a new environment.

Living standards: are they similar to your home country? Will your accommodation be of significantly higher standard than the norm?

Communication: Is there high-speed internet and Wi-Fi? How is the mobile phone infrastructure? Being able to stay in touch with home is important while you are establishing yourself abroad and it is easier if you have realistic expectations about how easy it is before you leave.

Expat Network: is there an expat group in your destination country either within your company or in the area you will be living?


To find the above information, use as many sources as you can including:

Your company: should be a font of knowledge for this information, particularly if they already have an office in the destination country. If you are travelling to work in an unstable country ensure your company provide you with an escalation plan should the situation take a turn for the worst.

Online research: search for the topics listed above for your destination country. The CIA world fact book may be a good place to start. Read local publications to get a feel for what life might be like there.

Government websites: review any information from your own government about travelling to other countries.

Online forums: there are a number of online expat forums that are worth joining to post specific questions you may have about your impending move.

There are parts of the world where women are treated differently to men both culturally and legally. If you are a woman travelling to work as an expatriate in one of these countries it is important to be aware of additional security challenges you may face and plan for them.  It is important that your employer has a plan in place for how should live while in these countries and that you are fully briefed before you go.

Travelling from the western world where the LGBT lifestyle is largely accepted to a country where it is not, it may prove a challenge. A good place to start researching LGBT status in a particular country is by looking at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) annual report on the legislation affecting LGBT people globally.

It is also advisable to seek information from LGBT groups on the situation in the country you are travelling to. Speak to the company you will be working for to understand what policies and procedures they have in place to mitigate any risk you may face.

  • Visit your doctor for any vaccinations needed in your destination country
  • Get prescriptions for any medications you need
  • Ensure you have the International Health Insurance cover you may need should anything happen to you while you are abroad
  • Gather together electronic copies of all important documents including:
  • Passport
  • Visas
  • Tickets
  • Itinerary
  • Vaccination history
  • Blood group
  • Take the usual safety precautions until you get to know your new home including:
  • Keep valuables to a minimum: leave valuable jewellery or equipment at home while you get to know your new surroundings. Carrying expensive items is an invitation for petty crime.
  • Don’t walk alone at night: the dark is a friend to those who may endanger your safety and it is much easier to attack someone alone than a group of people.
  • Be vigilant of your surroundings: this means leave the headphones at home and watch what is happening around you.
  • Blend in: it’s advisable to do your best to blend in with locals when it comes to physical appearance. Do people dress conservatively, even in the heat? Invest in some longer clothes made from breathable material like cotton and linen.
  • Avoid drinking too much: alcohol reduces inhibitions and impedes judgement and can lead to you making decisions you wouldn’t otherwise. It can also increase feelings of anxiety you may be experiencing as a result of your recent move.
  • Always use a legitimate taxi.
  • Have an idea of the route you are going to take.
  • Be aware of the make/model and registration of the car that picks you up.
  • Always sit in the back and use a seatbelt.
  • If you feel in anyway unsafe during the journey, ask the driver to stop at the first secure/busy place.
  • Keep conversations with the driver cordial but high level and professional. Don’t divulge personal details.

The risk of terrorism has increased globally since the 9/11 attacks in New York. What has also changed is the locations where terrorist attacks take place European cities like London, Paris and Brussels have been targeted in recent years. Regardless of where you are moving to, it is good to follow some basic guidelines:

  • Remain alert for any suspicious activity.
  • Report anything suspicious to authorities.
  • Identify safe areas like hotels and hospitals.
  • Seek advice from your employer on what to do should an attack take place.
Amongst all the preparation, don’t forget about your health while you are abroad. International Health Insurance allows you to access medical treatment should you need it. Get an individual international health insurance quote today.