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How to stay safe as a solo female expat?

30 June 2020
As a solo female expat you may have additional safety and security concerns when compared to male counterparts. These may be exacerbated by the location of your assignment.  

It is important for you to keep these concerns in mind and to do what is possible to protect yourself. With some planning, and assistance from your employer, safety concerns should not prevent you from taking the next step in your career. 

Actions you can take before and during assignment to protect yourself include: 

When it comes to safety and security, preparation is key. Many businesses provide pre-assignment training that should cover a number of topics including information on the host country, language training and the supports available to you while you are overseas. If you are travelling to a high-risk destination it may include hostile environment training which will advise you what to do if you are faced with a very serious security threat like civil unrest or kidnapping. 

If possible, visit your new home before you move. This is particularly important if you are moving to a country that is culturally different to your own. Ideally engage the services of a relocation expert who can:

  • work with you to tailor make an itinerary for a pre-assignment visit
  • bring you on an orientation tour of your new location
  • identify amenities that may inform your choice of neighbourhood
  • introduce you to the culture of the region
  • provide you with insight on business etiquette 

Prepare yourself for what lies ahead by researching the culture in your new home. As a woman you need to understand:

  • are women expected to behave a certain way?
  • are there settings where women are not allowed?
  • are women expected to dress a certain way?
One of the best ways to gain insight into what lies ahead is through the experience of others. Contact former female expats from your organisation who have been on assignment to the same destination. If you are a pioneer in this regard, use online forums to get in touch with other female expats. What advice would they offer? What challenges have they faced? The answers to all these questions will help you prepare for what lies ahead.  
When you get to your destination, try to dress similarly to locals. Wearing different clothing may make you stand out as a visitor and could increase your chances of becoming a target for petty or other kinds of crime. As a solo female expat stay safe by blending in.
Our innate instinct is a powerful thing. If a situation or a location doesn’t feel safe, remove yourself from it. Be particularly careful when socializing if alcohol is being consumed. 
If you are in a high crime area avoid walking alone during the day or at night. Use public transport or reputable taxis to get home. Your employer should be able to provide you with specific information on how best to move around your new home. 
Don’t carry important documents with you. Ensure you have high quality scanned copies saved to the cloud. It is also worth leaving copies with a close friend or relation in your home country so they have access to this information should they need it.
As a solo female expat, it is worthwhile carrying a small wallet containing an out of date bank or credit card, an ID you don’t need and a small amount of cash, so you have something to give a would-be assailant. A whistle may also be useful to draw attention if you are attacked close to a public area. 

Living in a more dangerous environment may be a strain on your overall wellbeing, even if you do not experience crime first-hand. Having access to an expat assistance programme will help support you in your new life. Choose an EAP offering multilingual, professional support 24/7 so you can access help in your native language when you need it.

Should you need medical treatment while on assignment, having an international health insurance plan will enable you to access the best treatment available in your location.