Health and Safety


Staying healthy and safe while abroad cuts out a lot of unnecessary stress and problems. Although there are many things that you can’t predict or manage, you can be prepared and have measures in place to minimize stress and simplify problems when they do arise.


You will need two types of insurance during your semester exchange. The one is medical insurance covering daily medical needs and the other is personal/travel insurance more orientated towards emergencies. (For summer school students the type of insurance needed will be different and normally limited to personal/travel insurance, please refer to the requirements of the respective country representative for the visa application.)

Almost all host institutions (and visa applications) will require you to either have your own medical insurance (complying with certain requirements) or take out medical insurance from a service provider recommended by them for the duration of your exchange. There will be specific requirements by either the host or country representative and you must comply with these, otherwise you will not be granted a visa or not be registered at the host institution. First check with the host and embassy before buying insurance as the wrong insurance might mean that you need to buy a different type and that you’ve wasted your money on the first attempt.

Even if it is not a requirement from your host institution or your visa application, SU International requires all students to have medical and personal/travel insurance for the duration of the exchange. It is important to know exactly what is covered by your insurance.

Keep documents indicating the full coverage of your insurance with you at all times. It is recommended that all exchange students should submit a copy of their insurance to SU International.

Personal/Travel insurance will also provide cover in the case of theft or loss of property. Make sure that you have insurance for valuable items like a camera, laptop, iPod and other valuables.

Speak to your insurance provider (both medical and personal) and enquire about coverage whilst abroad. In most cases you will need to take out additional cover or pay an increased tariff. Speak to your travel agent about your options. Some financial institutions that supply credit cards also provide travel insurance when an air ticket is purchased with the particular institution’s card. Enquire about this option through your financial institution. You should however make sure that the cover you have is sufficient and meets the requirements of the host institution/country.

Medicine and Contact lenses:

Speak to your health care professional about your exchange and if necessary go for a full medical check-up before your departure.

You might need immunizations or other precautionary medicine. Visit Travelers’ Health | CDC  or the World Health Organization‘s profiles of different countries for valuable information on health requirements, travel safety and precautions. Campus Health Services can also assist you in this regard. The CDC provides a very handy survival guide for safe and healthy travel.

If you have prescriptions it is best to take all you need for your stay abroad. Take a copy of your prescription(s), with the generic name of the pills. Keep medicines in original containers. It is also a good idea to have a letter from your doctor to explain all the medication.

Take an extra pair of glasses and the prescription for your contact lenses with you.

A small first aid kit with the essentials like plasters, an antiseptic ointment, pain pills and a disinfectant can be very handy during your exchange and might even spare you from an unnecessary trip to the pharmacy. Don’t forget Burnshield.

Sex, drugs and alcohol:

The sexual behaviour of your fellow students might differ from what you are used to. Your sexual behaviour is a personal decision and you should not feel pressure to conform to local norms. If you are sexually active practice safe sex and remember personal decisions can have long-term consequences. Take responsibility for your body and also heed the cultural norms of the country that you are in.

The use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad can increase the risk of accident and injury. Many study abroad accidents and injuries are related to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad. Inform yourself about the legal drinking age in your country. Drinking and driving is irresponsible and can get you into serious trouble. Violating drug laws abroad may result in very serious consequences. In some countries, being found guilty of violating drug laws can result in consequences as serious as death.


Renting a car or scooter while studying abroad is a great and fun way to see the countryside. It can also be a very stressful and dangerous way to travel. In countries where driving laws are significantly different from what you are used to, for example driving on the other side of the road, you should consider taking another form of transportation – especially if you feel hesitant at all about driving. If however you do plan to drive whilst abroad, you have to arrange for an international driving license before departure. The AA (Automobile Association) can issue an international driver’s license.

Insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. You should obtain full coverage insurance when renting vehicles in any country – to make it easier, most rental places will arrange this beforehand. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the rental company very carefully. Ask the locals for a recommendation on a rental company. If you are involved in a vehicle accident resulting in damages or injuries to another party, you may be detained by local authorities until a settlement is arranged with the injured party. Furthermore, depending upon the extent of damages or injuries to the other party, you may face charges filed by the country’s judicial authorities.

Local and National Laws:

When you visit another country, you are subject to the laws of that country. Don’t accept that the laws will be the same in the countries that you are travelling than they are at home. Familiarise yourself with the laws and regulations of the country that you will be living in as well as the countries and cities that you will be travelling to whilst abroad. Legal protection that is taken for granted in your own country is left behind when you leave. The assistance that can be offered by embassies and consulates is often limited to the provision of names of competent attorneys and doctors and does not include financial assistance to pay for legal or medical services. They also cannot intervene on your behalf in the administration of justice as seen from the point of view of the host country. Bail provisions as you know them will not necessarily be the same as in South Africa. The best advice is to know the laws of the country you are in and to obey them scrupulously. If you get into trouble, seek local legal assistance as quickly as possible and consult with your coordinator at the International Office.


The first step in taking responsibility for your safety is to be realistic and have a balanced perspective on safety issues. Safety is a global, national and local issue. Every country or city has particular problems and unsafe areas. Prepare yourself before your departure by doing research on the political and cultural climate of your host country and the countries you intend to visit. Learn as much as possible about the safety and security of the country that you will be living in for the next couple of months. The sooner you get familiar with your surroundings, the better for you. Ask questions; read and keep your eyes and ears open.

Register with the local South African consulate or embassy. Here is a list of South African Representation Abroad.

See also the following site: Information issued and advice provided by the South African Government

Suggestions for LGBTQ students:

It is important to do as much research as possible about the host country’s cultural norms, practices, and attitudes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.  Here are some resources which you can use to prepare yourself properly:

Something that is important to think about is a support network. Think about ways of building a new support network in the host country. Do research about student societies, NGO’s and other support structures.


Never carry large amounts of cash. For the small amount of cash you need, keep the money as close to your body as possible i.e in a money pouch. In terms of the different means of payment, it is always best to use a variety of options, and don’t everything in one place.


Think carefully about the type of luggage you would like to take with you, and how many bags. Do your research! Evaluate your needs and preferences and make your decision based on that.

Mark your luggage, both inside and outside, with your name, address and contact number. Also add the contact details of someone at home. Mark your bags in some distinctive way so that you can find them easily. Use a combination lock to secure each zipper or opening of your bag. Count your pieces of luggage each time you are on the go!

Super user tip: Take a photo of your luggage before you check it in for future reference in case your bag goes missing.

See also packing tips at Logistics.

Some Commonsense Precautions:

  • Do your homework: listen and take note of the advice you are given – specifically the advice that is provided at the orientation of the host institution.
  • Memorize the emergency numbers for the host country
  • Do not pick up hitch-hikers!
  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings – don’t be a soft target
  • Don’t leave your food and drink unattended
  • Drink responsibly
  • Use your common sense when giving personal information
  • Make sure that your host coordinator or friends knows your itinerary
  • Don’t walk alone at night, and travel in small groups.
  • Keep your passport in a safe place. Make copies of your passport and leave one copy with a friend or family member back home.

What to do if something happens?

Unfortunately bad things do happen. The first step is to try to stay calm and focused. The worst thing you can do is to stay quiet about the incident.

  1. Inform the local police and/or campus security. It is generally a good idea to ask for the police report for your own reference. In the case of theft you will need the police report for insurance purposes.

  2. Talk to a friend. You will need support and assistance. Depending on the nature of what went wrong you might want to tell more than one person.

  3. Inform the host coordinator. He/she can provide further assistance and advice and depending on the nature of the incident might decide to inform your home coordinator. You are ALWAYS welcome to inform your host coordinator of anything that went wrong.

  4. If you struggle to cope with the incident and the related stress, seek professional help. Universities normally have counselling services and support available for students; speak to your host coordinator in terms of how to access it.

    Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself or keep quiet.

"When it comes to suitcases: backpack beats duffle bag, suitcase with wheels beats backpack and convertible backpack with wheels trumps everything. " Summer School Traveler Corneli Smit