Personal Safety Abroad

Jeannie Barry-Sanders

PERSONAL SAFETY IS a basic need, and educators who want
to travel and work abroad must think safety first when travelling
to countries outside of the United States.

“You are much safer in most cities abroad than you are in
most cities in the United States. We have the most violence
of any ‘civilized’ society. Just pick up any newspaper,” says
John Magagna, director of Search Associates, an international
placement firm on the State Department’s list of agencies
that recruit educators for teaching opportunities abroad.

While Magagna may have a valid point, crimes abroad still
happen. The United States State Department Web site reports
consular officers in 1997 received over 14,000 requests for
assistance from Americans abroad. The old adage that it is
better to be safe than sorry still applies. Valuable information
that can assist you in making an informed career decision
about where you want to teach abroad is available at
This site provides frequently updated information about crime
against visitors to virtually all countries on the globe.
The State Department site also offers listservs to which travelers
can subscribe and receive e-mail updates regarding potential
problems in specific countries. The list that has all safety
information, crisis information, tips for travelers and workers
abroad is called DOSTRAVEL – State Department Travel Warnings.

If you click on
you can view guidelines in several categories related to work
abroad. The most notable information is perhaps Tips on Teaching
in Korea, Opportunities and Pitfalls. This piece was compiled
by the American Citizens Services Branch of the U.S. Embassy
in Seoul. While some educators have been very successful teaching
in Korea, others have been victimized, most frequently by
employers who do not provide – or honor – appropriate contracts
for their foreign workers. The U.S. Embassy’s document deals
with every aspect of teaching in Korea, including contract
negotiation, culture, abuse, crime, salary, and housing. You
can view and download the entire information sheet. Some of
the information and tips on working in Korea can also be applied
to other countries.

The State Department Web site provides fact sheets about
entry requirements, crime, penalties for crimes committed
by U.S. citizens, traffic and aviation safety records, and
embassy locations, in foreign countries. In addition, the
State Department site is also worth looking up because of
its useful information about teaching at American-sponsored
elementary and secondary schools overseas, and its link to
the Department of Defense Overseas School System

Following are some tips that may help as you formulate your
decision to go forth and work your craft abroad.

  1. Don’t
    get involved in politics.
  2. Observe
    and learn cultural traditions, customs, rules, and laws.
  3. Don’t
    venture into desolate areas alone.
  4. Learn
    the language or key phrases in case you find yourself in
    an awkward situation.
  5. Learn
    about the country or countries you plan to work in.
  6. Make
    sure you have supplemental medical coverage and medical
    evacuation coverage.
  7. Know
    where the American Embassy is located.
  8. Provide
    a list with all your pertinent and emergency information
    to your relatives, friends, or significant other.
  9. Make
    sure at least one of your relatives, friends or others close
    to you has a valid passport in case of an emergency requiring
    them to get to you fast.
  10. Negotiate
    all contracts and what you want in the contract from the
  11. Take
    a vacation in the country first, if at all possible.
  12. When
    travelling, do not agree to carry any packages or hold anything
    for anyone.

It’s important to note also that the rights Americans enjoy
in this country do not apply abroad. Each country is sovereign,
and its laws apply to everyone who enters, regardless of nationality.
In 1997, according to State Department statistics, 2,700 Americans
were arrested abroad. For example, Teaching in Korea: Opportunities
and Pitfalls mentions that “some Americans have run into serious
legal problems with Korean Immigration because they either
work as English teachers while in Korea on tourist visas or
they accept part-time employment or private classes without
obtaining the proper permissions.” Violation of immigration
laws can result in imprisonment, deportation, or heavy fines,
and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

2001 is ahead and the future is bright for educators who
want to work abroad. Opportunities are available in nearly
every country for teachers at all levels. Wherever you decide
to teach, either in the U.S. or abroad be informed and safe.

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