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Health and Safety

Banner 1The health and safety of VCU students is our primary concern. The Education Abroad office at VCU carefully considers health and safety when creating programs, approving students for travel and as an integral part of our pre-departure orientation for all students prior to their study abroad experience. VCU monitors the health, safety and security conditions of every country in which we have students studying abroad. As risks are identified at any point during the study abroad process, students are supported by VCU, their host institutions and/or program providers. 

Stay up to date with VCU’s university-sponsored travel guidelines and restrictions. Note: VCU does not allow travel to U.S. Department of State Level 4 countries; Level 3 countries require a petition. We recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our Education Abroad advisers to further discuss health and safety considerations and travel guidelines and restrictions. Below, learn more about health and safety considerations and steps to take prior to departure. 
 

COVID-19 Considerations

As COVID-19 continues to be a dynamic presence in our world, it is important to stay up to date with VCU’s COVID-19 Study Abroad Updates and VCU’s university-sponsored travel guidelines. These are updated as the global pandemic continues to evolve. Check out our COVID-FAQ page to learn more. 

Note: VCU does not allow travel to U.S. Department of State Level 4 countries; Level 3 countries require a petition. If you would like to petition to study abroad in a Level 3 country, we encourage you to work closely with an Education Abroad Adviser.
 
 

Insurance

 

Virginia Commonwealth University requires all students traveling outside the U.S. for university-sponsored travel (study/intern abroad, research, service-learning, VCU funded/affiliated travel) to enroll in VCU's international health and emergency assistance insurance plan with Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). Here are the full plan details. This insurance plan covers health care costs incurred during university-sponsored international travel and provides emergency assistance, including medical or security evacuations and repatriation of remains. 

Students participating in VCU Global Education Office administered education abroad programs will be automatically enrolled in the CISI plan. Students participating in all other programs are required to self-enroll. Please view our Insurance page for more information.

 

Accessing Medical Care Abroad

 
Prior to departure, if you know that you will want to see a doctor for physical or mental health maintenance while abroad, you can research English-speaking doctors and counselors in your host city. You can find information through the "International Provider Search” on the CISI portal or CISI mobile app and by asking your host program for their recommendations. Know that your CISI insurance is accepted everywhere, in and out of network coverage are not relevant while abroad. 

If you get sick or injured while abroad and need to seek out medical treatment, remember that your CISI insurance is accepted everywhere. If you are in an emergency situation, go to the nearest medical facility. If you want to be more selective, you can do research to find an English-speaking doctor in your area. Notify your host program if you are sick or injured so that they can support you as well.
 

Prescription Drugs

 

If you use prescription drugs, before you study abroad, you will want to make sure that the medications you take are approved for use in your host country destination. The CDC provides excellent resources for you to learn more about country specific guidelines and restrictions. TSA provides tips on packing your medications for your flight.

Be sure to pack enough prescription medication for the duration of your time abroad or that you find a doctor, through your CISI insurance, in the host country that can prescribe additional doses if necessary. 

Before you travel, be sure to label your prescription drugs (or leave them in their original containers). It is recommended to keep your medications in your carry-on luggage while travelling and in a secure place at your destination.

 

Passports & Visas

 

You should get a passport at least 3-6 months before studying abroad - especially if you also must have a visa (more info below). Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months after the date on which you intend to depart the country, so ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after the end of your program. If your current passport is set to expire when you are abroad, be sure to renew it before you travel.

Further information and details are available at the State Department’s Passports website, where you may also download a passport application. Passport applications are available at any post office. A new "mega passport center" is opening in August 2021 in Chesterfield. Applications must be submitted in person to an appropriate passport agency.

The passport application process takes several weeks, so plan ahead. If you need your passport in less than 3 months, you can pay an additional fee to expedite your passport. 

Don’t forget...your passport is the most important document you have when outside the U.S. Know where it is at all times and keep it in a safe place. Make copies and keep one yourself and leave one with someone at home. Once abroad, keep these copies in a safe place; this will facilitate replacement if the passport is lost or stolen. 

A visa is a stamp in your passport from the consulate general or embassy of the country you will enter. Many countries require a student visa for residence of more than 90-days. Depending on the country, you may experience delays or complications in obtaining a visa. These may pertain to official notifications of your acceptance by your program or host university, required medical examinations or other necessary documentation. In some cases it can take three months to process the visa. 

Learn about the requirements of your host country early and ensure you have a passport with sufficient time to complete the visa process. You can contact the corresponding consulate or embassy for the visa requirements and your program may provide information on visas. You will need (at minimum) a passport, proof of acceptance by the overseas university and documentation of adequate funding for the length of your program.

If you plan to travel while abroad, investigate visa requirements of each country you plan to visit. Some countries require a visa for short-term stays and some require that the visa be obtained while you are still in the U.S

Drug & Alcohol Policies

 
While you are abroad you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting, as well as any consequences that result from breaking them. Here is general information from the U.S. Department of State about alcohol and drugs overseas. It is your responsibility to ensure you are aware of local laws and regulations surrounding drugs and alcohol. Do not make assumptions that laws will be the same as they are in the US, or that the legal system will operate in a similar manner.

It is widely known that the U.S. is generally much more stringent in terms of alcohol laws than other countries. This does not mean you should take advantage of less restrictive practices in a host country. Drunkenness is not culturally acceptable and is disrespectful to these hosts. Keep in mind that your actions reflect on you, VCU and the United States.

Unlike alcohol laws, drug laws are frequently stricter in other countries than in the U.S. Should you choose to participate in illegal activities and are detained as a result, there is very little that can be done to assist you. Contact your program coordinator or host institution immediately and ask them to contact the local consulate or embassy.

General Safety Tips

 
It is important to prepare for safe travel prior to studying abroad! These suggestions are not meant to alarm you or your family; most students never experience these kinds of problems but we encourage you to be well prepared, use common sense and be aware of potential risks when you travel.
 
  • Use common sense: Avoid dangerous areas — don’t use shortcuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets. Try not to be on the street alone at night. Make a note of emergency phone numbers you might need, including your program’s emergency contact, the local police and U.S. consulate.
  • Be aware of local laws and law enforcement abroad: You should be familiar with both the customs and local laws of the country in which you study and travel. Remember that you are subject to the laws of your host country, and you are not protected by U.S. laws while abroad. Be sure to know who to contact in an emergency: your on-site program staff, local police or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate
  • Keep a low profile: Do not act or dress in a manner that would immediately identify you as an American. You will quickly notice and learn the appropriate way to conduct yourself in your host country.
  • Leave irreplaceable items at home: If you have expensive jewelry or items you consider irreplaceable, leave them at home.
  • Safeguard luggage and belongings: Be sure to lock luggage and label each piece with your name and address — on both the inside and outside. Make sure to receive a claim check for each item you check when traveling. Never leave luggage or any bags unattended or leave them under the watch of a stranger. If you see a bag or piece of luggage that appears unattended, notify appropriate personnel or the police. Never agree to carry packages or letters for anyone you do not know.
  • Pickpockets: Beware of pickpockets and con artists. They exist everywhere, especially in crowds and areas where tourists gather. The most common sites for purse and camera snatching are central train stations or crowded shopping areas. Thieves often strike when people are distracted, such as making a phone call or while a bag is casually at one’s feet. If you carry a handbag, it should have a secure zipper closing and you should keep it on your body at all times.
  • Stolen property: If anything is lost or stolen, report it to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance purposes or in case you need to replace your passport or student visa.  You should report the loss or theft of your passport to both the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and apply for a new one.

In an Emergency

 
When you are studying abroad, remember that your first point of contact in emergency situations should be either your on-site program staff, local police or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Keep these names, phone numbers and addresses handy in case you need them.

While abroad, remember that your CISI Health & Emergency Assistance Insurance is another resource for help in an emergency (ex. you need to find a hospital or counselor, you need to be evacuated). 24/7/365 you can call Team Assist - On Call at 1-877-714-8179 or e-mail mail@oncallinternational.com


If you wish to notify someone at VCU of an emergency situation while you are abroad, you can call the VCU police at (804) 828-1234 who will then reach out to the 24/7 emergency contact in the VCU Global Education Office. 

Additional Resources

VCU Resources Additional Resources
  • U.S. Department of State: Information about obtaining a passport, travel warnings, consular information sheets and more.
  • Students Abroad: Website maintained by the State Department specifically for U.S. students studying abroad. The site allows you to register your presence abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy, access information about travel warnings, and offers student travel tips, and more.
  • CDC: Information about travel health notices, required immunizations, restrictions on medication allowances upon entering a country and more. 
  • Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): Enroll your travels with STEP to receive information from the host country Embassy/Consulate about safety conditions, emergency responses, etc. 
  • WHO: Stay up to date with international public health notices and learn more about country specific considerations.
  • FBI Safety and Security Brochure: Information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the safety and security of U.S. students traveling abroad.
  • Diversity Abroad: Information and resources for country specific and identity specific support.
  • Mobility International: International education resource for individuals with disabilities.
  • LGBTI Travelers Tips: Resources from the U.S. State Department for LGBTQIA students regarding laws, attitudes, considerations for international travel.
  • SAFETI Clearinghouse: Resources for alcohol and drug use, safe international road travel, and safer sex.