Planning to spend a semester or explore a gap year abroad, but don’t know how to start preparing for your trip? Use this guide from to help you get ready for safe and healthy travel.
Before You Go
- Learn about the country's health and safety concerns using our destination tool, including other countries you may plan to visit while you’re there.
- Make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist or your healthcare provider to get needed vaccines and medicines at least a month before you leave.
- CDC recommends all travelers be up to date on routine vaccines, such as influenza and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). This year there are measles outbreaks in many popular destinations. Make sure you have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine prior to travel. Don’t go unprotected!
- Discuss your itinerary with your health care provider to make sure you get any destination-specific vaccines and medicines, such as yellow fever vaccine or medicine to prevent malaria.
- Get all your routine health checkups, such as seeing your dentist, before you leave, because the quality of dental and medical care may be different in host countries or more expensive than in the United States.
- Pack a travel health kit with your prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines (enough to last your whole trip, plus a few extra days), first aid supplies, condoms, and your health insurance card.
- Make sure your medicines are permitted and properly packaged and stored for travel to your destination. Medicines commonly prescribed in the United States may be prohibited or unavailable in the host country.
- Pack your medicines in your carry-on luggage. You don’t want to be stuck without them if your suitcase gets lost!
- Monitor travel warnings and alerts at your destination(s) through the US Department of State website.
- Enroll with the nearest US embassy or consulate through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get safety updates and phone numbers in the event of an emergency.
- Prepare for the unexpected.
- Leave copies of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, passport, and proof of school enrollment with someone at home, in case you lose them during travel.
- Find out if your health insurance covers medical care abroad—many plans don’t! Consider buying additional insurance that covers health care and emergency evacuation.
- Studying and long term travel abroad may result in culture shock, loneliness, or stress. Discuss coping mechanisms, make a plan for who to contact if issues arise while abroad, and tell your health care provider and your study abroad program about any existing mental health issues.
During Your Trip
- Follow security and safety guidelines.
- Follow all local laws and social customs (including standards of dress and cultural norms). Remember, while in your host country, you are subject to its laws.
- Be familiar with and follow your educational institution’s study abroad code of conduct.
- Do not wear expensive clothing or jewelry, to avoid the risk of theft or loss.
- Don’t travel alone at night; travel with a companion if possible. Avoid dark alleys or other questionable areas.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp; leave the actual passport in a secure place, such as a safe at your accommodation.
- Carry the contact information for the nearest US embassy or consulate with you.
- Always wear seat belts and choose safe transportation. Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of death among healthy US citizens in foreign countries.
- Use marked taxis or ride-sharing vehicles.
- Be alert when crossing the street, especially in countries where people drive on the left.
- Avoid overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or vans.
- Prevent insect bites. Using insect repellent can protect you from serious diseases spread by insects in many destinations, such as Zika, dengue, and malaria.
- Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
- Apply sunscreen first, then insect repellent. Be sure to follow instructions on the label and reapply as directed.
- Be careful when indulging in the local cuisine. If you’re visiting a developing country:
- Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot.
- Do not eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can peel them yourself.
- Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice—it was likely made with tap water.
- Use condoms every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections.
- Don’t misuse alcohol or other drugs. Misuse may increase your risk of accidents or injuries, which have serious health consequences. It can also make you a target for crime.
- Use a reputable travel guide or tour company if you plan on doing any adventure travel activities like reef diving, surfing, or zip-lining.
- Seek health care immediately if you feel sick or get injured during your trip. For more information, see Getting Health Care Abroad.
After You Come Home
- If you are not feeling well after you come home, you may need to see a doctor. Some travel-related illnesses may not cause symptoms until after you get home.
- If you need help finding a travel medicine specialist, find a clinic here.
- Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. This information will help your doctor consider infections that are rare or not found in the United States.
- If you become sick with a fever or flu-like illness up to 1 year after returning from an area where malaria is a risk, see a doctor immediately. Tell him or her that you have traveled to a place where malaria is present.
Page last reviewed: August 28, 2019