Being Safe Abroad

Each of the resources on this page provides important information on preparing for a safe experience abroad.


Students sitting in Park Guelle in Barcelona

Students on mountain

Emergencies Abroad

PIC defines an emergency as an incident requiring immediate assistance (life-threatening medical situation, an incident resulting in serious physical harm, natural disaster requiring immediate evacuation, and the like.) Emergency situations typically require immediate on-site support from local resources. Consider situations when you would call 911, although, be advised that each country may have a different emergency call number, and in some instances, there is no equivalent to a U.S. 911 emergency line. We advise all students to ask during their on-site orientation what the local emergency contact numbers are for the area.

24 Hour GVSU Contact:
GVSU Campus Police (616) 331-3255

 If you are in an emergency situation while abroad, contact local resources for immediate assistance:

  • Main contact at your host institution or GVSU on-site program director.
  • Nearest medical facility where you can seek emergency care.
  • Police or other local authority that serves as a first responder to emergencies.

Once you have accessed the necessary local resources, contact Padnos International Center (PIC) or GVSU Campus Police. If you call the GVSU Campus Police after hours, they will attempt to contact a staff member in the Padnos International Center who will respond to your call.

If you have a serious illness or medical emergency, reach out to your in-country program staff for assistance and support. The GVSU health insurance has emergency assistance you can access at any time.

If your passport is lost or stolen, contact the U.S. Embassy in your host country.  The U.S. Embassy will inform you of the procedures for reporting a lost or stolen passport and will give you instructions on securing a replacement.  Click here for a link to the U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world

The State Department also provides helpful information on what to do if your passport is lost or stolen.

If you are arrested abroad, you can access support from the local US embassy. The Department of State provides general information on what US citizens can expect from their local consular officers in this situation.

GVSU has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, sale, exchange or distribution of any illegal drug or substance for students accepted to study abroad. The determination of whether or not a drug is illegal is governed by U.S. federal drug laws, the laws of the State of Michigan, and host country laws.

Violation of this policy may result in immediate dismissal from the program; academic withdrawal from the university for the semester in progress; and disciplinary action upon return to campus.  
When you are in another country, you are subject to the laws of that country.  You are no longer covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights. It is the responsibility of the student to know the laws in the U.S. and in the host country.

Penalties in many parts of the world are far more severe than they are in the United States. In some countries, penalties can range from life imprisonment under very harsh conditions, solitary confinement, or even the death penalty.  In some places, small amounts of illegal drugs carry the same sentence as larger-scale offenses.  
Not knowing the laws is not an excuse that will keep you out of trouble. You are responsible for knowing the laws of the host country.

We recommend that you contact PIC to report and incident after the situation is stabilized. It is important for you to first utilize local resources to seek safety or medical attention as needed.

Examples of incidents to report to PIC include: Illness/injury, sexual assault, natural disaster, hospitalization, emotional or behavioral disorders, academic disciplinary actions, an illegal act resulting in legal actions in the host country, public health risks, damage to property, and theft.

U.S. Department of State Travel Information

The State Department provides extensive travel information. Visit their website to find out about:

  • Country-specific travel information
  • Personal safety
  • Embassy and consulate locations
  • Passport information


Fishing boats

Overlooking city in Greece

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)

OSAC is a resource that provides safety and security information for all countries. OSAC provides crime and safety reports as well as other important information for travelers.

OSAC also provides several different types of health and safety guides for travelers:

Safety Tips

There are a number things you can do to support a safe experience while abroad. While some of these tips may seem like common sense, it is important to recognize that the excitement of being abroad can impact your judgement and decision-making. It is easy to forget that you are in a new and unfamiliar place as you become more integrated into the country and culture.

  • Follow local laws, program rules, GVSU student code of conduct. You will be subject to the laws of the host country and NOT guaranteed due process.
  • Take advice from local program staff, host families, local students related to safety
  • Use alcohol responsibly and in a culturally appropriate manner
  • Wear culturally appropriate attire
  • Avoid going out in large groups of foreign students, this can make you a target for crime
  • Avoid risky areas and events (e.g. public demonstrations)
  • Keep up with news: local, regional, global
  • Be aware of your surroundings, learn multiple ways to get to school, home, etc. so it is easier to avoid areas as needed
  • Never leave your belongings unattended for any period of time
  • Be alert when using public transport in big cities. Pickpocketing is common on crowded public transportation.
  • Pay close attention to your gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, remove yourself from the situation.
  • Avoid walking alone at night
  • Lock your door
  • Learn to blend in with your surroundings. Americans can be easily spotted by the way they dress, walk, talk, and carry themselves. Pay attention to cultural cues and consider avoiding wearing clothing that will make you stand out, like American sporting team apparel.
  • Get to know local students, they will be an excellent safety net.
  • ALWAYS act like you know what you are doing, even if you are lost. Carry yourself with confidence and try to be discreet, find a safe place to regroup if lost or feeling unsure
  • Leave your travel plans with someone you trust – every time you travel
  • When you go out on the town, don’t go alone and don’t leave anyone behind when you are headed back home.
  • Do not leave a drink unattended and do not accept drinks from strangers unless it is sealed or you watch the drink being poured.
  • Carry emergency contact info with you including number for in country emergency services, your local U.S. embassy, your program provider emergency phone number.
View of City

Student sitting on a wall overlooking a city

PIC Emergency Procedures

Every critical incident requires a tailored response; however, there are many resources that may be accessed in PIC’s response to a critical incident.

In the event of a political, social, or natural emergency, PIC will be in contact with the on-site staff and/or primary program contacts to maintain an up-to-date assessment of the situation and to more effectively coordinate an appropriate response. Most situations involve a coordinated a response with on-site professionals who can assist the student directly.

When the situation warrants such, the PIC will convene a crisis response team made of representatives from across the University to help respond to a crisis. Additionally, PIC may utilize services available through the US Embassy in the host country, resources available through the U.S. Department of State, and, where appropriate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Notifying PIC of an Emergency Incident

In the case of an emergency, students are strongly advised to contact appropriate on-site staff immediately. The on-site staff may contact the Padnos International Center, however, we do appreciate hearing directly from the student when possible. Once the Padnos International Center is notified, we will offer whatever support we can to assist the student. Depending on the situation, PIC may contact the emergency contacts listed in the student’s online study abroad account.

In many instances, family members or close friends are the first to be notified of a critical incident. If you are contacted by a loved one overseas regarding a critical incident, please contact the Padnos International Center at (616) 331-3898. After normal business hours, please call the number for the GVSU Campus Police (616) 331-3255. GVSU Campus Police will contact a member of the PIC staff who will follow-up with you regarding the incident you are reporting.

The following information will be helpful to the PIC when gathering information about a critical incident:

  • Name of person reporting the incident
  • City, and country of where the incident took place
  • Name and location of the study abroad program
  • Student(s) names involved in the incident
  • Date & time of occurrence/current condition
  • Description of situation/incident
  • Action taken thus far
  • Action requested of Officer (if appropriate)
  • Contact information of the person calling
Flowering plant

Page last modified July 9, 2021