» Health and Safety Abroad

Staying healthy and safe is important to consider when you go abroad. You are in a new culture with different customs, laws, and societal norms that can limit your adjustment and compromise your well-being if you are not cautious. Learn as much as you can about the history, culture, politics and customs of your host country prior to your arrival. The following information is to help guide you in the issues you may encounter while abroad.

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Physical Health

Think about the environment you will be living in while abroad and find out if there are any health precautions you can take before you leave. Find out if it is safe to drink the water, if it is safe to eat all types of food, see your doctor/personal practitioner before you leave, etc. Get a physical, complete foreseeable dental work, and consider your psychological stability.

Medication Checklist:

  • You will need to take enough medication or necessary prescriptions with you to last the duration of your time abroad. Medication sent by mail from the United States will be confiscated by the host country’s Customs Service.
  • Students should take copies of prescriptions if they need to be refilled or replaced if lost. In some countries, replacements/substitutes can be found in the local pharmacy or chemist.
  • Keep medication(s) in your carry-on luggage, clearly identified by the label or prescription in the original packaging.  
  • Remember that the effect and effectiveness of medications can change with changes in stress, diet, and climate.
  • Maintain your medication schedule —even if it is inconvenient while in transit.
  • Some drugs available by prescription in the U.S. are illegal in other countries. Check the U.S. Department of State Consular Information Sheets for the country(ies) you intend to visit.
  • Tips for studying abroad with a chronic illness

Health Insurance:

  •  Chapman University provides International Medical Insurance and Assistance Services to all members of the Chapman University community. The program provides (a) medical benefits, (b) emergency medical evacuation services, (c) an accidental death & dismemberment benefit, and (d) miscellaneous assistance services associated with foreign travel. A convenient, online enrollment form that can be found at Chapman ACE Insurance.   
  • Chapman students are required to maintain a domestic policy while abroad in addition to the Chapman-provided international coverage. This can be either your own independent insurance, coverage under your parents, or the Chapman University Wellness Plan.

To find out about health issues in your host country, visit the Centers for Disease Control. This site will also list the vaccinations needed prior to arrival.

Mental Health

Students will encounter challenges and stressors when studying abroad such as leaving friends and family, experiencing cultural differences, and possible recurrence of pre-existing conditions. Situations entailing a high level of stress can cause unusually strong emotional reactions and can interfere with students’ effective functioning abroad. Such reactions are normal responses to abnormal situations and are to be expected under the circumstances. Read more about how to cope with culture shock which can cause significant mental health issues.

If you have any existing mental health condition (including anxiety, ADHD, depression, etc.), these issues will not go away when you go abroad and may actually intensify. It is important to plan ahead and think about the challenges you will be faced with while abroad. If you would like to talk to one of the Chapman University counselors about any concerns you might have before you depart, please make an appointment with Student Psychological Counseling Services .  

Students who seek support early on and use available resources are more likely to be successful abroad. Follow the steps below for psychological pre-planning before studying abroad, whether or not you have pre-existing mental health conditions:

  • Plan ahead. What challenges do you expect to face while you are away?
  • Make an appointment with the Student Psychological Counseling Services before going abroad for a confidential mental health check-up and learn how to set goals, manage time, and cope more successfully with the challenges of study abroad.
  • Research if your medication(s) are legal in the country you are going to, what you need to know about transporting and/or obtaining your medications, and how to maintain your medication schedule while abroad.
  • Do not make changes to your medications prior to or during the program abroad.
  • Check what professional resources are available in your host country. Many study abroad programs can help you identify local resources such as professional counselors who speak English and enable you to obtain treatment abroad.
  • Disclose information directly with your study abroad advisors so that we can give you support and guidance to continue your experience abroad if psychological concerns arise. Study abroad can be stressful and exacerbate such problems. If there are any medical issues that concern you, it is important that program staff know about these issues before the student leaves home.
  • Practice good self-care while abroad including adequate rest, healthy diet, exercise and moderate use of alcohol if you drink. 

Information from "Best Practices in Addressing Mental Health Issues Affecting Education Abroad Participants © Copyright 2006. NAFSA: Association of International Educators."

Additional Resources:

Preparations for Travel with a Mental Health Condition: View the Table of Contents to get started.

Her Story: Studying Abroad with a Mental Illness: A student shares her personal experience of studying abroad with a mental illness.

Dealing with Post-Study Abroad Depression: What is PSAD and how can you deal with it?

Chapman Travel Health Clinic

If you are traveling to a developing country for school or other reasons, you may be at risk for diseases from the water your drink to that annoying mosquito that bites you! 

  • How do I avoid malaria? 
  • What’s the best way to get safe drinking water? 
  • What shots do I need?

The Chapman University Student Travel Health Clinic will provide you with the following:

  • Comprehensive consultation on the health and safety risks you may face and how to avoid them
  • A personalized travel health report for your itinerary
  • What vaccines to get
  • Prescription medications for travel related disease prevention and treatment
  • What over-the-counter medications and supplies to get

We are open to eligible Chapman University students by appointment only on Thursday afternoons from 2:30-4:30 p.m.  It’s best to make an appointment at least 1 month before you leave for your trip. To get started, call the Student Health Services at (714) 997-6851 for an appointment.

Alcohol Use

The use of alcohol is encouraged in some societies and prohibited in others. In most cultures there are methods for controlling drinking, but these vary and may not be obvious to a person unfamiliar with a particular culture. Remember that drinking too much may put you in a vulnerable position, as your judgment will be impaired.  Many other cultures do not have the ‘binge drinking’ culture that occurs in the U.S. Students who drink excessively and act out not only will put themselves in danger as it would in the U.S., but will also make them more noticeable and potentially become targets of crime.

Chapman students must follow the Chapman University student code of conduct. Therefore, even if it is legal to drink alcohol at a younger age in your host country, you are still not allowed to drink if you are under 21, according to the Chapman student code of conduct, nor are you allowed to take courses abroad that introduce alcohol and culture. If you choose to drink, do it sensibly and among friends who you trust and who will watch out for you. Never leave your drink unattended and always trust your instincts.

To resist social and cultural pressures to drink:

  • Understand why you are choosing to use alcohol
  • Make rules for oneself to guide drinking
  • Set a personal limit for drinking, sticking to it, or drinking less
  • Provide more non-alcoholic than alcoholic beverages for oneself, friends, and guests
  • Maintain daily physical activity
  • Drink only with meals
  • Make oneself aware of the impact one's drinking has on oneself and others

 (Adapted from "Dealing with Alcohol" module, Pre-Service Health Training for Volunteers Binder, Peace Corps Office of Medical Services)

Safety Issues

Travel in itself is not inherently dangerous, especially to those countries in which Chapman students typically study.  However, it is important to realize that no matter where one goes they could potentially be a target of a local crime or other dangerous activity. A reasonable amount of precaution is important.

The U.S. Department of State has instituted a Travel Advisory for every country in the world by which they rate and communicate health and safety conditions in countries or specific regions of countries. These Travel Advisories include four levels of safety and security risk:

  1. Exercise normal precautions
  2. Exercise increased caution
  3. Reconsider travel
  4. Do not travel

Many countries that have an overall Travel Advisory rating of 1 or 2 have certain regions within that country with a higher advisory level, either indicated by regional numeric ratings or text such as “Reconsider Travel” (Level 3)  or “Do Not Travel” (Level 4).  If a country or region within a country is a Level 4, no student will be permitted to travel to that area.

Visit the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory website to read information about a specific country's travel advisory level(s). 

Checklist for Staying Safe While Abroad:

  • Remain calm and inconspicuous; keep a low profile.
  • Avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress. It may be illegal for you to participate and you could be ordered to return to the United States.
  • Use the “buddy system” when venturing to new places.
  • Do not walk alone at night. Avoid going out late at night and drinking too much, especially with people you do not know well.
  • Register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before departure to keep informed about safety issues and changes to the Travel Advisory level. 
  • Keep emergency contacts on your person.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings and belongings!
  • Do not carry your passport with you on a daily basis—keep it safely in your room or ask for it to be locked in a safe or security box at your accommodations.
  • Avoid locales known to have a predominantly American clientele where you may be a target
  • Drinking too much may put you in a vulnerable position, as your judgment will be impaired.
  • Leave a travel itinerary with contact information for you and for host university personnel when you travel outside of your program site. 
  • Learn how to make informed choices in your personal safety, including road safety.
  • Students should carry an emergency card containing key emergency phone numbers, including the phone number of the nearest US Embassy or Consulate and your insurance information.
  • Once you arrive in your host country, acquire a cellphone. Give your number to your friends and family at home, your host institution, and save the local emergency numbers on your phone.


While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The vast majority of U.S. students who study overseas have no problems with the laws and customs of the country they are visiting. However most students who do break that law do not do it on purpose; instead, they end up doing something illegal without knowing it.


  • It is important to be prepared for all eventualities. Learn as much as you can about the host country. You are not exempt from knowing the laws of the host country and will be upheld to them.
  • Laws over the use of alcohol, drugs, participation in demonstrations, vary from country to country. Do not use drugs overseas under any circumstances and be cautious with the consumption of alcohol.
  • Be aware of areas in which these laws differ from U.S. law, and obey these laws. Penalties for breaking the law in other countries are generally more severe than they would be in the U.S. 
  • For additional information on host country laws, read the US Department of State Country-Specific Information.

 What if something happens?

  • It is vitally important for students to understand and obey the laws of the host country and any countries to which a student plans to travel while are abroad. Students should be aware of areas in which these laws differ from U.S. law, and obey these laws. If arrested, U.S. citizens have the right to request to speak to a Consular Officer from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Students should call the on-site program director/host university contact person and the home campus 24-hour emergency numbers as soon as possible. 
  • If students are arrested or detained abroad, they should not make any statements to the host country police prior to contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (or the home country embassy, if not a U.S. citizen) and not make any statements to the host country police without having a lawyer present. Contact the insurance emergency number for additional legal assistance.
  • Your ACE Insurance will provide referrals for legal consultation services.

Health & Safety Resources

Zika Virus Statement

Zika virus is an emerging infectious disease that is transmitted to people through mosquito bites, through sex with an infected person, and can be passed from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus. The areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus are primarily in Latin American and South Pacific countries. The list of affected countries can be found on the Center for Disease Control Country List.

More information including prevention, symptoms, transmission, treatment, and other risks can be found on the Center for Disease Control Zika Response Plan website. The virus poses the greatest threat to women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant soon. Information on this disease is quickly evolving. We recommend referring to the CDC website for the most up-to-date information.

At this time, Chapman will continue to run programs in Zika-affected locations. It is important to educate yourself on potential risks and make an informed decision with your medical provider about whether or not you want to travel to a country affected by Zika. If you have applied for a semester abroad program in an affected country and wish to study abroad in a different country, contact the CGE.