Health and Safety Abroad

Medical Information

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website will provide answers to most of your travel and country specific questions. It contains information on destinations, outbreaks, diseases, vaccinations, safe food and water, and more.

Physical Examinations

It is recommended to have general checkups before you go - medical, dental, and optical. This may be a requirement for some programs.  Inform your doctors that you are going abroad, as well as the duration of the program.


The CDC breaks immunizations into two categories: “required” and “recommended”.  Consult the CDC's website for the most current list of “required” and “recommended” vaccines for your country of study to ensure you have received all “required” immunizations.  It is also suggested that students obtain the immunizations categorized as “recommended” as well.  A full series of vaccines can take up to 6 months, so find out now if you will need any.

Medical Emergencies Abroad

If you have a medical emergency, go to the hospital. One of the first things you should do when you arrive in your host country is develop a personal emergency plan. 

Always keep the on-site staff or faculty leader informed of any medical issues/emergencies you have, since they can often assist with the situation. In an emergency, contact the SUNY Geneseo Study Abroad Office Phone number at 1-585-245-5546 (8am-4pm) or after hours SUNY Geneseo Police at 1-585-245-5222.

Prescription Medications

The matter of prescription medication has many caveats.  If you regularly take a prescription medication you will need to bring enough medication with you for the entire time you will be abroad. In most cases you will NOT be able to refill your prescriptions abroad, so you must be sure that you have enough medication. Talk with you doctor/health insurance company to see if you can take a semester’s supply of the prescription with you.  If not, contact GeoBlue to talk about how to access your prescription while you are abroad.  You should ask your doctor for the generic name of your prescription, so, in case of an emergency, you can try to refill it overseas. 

If you are carrying medication, bring a letter from your doctor to present to customs officials. You should always transport prescriptions in your carry-on luggage, in their original containers. Include your glasses or contact lens prescription. If you have it, bring an extra pair of glasses. 

Do not expect to receive prescription medication by mail.

If you must receive medication by mail, check with the consulate for your host country about the legality of receiving your medication abroad. The consulate should also be able to inform you of the proper documentation, such as a physician’s prescription, necessary for shipment. The Electronic Embassy has direct links to the websites of all the embassies of our host countries. 

If you have any additional questions, please contact the Study Abroad Office at 1-585-245-5546 or by email (

Health Hints

Water - The CDC Travel Health website offers country-specific information about drinking water abroad.  If it is at all questionable, stick to bottled water, canned/bottled carbonated drinks, tea or coffee.  Also, beware of ice in places with questionable water supplies.

Food - The CDC Travel Health website offers country-specific information about eating food abroad.  Changes in diet can cause stomach and other health problems, so look out for this. In areas with poor sanitation and hygiene avoid street vendors, milk and milk products, raw fruits, raw vegetables, and raw fish and meat.
Respiratory Sickness - While traveling, you will probably be more susceptible to colds, coughs, etc., so remember that the best safeguard is a balanced diet, liquids, rest, and common sense. 

Other - If you happen to pick up an infection while you're abroad, whether it be a virus, a bacterium, or a parasite, you may not get sick right away, but weeks after your return. Some diseases can take up to six months to show up. If you get sick, tell your physician what countries you have visited and when. This information might prove to be helpful in making a diagnosis. 

First-Aid Kit - Consider taking a well-stocked first-aid kit. Some items to consider (depending on where you are going) are: sunscreen, bandages, flashlight, cough/cold medicine, insect repellent, sterile pads, sterile wipes, adhesive tape, aspirin or other pain relief medication, antacid, anti-diarrhea tablets, anti-malarial medication, feminine protection, and rubber/latex gloves.  Always carry plenty of clean drinking water or a sealed beverage.

"Medical Information" adapted from Santa Clara University Study Abroad

Health Insurance

SUNY International Study Abroad Health Insurance

SUNY mandates that all students have adequate health insurance coverage while traveling abroad on a SUNY sponsored program.  Students going on Geneseo-sponsored programs are required to purchase SUNY sponsored medical insurance.  This insurance is provided by UnitedHealthcare.  The cost of insurance depends on the duration of your program.  Please see the program costs sections of the program's webpage for the exact cost of your insurance coverage.

The Study Abroad Office will register you for the SUNY International Study Abroad Health Insurance.  Once registered, you will receive an email from UnitedHealthcare prompting you to create an account on their website.  It is very important that you create your account before you leave the United States.

Once you create your account you can print your health insurance card and explore the services found on the student portal. In the event that you do need medical attention while abroad and have to go to an out-of-network healthcare provider, you should contact UnitedHealthcare to set up direct billing or download a claim form from your portal.

This policy provides comprehensive sickness and accident insurance and emergency travel medical insurance, including coverage for medical evacuation and repatriation of remains, which is generally not provided by domestic insurance companies. UnitedHealthcare has also identified a network of doctors worldwide who will provide treatment. In addition, UnitedHealthcare will set-up direct billing on your behalf and will assist students in establishing treatment for ongoing medical conditions while abroad (including doctor visits and continuing medications).

For coverage details, please review the SUNY International Study Abroad Health Insurance Brochure or contact the SUNY Geneseo Study Abroad Office at 585-245-5546 or by email at

Mental Health Abroad

Studying abroad presents new stresses that students may not have encountered before, and existing mental health conditions may be exacerbated by international travel.  Be sure to read the information in this handbook on culture shock. Be familiar with the symptoms of depression so you can identify problem signs and seek help if needed. Speaking another language all the time and adjusting to cultural differences can be tiring. Take care of yourself and be patient and flexible.

Sometimes students find that the stress of adjusting to another country can make it difficult to manage a mental health condition that they were managing well in the US (e.g., eating disorder, depression). Other students may experience the onset of a mental health issue for the first time while abroad. 

It is important to be aware of the possible signs/symptoms of the following mental health conditions: 

Signs of Depression 

1. Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety 
2. Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities that lasts for more than 2 weeks 
3. Changes in appetite (decrease or increase) 
4. Insomnia or oversleeping 
5. Loss of energy or fatigue 
6. Restlessness or irritability 
7. Feelings of worthlessness or persistent guilt 
8. Difficulty thinking, concentrating remembering or making decisions 
9. Ongoing body aches and pains or problems with digestion unrelated to physical disease
10. Increased drinking, cigarette smoking, or using prescription or illicit drugs
11. Thoughts of death or suicide

Signs of Anxiety (Panic) Attacks

1. Chest feels tight
2. Heart races
3. Dizziness or lightheadedness
4. Choking
5. Feel as if the end is near
6. Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat
7. Sweating
8. Trembling or shaking
9. Nausea
10. Tingling or numbness is the hands or feet
11. Hot flashes or chills
12. Sense of unreality or dreamlike sensations
13. Fear of losing control, doing something embarrassing, going "crazy" or dying

Signs of Eating Disorders

Anorexia: Anorexia is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Students tend to be more introverted, below normal body weight. Most noticeable trait: thin arms and legs.

Bulimia: Bulimia is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating. High achievers that tend to be more extroverted; person maintains a normal to 10-pound overweight appearance.

1. High need for control, esp. regarding food intake
2. Extreme consumption behaviors: feast or famine
3. Excessive weight gain/loss
4. Making excuses for not going to meals
5. Playing with food- giving the illusion of consumption
6. Excessive exercise
7. Fainting spells
8. Sore throat
9. Chapped fingers

- “Signs of Mental Health Conditions” adapted from Whittier College Study Abroad
- “Anorexia/Bulimia Definitions” adapted from National Eating Disorders Website

If you find that you have a problem that is becoming more severe rather than getting better, ask for help immediately. 

For more information on preparing for study abroad with a mental health condition visit Mobility International USA’s website

Finally, the SUNY Geneseo Department of Health and Counseling offer a wealth of information and resources.

Drugs & Alcohol Abroad

Attitudes toward alcohol and drug use vary considerably from culture to culture. Remember, you are subject to the laws of your host country; and the countries you intend to visit; be sure to understand the laws surrounding drugs and alcohol. Although some countries have more liberal laws concerning drugs and alcohol, in many countries the laws and penalties are more severe. You are an ambassador of SUNY Geneseo and the United States. You will be held to SUNY Geneseo’s Code of Conduct, which you affirmed online.

If you are of legal age to drink alcohol in your host country, do so responsibly. Serving sizes and alcohol content vary by country, which, when coupled with your new environment, may cause alcohol to affect you differently than you are used to. Be cautious and don’t over indulge. Never let your beverage out of your sight- drugging drinks happens throughout the world.

Possession and use of illegal drugs will result in your immediate dismissal from your study abroad program. Drugs account for one-third of US citizens arrested overseas, and penalties can be severe. Remember, never agree to carry a suitcase or package for someone else- you do not want to become an unknowing drug smuggler. 

- Adapted from University of Missouri Study Abroad

Sexual Health Abroad

Doing what you can to stay in good health is essential whether you’re at home or abroad. Eat well, sleep enough, exercise regularly, and practice responsible sexual behavior to guard yourself against sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, and undesirable social consequences.

Incidence of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STI) are much higher in some parts of the world than they are in the US, and these conditions know no boundaries of country, color, or sexuality.  Know your HIV and STI status, learn safe sex practices, and communicate openly with sexual partners. 

If you need health care overseas, choose a provider who is sensitive to sexual and gender issues if that could be relevant to your needs.

If you identify as transgender, research options for continuing treatments while abroad and restrictions on traveling with certain prescription medication. 
-Adapted from CIEE Study Abroad

Law Abroad

You are subject to the laws in the country where you are studying and the countries you are planning to visit.  Information can be found throughout either the Host Institution or Faculty-Led Study Abroad Student Handbook

If you break local laws while abroad, there is very little that the Study Abroad Office, or the US Government can do for you.

Legal protections and rights that are taken for granted in the US are left behind when you depart. US embassies and consulates are very limited in the assistance they can provide. They can provide the names of attorneys and doctors, but they can’t provide financial assistance in paying for legal or medical services, nor can they intervene on your behalf in the administration of justice in the host country. Bail provisions as you know them in the US are rare in other countries. Pretrial detention without bail is quite common in other countries. 

Prison conditions are often deplorable in comparison to conditions in the US, and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not necessarily a tenet of the legal system abroad. It is your responsibility to become familiar with and obey the host country laws.

Preventive Care

For your general well-being, it is advantageous to become familiar with your program site as quickly as possible. You should also familiarize yourself with cities you will be visiting before you begin to explore them. 

Research the possible diseases or conditions present in your host country. The CDC website provides a list of conditions that travelers may be at risk of, including diseases spread through mosquito bites and prevention tips.

Travel Guides

You may want to purchase travel guides before leaving the US; they may be more expensive or unavailable in your host country. 

These guides are the most popular among travelers:

Cities in other countries, just like US cities, have their safe and unsafe neighborhoods. You can find out what areas to avoid by asking at an information booth in a train station or airport when you arrive, or by asking your on-site primary contact person. Use your common sense and do not take risks. 

Be cautious when meeting new people. Don’t give out your address and phone number to strangers or divulge too much personal information. 

When withdrawing money from an ATM, go with a friend who will help you stay alert to your surroundings. Pick your ATM locations for safety, not just convenience.

Do not attract attention to yourself by speaking English loudly in public places or wearing expensive-looking jewelry. These mannerisms will likely attract thieves, or worse. If someone does try to rob or mug you, remember that your life is always more important than any of your possessions. Let them go and run away if necessary.

Taxis are not safe everywhere, especially late at night. In some places, women do not ride in taxis by themselves. Anyone can be robbed or assaulted by taxi drivers. In many cities, taxis have become so dangerous that people go out of their way to call for and identify reputable taxis. It is hard to resist the temptation of just flagging down a taxi on the street, but the wait is worth it. When you call a taxi, make sure to get the identification number or other information so you can be sure to pick the right one. 

In general, do not frequent well-known US tourist hangouts (e.g., restaurants, bars, clubs and associations, consulates and embassies). You should especially avoid these places if there is a terrorist threat, the US has just participated in a military action or there is a warning about an impending terrorist threat. During times of international crisis, many US embassies and consulates are picketed and threatened. 

Do not hitchhike. Many people may tell you that it is perfectly safe - it is not. 

Do not be afraid to be assertive when confronted with unwanted situations. Do not let anyone push you into taking risks. If you feel unsafe, you probably are, so listen to your instincts.

Some factors that increase risk are being: 

-Alone at night, especially after midnight
-Alone in an isolated or high-crime area
-Asleep in an unlocked place
-Out after a local curfew
-New to the country
-Unable to speak the local language
-In a new place and making new friends

- “Health and Safety” adapted from University of Missouri Study Abroad

Emergency Abroad

In the event of an emergency while studying abroad, it is important to know the following contacts and the order in which to call them in such an emergency.  The order of who to call is directly linked to who has the created sphere of influence.  Often times, parents/guardians are not the most informed about a site abroad.

1st: Emergency Services (if needed)-please note that emergency service numbers (such as 911 in the US) vary from country to country.  It is the responsibility of the student to find out the emergency numbers of the countries and cities they intend to visit.  Different than the US, in some places, there are different phone numbers of ambulance, fire, and police.  So know the appropriate phone number for your study abroad site.

The US State Department has compiled this helpful list.

2nd: International Office of Host Institution or faculty leader

3rd: Geneseo Study Abroad Office (or UP after hours)

4th: Parents/Guardians 

How to stay in touch with Geneseo while you’re away:

Geneseo Study Abroad Office: 585-245-5546 (8am-4pm Monday-Friday)

SUNY Geneseo Police: +1 585 245 5222

      * SUNY Geneseo Police will contact Study Abroad after-hours


Use multiple communication media

Incident Reporting

After taking the required steps to immediately respond to an emergency, all students are expected to report the incident using the Maxient Incident Report Form. To ensure that the incident is recorded as taking place abroad, select “Study Abroad Program” as the location of the incident.?

This form is sent to the Study Abroad Office, University Police Department, and the office of Student Conduct & Community Standards. All information submitted through Incident Report Form will be kept confidential and private by the University to the extent allowed by law.

Note, the Incident Report Form is reviewed during regular business hours and should NOT be used if you need an immediate response. For immediate assistance, contact the University Police Department at +1-585-245-5222.