Health & Safety

Staying healthy and safe while abroad cuts out a lot of unnecessary stress and problems. Although there are many things that are outside your control, there are certain things you can plan for.


You will need two types of insurance during your semester exchange. The one is medical insurance covering daily medical needs and the other is personal/travel insurance more orientated towards emergencies.

For summer school students the type of insurance needed will be different and normally limited to personal/travel insurance, please refer to the requirements of the respective country representative for the visa application.

Almost all host institutions (and visa applications) will require you to either have your own medical insurance (complying with certain requirements) or take out medical insurance from a service provider recommended by them for the duration of your exchange, or summer school. There will be specific requirements by either the host or country representative and you must comply with these, otherwise you will not be granted a visa or not be registered at the host institution.

Even if it is not a requirement from your host institution or your visa application, SU International requires all students to have medical and personal/travel insurance for the duration of the exchange. It is also important to know exactly what is covered by your insurance.

Keep documents indicating the full coverage of your insurance with you at all times.

Personal/Travel insurance will also provide cover in the case of theft or loss of property. Make sure that you have insurance for valuable items like a camera, laptop, and other valuables.

Speak to your insurance provider (both medical and personal) and enquire about coverage whilst abroad. In most cases you will need to take out additional cover or pay an increased tariff. Speak to your travel agent about your options. Some financial institutions that supply credit cards also provide travel insurance when an air ticket is purchased with the particular institution’s card. Enquire about this option through your financial institution. You should however make sure that the cover you have is sufficient and meets the requirements of the host institution/country.


Speak to your health care professional about your upcoming international experience and if necessary go for a full medical check-up before your departure.

You might need immunizations or other precautionary medicine. Visit Travelers’ Health | CDC or the World Health Organization‘s profiles of different countries for valuable information on health requirements, travel safety and precautions. Campus Health Services can also assist you in this regard. The CDC provides a very handy survival guide for safe and healthy travel.

If you have prescriptions it is best to take all you need for your stay abroad. Take a copy of your prescription(s), with the generic name of the pills. Keep medicines in original containers. Also request a letter from your doctor to explain all the medication.

Take an extra pair of glasses and the prescription for your contact lenses with you.

A small first aid kit with the essentials like plasters, an antiseptic ointment, pain pills and a disinfectant can be very handy during your exchange and might even spare you from an unnecessary trip to the pharmacy. Burnshield is also a good option for small burns.

Cool article about how to make sure you are travelling with medicine legally.

Sex, drugs and alcohol

The sexual behaviour of your fellow students might differ from what you are used to. Your sexual behaviour is a personal decision and you should not feel pressured to conform to local norms. If you are sexually active practice safe sex and remember personal decisions can have long-term consequences. Take responsibility for your body and also heed the cultural norms of the country that you are in.

The use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad can increase the risk of accident and injury. Many study abroad accidents and injuries are related to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad. Inform yourself about the legal drinking age in your host country. Drinking and driving is irresponsible and can get you into serious trouble. Violating drug laws abroad may result in very serious consequences. In some countries, being found guilty of violating drug laws can result in consequences as serious as death.

Driving in the Host Country

Renting a car or scooter while studying abroad is a great and fun way to see the countryside. It can also be a very stressful and dangerous way to travel. In countries where driving laws are significantly different from what you are used to, for example driving on the other side of the road, you should consider taking another form of transportation – especially if you feel hesitant at all about driving. If however you do plan to drive whilst abroad, you have to arrange for an international driving license before departure. The AA (Automobile Association) can issue an international driver’s license.

Insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. You should obtain full coverage insurance when renting vehicles in any country – request this option from the rental company. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the rental contract very carefully. Ask the locals for a recommendation on a rental company. If you are involved in a vehicle accident resulting in damages or injuries to another party, you may be detained by local authorities until a settlement is arranged with the injured party. Furthermore, depending upon the extent of damages or injuries to the other party, you may face charges filed by the country’s judicial authorities.

Local and National Laws

When you visit another country, you are subject to the laws of that country. Familiarise yourself with the laws and regulations of the country that you will be living in, as well as the countries and cities that you will be travelling to whilst abroad.

Legal protection that is taken for granted in your own country is left behind when you leave.

The assistance that can be offered by embassies and consulates is often limited to the provision of names of competent attorneys and doctors and does not include financial assistance to pay for legal or medical services. They also cannot intervene on your behalf in the administration of justice as seen from the point of view of the host country. Bail provisions as you know them will not necessarily be the same as in South Africa. The best advice is to know the laws of the country you are in and to obey them scrupulously. If you get into trouble, seek local legal assistance as quickly as possible and consult with your coordinator at the International or Study Abroad Office.

General Safety

The first step in taking responsibility for your safety is to be realistic and have a balanced perspective on safety issues. Safety is a global, national and local issue. Every country or city has particular problems and unsafe areas. Prepare yourself before your departure by doing research on the political and cultural climate of your host country and the countries you intend to visit.

Learn as much as possible beforehand about the safety and security situation of the host country.

Register with the local South African consulate or embassy. Here is a list of South African Representation Abroad.

See also the following site: Information issued and advice provided by the South African Government

Some Common Sense Precautions

  • Listen and take note of the advice you are given – specifically the advice that is provided at the orientation of the host institution.

  • Memorize the emergency numbers for the host country as provided by the host university.

  • Do not pick up hitch-hikers!

  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings

  • Don’t leave your food and drink unattended

  • Drink responsibly

  • Use your common sense when giving personal information

  • Make sure that your host coordinator or friends knows your itinerary

  • Don’t walk alone at night, and travel in small groups.

  • Keep your passport in a safe place. Make copies of your passport and leave one copy with a friend or family member back home.

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