As the time approaches for spring break, many college students are getting ready for a much anticipated trip abroad. The following information is geared to help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure:
Each year, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad — about half on narcotics charges, including possession of very small amounts of illegal substances. A drug that is legal in one country may not be legal in a neighboring nation. Alcohol also can cause trouble for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Students have been arrested for being intoxicated in public areas, for underage drinking, and for drunk driving. Some people are victimized because they are unaware of the laws, customs, or standards of the country they are visiting.
Disorderly or reckless behavior can have serious repercussions. In many countries, conduct that would not result in an arrest in the United States may constitute a violation of local law. Some Americans go abroad assuming that local authorities will overlook such conduct because they are American citizens. The truth is that Americans who violate the laws of the countries they visit may very well be arrested, and they could face severe penalties, including long prison sentences. In fact, some countries have mandatory death sentences for drug offenses.
Americans have been badly injured or killed in automobile accidents, falls, and other mishaps. Although these incidents are sometimes chance occurrences, many are related to alcohol or drug use. Other Americans have been sexually assaulted or robbed because they found themselves in unfamiliar locales, or were incapable of protecting themselves because of drug or alcohol use, or because they were the victim of a "date rape" drug.
Other safety issues are of major concern as well. Standards of safety and supervision overseas may be different from those in the United States. Many Americans have died after automobile accidents on bad roads and after falls from poorly-fenced balconies.
Americans should also exercise caution when swimming or engaging in water sports. Currents on both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts of Central and South America can be swift and dangerous, and in many areas there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. In addition, travelers should be aware that tidal currents before and after storms are strong and unpredictable. Several American citizens drown each year due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water.
In some countries, the water sports and scooter rental industries are not carefully regulated. Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment. Every year people are killed or injured by the improper use of scooters, jet skis, and personal watercraft or by the careless operation of such equipment by others. The exercise of simple common sense can help to minimize risks.
Americans are strongly urged to register their foreign travel on the State Department's website at https://travelregistration.state.gov before the trip begins. Travel registration makes it possible to contact a traveler if necessary, whether because of a family emergency in the United States or because of a crisis in the foreign country. Registration is a free service provided by the State Department and is easily accomplished online. (Note that, in accordance with the Privacy Act, the Department of State may not release information about a citizen to inquirers without express written authorization.)
Source: Office of Public Affairs