Safety on the Street
Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at home. Be especially cautious in or avoid areas where you are likely to be victimized. These include crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, market places, festivals and marginal areas of cities.
Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly-lit streets. Try not to travel alone at night.
Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
Avoid scam artists. Beware of strangers who approach you, offering bargains or to be your guide.
Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:
· jostle you
· ask you for directions or the time
· point to something spilled on your clothing
· distract you by creating a disturbance.
A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of vagrant children who create a distraction while picking your pocket.
Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. When possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority.
Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can signal your need for help, the police, or a doctor. Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are confronted, don’t fight back. Give up your valuables. Your money and passport can be replaced, but you cannot.
Safety in Your Hotel
Keep your hotel door locked at all times. Meet visitors in the lobby.
Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room while you are out. Use the hotel safe.
Let someone know when you expect to return if you are out late at night.
If you are alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire. Be sure you know where the nearest fire exit and alternate exits are located. Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit. This could be a life saver if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.
Safety on Public Transportation
If a country has a pattern of tourists being targeted by criminals on public transport, that information is mentioned in the Consular Information Sheets under the “Crime Information” section.
Taxis. Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs.
Trains. Well organized, systematic robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourist routes is a serious problem. It is more common at night and especially on overnight trains.
If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close to you from behind, move away. This can happen in the corridor of the train or on the platform or station.
Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have been known to drug food or drink offered to passengers. Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train compartments.
Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions. If that is not possible, stay awake. If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage, strap your valuables to you and sleep on top of them as much as possible.
Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in any way. Extra police are often assigned to ride trains on routes where crime is a serious problem.
Buses. The same type of criminal activity found on trains can be found on public buses on popular tourist routes. For example, tourists have been drugged and robbed while sleeping on buses or in bus stations. In some countries whole bus loads of passengers have been held up and robbed by gangs of bandits.
Safety When You Drive
When you rent a car, don’t go for the exotic; choose a type commonly available locally. Where possible, ask that markings that identify it as a rental car be removed. Make certain it is in good repair. If available, choose a car with universal door locks and power windows, features that give the driver better control of access to the car. An air conditioner, when available, is also a safety feature, allowing you to drive with windows closed. Thieves can and do snatch purses through open windows of moving cars.
Keep car doors locked at all times. Wear seat belts.
As much as possible, avoid driving at night.
Don’t leave valuables in the car. If you must carry things with you, keep them out of sight locked in the trunk.
Don’t park your car on the street overnight. If the hotel or municipality does not have a parking garage or other secure area, select a well-lit area.
Never pick up hitchhikers.
Don’t get out of the car if there are suspicious looking individuals nearby. Drive away.
Patterns of Crime Against Motorists
In many places frequented by tourists, including areas of southern Europe, victimization of motorists has been refined to an art. Where it is a problem, U.S. embassies are aware of it and consular officers try to work with local authorities to warn the public about the dangers. In some locations, these efforts at public awareness have paid off, reducing the frequency of incidents. You may also wish to ask your rental car agency for advice on avoiding robbery while visiting tourist destinations.
Carjackers and thieves operate at gas stations, parking lots, in city traffic and along the highway. Be suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention when you are in or near your car.
Criminals use ingenious ploys. They may pose as good Samaritans, offering help for tires that they claim are flat or that they have made flat. Or they may flag down a motorist, ask for assistance, and then steal the rescuer’s luggage or car. Usually they work in groups, one person carrying on the pretense while the others rob you.
Other criminals get your attention with abuse, either trying to drive you off the road, or causing an “accident” by rear-ending you or creating a “fender bender.”
In some urban areas, thieves don’t waste time on ploys, they simply smash car windows at traffic lights, grab your valuables or your car and get away. In cities around the world, “defensive driving” has come to mean more than avoiding auto accidents; it means keeping an eye out for potentially criminal pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders.
How to Handle Money Safely
To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, change your travelers’ checks only as you need currency. Countersign travelers’ checks only in front of the person who will cash them.
Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill. Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.
Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money, buy airline tickets or purchase souvenirs. Do not change money on the black market.
If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight. After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or theft of:
· travelers’ checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company,
· credit cards to the issuing company,
· airline tickets to the airline or travel agent,
· passport to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
How to Avoid Legal Difficulties
When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws and are under its jurisdiction NOT the protection of the U.S. Constitution.
You can be arrested overseas for actions that may be either legal or considered minor infractions in the United States. Be aware of what is considered criminal in the country where you are. Consular Information Sheets include information on unusual patterns of arrests in various countries when appropriate.
Some of the offenses for which U.S. citizens have been arrested abroad are:
Photography. In many countries you can be harassed or detained for photographing such things as police and military installations, government buildings, border areas and transportation facilities. If you are in doubt, ask permission before taking photographs.
Purchasing Antiques. Americans have been arrested for purchasing souvenirs that were, or looked like, antiques and which local customs authorities believed were national treasures. This is especially true in Turkey, Egypt and Mexico. In countries where antiques are important, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case, or if they are authentic, secure the necessary export permit (usually from the national museum.)
The above information is excerpted from the Consular Affairs Publications.