Is Your Exchange Program Safe?

Study Abroad students including one who is blind pose with their hard hats on at the bottom of a waterfall in Costa Rica they ziplined by.
Planning for crisis or emergency situations is one extra measure for a safe and successful time abroad.

Reputable exchange programs should have health, safety, security and risk management plans in place. When deciding on a program or assessing it after you are accepted, ask questions about plans for crises or emergencies abroad and how information about your disability will be shared and accommodated in a crisis event.

  • If I am having trouble adjusting and am feeling overwhelmed when I am abroad, who do I talk to?
  • If I’m experiencing an emergency, what is the process for me to get help abroad?
  • Does the program have enough staff to assist a participant with an emergency?
  • What policies does the program have in place regarding return home either in an emergency or by choice?
  • Are there crisis lines or medical services available in my native language? If not, who can provide simultaneous translation?
  • Do you provide accident and sickness travel insurance? If so, what does it cover and what are its exclusions?

If you have disclosed a health-related condition or disability, then also ask:

  • How do I share how I want communication to be handled if my condition were to become unstable while abroad? Do I need to sign any medical releases?
  • Who will be able to access my health information and why? What privacy protections apply abroad?
  • What are the laws or procedures in the host country regarding hospitalization for people with my condition or disability? What are my rights in the host country?
  • Are notifications about an emergency accessible to me?

While prior arrangements and even advance directives are not always respected, having a plan is helpful in a country where there are few or no protections against involuntary commitment for mental health reasons and few or no protections to ensure informed consent.

Sometimes family, program staff, doctors, and therapists back home can be helpful even from afar, such as through remote communications, Skype, and to advocate for your care and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. Some travel health insurance plans also provide coverage for family to travel to you for "bedside visits" in the case of hospitalization in the country.