Staying safe when you are overseas

In Expat Life, Safety & security by Carole Hallett MobbsLeave a Comment

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How to stay safe while travelling abroad as an expat

We’ve all heard the horror stories; backpackers found dead on a beach in Thailand, a surfer’s body found in his burnt out VW van in Mexico, a woman out dog walking in Spain is never seen again. These, and many stories like them, are enough to make you think that nowhere in the world is as safe as at home, but in reality, you could be very wrong.

You’re almost 30 times more likely to be killed in a violent crime in the US
There are issues with mugging, robbery, murder and other atrocities in every city in the world. In Washington DC, the murder rate stands at around 31.4 per 100,000 people, compared to that in Cancun of 2 per 100,000. Mexico has gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and yet you’re almost 30 times more likely to be killed in a violent crime in the US.

Unfortunately, when horrible things happen to Western people in faraway lands, they tend to make a pretty big impact in the media. This paints a skewed image of these amazing places, and puts people off travelling because they think it’s too dangerous to go. Another thing that happens is that when people go on holiday they seem to think that ordinary, sensible rules don’t apply to them and that they are, in some way, invincible. Over-indulgence with alcohol often plays a large part in this, and also partaking in risky behaviours such as wandering around with your valuable camera equipment on display.

And it’s not just tourists on their annual two week vacation from their home country who could be at risk – expats take holidays too, and not just to ‘back home’!

In reality, if you’re sensible and take appropriate precautions, there’s no reason to be in any more danger overseas than you are when you’re home. Here’s our advice for staying safe abroad as an expat:

Don’t take silly risks

If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it while overseas
Ask yourself if you would walk down a dark alley like that in your home town? If you probably wouldn’t, why on earth would you do it abroad? Sometimes, being away from home, gives us a bit of holiday blindness. We do things we wouldn’t usually do, and take risks that are nothing short of stupid. Whether it’s hiring a scooter to ride through Bangkok traffic or taking a shortcut through a particularly rough looking slum, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it while overseas.

Don’t look like bait

Don’t flash your cash, unless you’re keen for someone to come and take if off you in an instant
If you’re into fishing, you’ll know you need bait to attract the fish. Without the bait, fish are just swimming about, doing their own thing, with no interest in the hook at all. Stick a piece of bait on it, and the water starts to swarm with hungry little fishies all keen to take a bite.

Now imagine you’re the hook.

Walking around with a nondescript bag, in your flip flops and tee, you don’t attract any interest whatsoever. But hang a gold chain around your neck, slip and iPhone in your hand, and sling an expensive camera around your neck, and suddenly you’re bait. Don’t flash your cash, unless you’re keen for someone to come and take if off you in an instant.

Don’t mix alcohol and water

Having a few beers and then going for a swim is never a good idea
Around 1.2 million people die every year as a result of drowning. It might not surprise you to know that a big proportion of these are holiday makers, away from their own countries. Having a few beers and then going for a swim is never a good idea, whether it’s in your hotel pool or in the ocean. Alcohol not only impairs your judgement, it can also affect your sense of direction and distance, and can make it easier to get cold without noticing. Save the swimming for when you’re sober, and stay safe on the beach wherever you are.

Don’t be too trusting

For people with families to feed at home and very little money, you are really just a walking ATM
Most people are good at heart, and some will even go out of their way to help you if you’re in a pickle. However, for people with families to feed at home and very little money, you are really just a walking ATM.

If someone is trying to show you around, even if it is with ‘no charge’, be suspicious. If you’re offered a lift, even in the pouring rain, wait for a taxi instead. And if you’re asked to pay up front for a service you’ll receive later, be very cautious about doing so.

If it feels bad, get out

If you get a gut feeling that something is wrong, get out of that situation as fast as possible
One of the best ways to stay safe abroad as an expat is simply to listen to your heart. If something is going on that you don’t feel comfortable with, or even if you get a gut feeling that something is wrong, get out of that situation as fast as possible. Sometimes our own internal feelings are the best measure of danger, so listen to what your heart is trying to tell you.

In general, there is no reason for you to be in any more danger overseas than you would be at home. Check the government website for security threats where you’re going, and familiarise yourself with local customs and concepts. Be savvy, be smart and don’t make yourself a target. Travelling doesn’t need to be a hazardous business. Just take care and you’ll stay safe every day.

More ideas on how to stay safe when you travel overseas here – Know Before You Go – staying safe and healthy abroad

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