Media Note
Office of the Spokesman

Washington, DC
February 20, 2008

International Travel Safety Information for American Students

As spring and summer breaks approach, many students are getting ready for a trip abroad. The following information will help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.

First, a note about U.S. passports: As of January 23, 2007, everyone traveling in and out of the United States by air needs a passport. We encourage students to apply now! Processing times are traditionally faster in February.

As of January 31, 2008, all U.S. residents, age 19 and older, will be required to show proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate, and a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license – or a passport – when traveling to Western Hemisphere countries by land or ferry. (Persons age 18 and younger will need proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate – or a passport – when traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the countries of the Caribbean by land or ferry.) This also applies to sea travel if cruises begin or end outside of the United States. Students planning cruises should also be sure to confirm document requirements with their cruise line.

As soon as summer 2009 U.S. citizens entering the United States by land or ferry will need either a U.S. passport; a U.S. passport card; or a trusted traveler card such as NEXUS, FAST, or SENTRI.

Information about the new regulations regarding travel by air, land and sea, as well as general information about traveling abroad, can be found on the Department of State's website at

Travel safety is a major concern. Although most students will have a safe and enjoyable adventure, others may encounter serious problems. 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. 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. Acts that are legal at home in the United States could lead to arrest and prosecution in foreign countries. Some Americans go abroad assuming that local authorities will overlook such conduct because they are American citizens. This is simply not the case. Americans who violate the laws of the countries they visit may be arrested, and they could face severe penalties, including long prison sentences. In fact, some countries have mandatory death sentences for drug offenses.

Being arrested is not the only thing that can go wrong on a foreign vacation. Americans have been badly injured or have been killed in automobile accidents, falls, and other mishaps. Many of these incidents 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.

The most common cause of death of Americans overseas, other than natural causes, is by motor vehicle accidents. 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. Obey signs and flags and stay out of the water when red or black flags are posted.

Standards of safety and supervision overseas may also be different at hotels and resorts. Be cautious in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death. If you choose to swim, always exercise extreme caution. Rent from reputable operators and insist on sufficient training before using equipment like scooters, jet-skis, scuba gear and personal watercraft. The exercise of simple common sense can help prevent serious accidents.

More safety tips for students traveling abroad can be found on the web at Beginning March 1, 2008, please also see the State Department’s new website for American students traveling overseas,, for safety, travel, and registration information.
Students are strongly urged to register their foreign travel on the State Department’s website at before the trip begins. Travel registration makes it possible for the State Department 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.

For further information contact:
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs
Press inquiries: (202) 647-1488
Internet address:;
Public inquiries: toll-free (88 407-4747