Global Research Toolkit

Managing Risk

Before international travel is placed into a project budget, check your institution’s international travel policies for required and often unexpected costs that may arise. Further, if your institution has a formal international travel policy, this may help anticipate issues to make researchers aware of during their planning stages. Samples of institutional travel policies (often tied with insurance requirements) can be found below.

Useful Tips for Managing Risk While Traveling

Research Your Intended Destination

Whether you have traveled to your intended destination 100 times or never before, it is a best practice to review the local news, cultural customs, geography, and geo-political issues before you go. No location can be considered free of risk. Do your own due diligence regarding your destination.  A thorough risk and security review of your intended travel and activities can prove extremely valuable.

It is likely that your institution has an international travel policy or guidelines and most likely offers pre-departure orientations or workshops that can be delivered in person or on-line to a single traveler or a team of travelers. Some institutions are able to customize such guidance to the specific location and activities that your travel requires.

Here are three very helpful online resources for travel guidance:

  • U.S. Department of State | The U.S. Department of State has a wealth of information including such things as passports, country profiles, and current travel alerts and warnings. Check out the Traveler’s Checklist. You will find information about: embassies and consulates; country profiles; entry, exit and visa requirements; safety and security; local laws and special circumstances; health; and travel and transportation.
  • United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office | This United Kingdom website offers much the same information as does the U.S. Department of State but from the UK’s perspective. It also offers interactive resources for travel and living abroad by region and country.
  • Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website |  Run by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Smartraveller offers country safety and security guides, legal and health information, and local travel advice.
Request an Export Controls Review

Your university Office of Export Controls will help faculty, researchers, and staff navigate the complex environment of export regulations. Generally speaking, a license may be required to ship or transfer “controlled” technology, data, or items to certain countries outside of the United States (the technology, data, or items are considered to be “controlled” if found on the EAR Commerce Control List or the ITAR Munitions List). This includes the transfer of “controlled” technology, data, or items to foreign nationals within the U.S. (i.e., deemed export) or outside the U.S.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) administers a number of different sanction and embargo programs. The sanctions can be either comprehensive or selective, using the blocking of assets and trade restrictions to accomplish foreign policy and national security goals. Some export licenses may be issued to ship or transfer technology, data, or other items to sanctioned countries on a case-by-case basis. An item does not have to be military in nature to require a license. For example, the shipping of cotton seed to Iran requires a license or permission from OFAC.  OFAC administered sanctions not only cover the export of goods, they also cover the export of services. For example, distance learning services may not be provided to Cuba, Iran, Sudan or Syria under the current OFAC sanctions without a license.

If you are a U.S. citizen, enroll in STEP. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State is a free service. Once you set up an account it is yours for life. Simply update your itinerary in your STEP account and the local U.S. Embassy will instantly know you are there. You will then be able to receive security messages, alerts and warnings by email.

Keep in mind that countries other than the United States have their own import regulations that must be followed. Check out the Export Controls section of the Toolkit.

Prepare for Your International Flights

Airports are more crowded and busier than ever before. This means that you need to be prepared for flight delays and other unfortunate situations such as missing a flight or lost baggage.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you navigate the increased security, crowds and lines at the airport:

  • Use luggage tags with a flap. Secure luggage, if permitted, with a TSA-approved lock and a strong baggage strap. Carry extra TSA-approved locks as some countries may still cut locks to inspect baggage.
  • When it comes to traveling with liquids in your carry-on, remember the 3/1/1 rule for carry-on bags (3.4 ounce bottle or less; 1 quart-size Ziploc bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin)
  • Gather information about the airport, especially if you have connecting flights.
  • Remember that all medications, whether they be prescription, over the counter, or simply vitamins, should be in their original containers. Carry proper documentation for your medications.
Other Helpful Travel Information
  • Is your passport valid? Do not assume. Look. If it is not valid for at least 6 months after your return date, you may need to replace it. If you need a new passport you should apply as early as possible. You should plan on at least six to eight weeks for standard processing.
  • It is often useful to obtain a small amount of your destination’s local currency before departure. Talk with your financial institution to order the currency. You can visit for currency exchange information.
  • Remember to inform your bank and credit card companies that you are traveling internationally or you may find your cards locked when you try to use them abroad.
  • Consider purchasing Travel Insurance through your air carrier or the agent you used to book your flights. It will protect you in the event of flight delays, lost baggage, and other travel related issues. Travel Insurance is not, however, medical or health insurance (though some policies do include medical ailments and doctor’s visits).
  • If you are planning to drive abroad, research vehicle insurance and driver’s license requirements for your destination. You can be held liable for any accidents or damage if you are driving without the proper driver’s license. Be sure learn about road conditions and known hazards.
  • Make sure your personal cell phone is activated for international long distance or that you purchase a temporary phone in country that has international service. If your cell phone works abroad, download the Smart Traveler App from Google Play or the iPhone Store. It will give you quick access to the phone numbers and addresses of the U.S. embassy and consular offices for the country(s) you will visit, as well as alerts, warnings and more. ALWAYS test your phone the first day in country by making an international call and then receiving an international call. Make sure you have the correct country codes and international access codes for dialing internationally, and make sure that you know the local emergency numbers. You can find local U.S. “911” numbers here.

Document Safety and Crime Prevention

Your passport is one of the most sought after items by pickpockets and thieves abroad. The most common crime travelers report experiencing is being pickpocketed. Never carry your passport in your pocket, wallet or purse. Always use a lanyard passport holder that hangs around your neck, hiding your passport under your clothes, when you are traveling through airports. NEVER pack your passport or any other important documents in your checked-in luggage or your carry-on luggage. In addition, you may choose to “sanitize” your wallet and purse and only carry with you what you absolutely need on your travels. Items such as credit cards, driver’s license (if needed) and money should be worn in a pouch or a money belt as close to your body as possible. Leave all keys and other items at home that are not needed abroad.

Leave a detailed travel schedule with your office or family and check in with your home or office upon arrival. Tell family, friends, or colleagues of itinerary changes. Make photocopies or scan electronically your valuable documents and maintain an “emergency file” at home with someone you trust that contains copies of: airline ticket with itinerary, passport, driver’s license, blood type and other pertinent medical information, eyeglass prescription, name of doctor and dentist, supplemental insurance policies, and the credit cards you take abroad. Keep a set with you (preferably electronically on an encrypted thumb drive) in a separate place from the originals you carry.

If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, contact the nearest embassy if your country or consulate for assistance. Stay safe – avoiding crime….and report incidents to your home institution and the local authorities.

Health and Wellness Preparation

Make sure you are up-to-date on immunizations and prescription medications. Find out if you need special vaccinations for your destination. Even if you think you are in perfect health, a visit with your physician prior to departure is recommended.

  • If you are traveling abroad from the United States, check with the Centers for Disease Control. All U.S. travelers should review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information. It is recommended that you are familiar with the published CDC guidelines regarding your intended destination. Learn about such topics as recent health alerts or immunization requirements.
  • Anticipate how to manage your medicines/prescriptions overseas. Many U.S. prescriptions are not available outside of the United States and some are even illegal. Additionally, some common over-the-counter medications are not available or are possibly illegal abroad. Travelers should bring enough of their medication to last for the entire travel experience. If you run out, it may be difficult or impossible to fill your prescription overseas. You also should always carry your medicines in the original containers – never a clear plastic bag! If possible, carry copies of prescriptions, written with the generic (or scientific) drug name, as trade names vary from country to country.
  • Always carry your blood type and information on any medical conditions with you while abroad. It is not unusual that while abroad, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than what you find in the United States. Plan ahead. The U.S. Department of State country profiles often report on accessibility issues under the section Local Laws & Special Circumstances.
  • Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is another resource. Founded in 1981, it is a disability-led non-profit organization headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, USA, working to advance the rights of people with disabilities globally.


Travel insurance, as well as international health insurance are an important aspect of traveling abroad that should be considered if it is not required by your institution or funding agency. If your institution does not have a formal travel and health insurance policy in place, either under a blanket insurance policy or through a third party vendor, most unaffiliated third party policies are very affordable. Some even cover not only trip delays and/or cancellations, but lost or stolen luggage, injury, illness, emergency evacuation, and expatriation coverage. Cost varies usually with the coverage required, length of stay, and estimated cost of travel.

Some third party companies and websites that offer competitive rates include: