Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is it Safe to Study Abroad in the United States?

I apologize in advance for the length of this post! The other day I was searching through the International Travel Information web pages of the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) which is responsible for the administration of the Consular Information Program. The Consular Information Program issues country specific information, travel alerts and travel warnings which are provided to inform U.S. citizens of conditions that may affect our safety and security while we are abroad.

The International Travel Information website also provides links to additional travel information from the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. I thought it would be interesting to see what these four countries say about travelling (including studying) to the United States. My primary point in this exercise is to demonstrate that citizens from other countries (some of our strongest allies) receive some strong warnings related to their travel plans to the United States so it makes me ask the question, “is it safe to study abroad in the United States?”

I imagine there would be parents of U.S. students who, after reading “terrorist attacks have taken place in public areas, there is a risk that you could be caught up if there were other attacks in the future. You should therefore be particularly vigilant in high-profile public places”, would be calling the study abroad office to learn what safety measures were being implemented to ensure the safety of their children. This quote was taken from the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel Advice Notice for the United States.

Following are links to the web pages of the Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom travel information pages for the United States. I have selected some key snippets of text from the various sites related to health and safety issues:

“We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety in the United States because of the risk of terrorism.”

“The United States Department of Homeland Security's Advisory System Threat Level is at Orange for all domestic and international flights, indicating a "high" risk of terrorist attack. It is at Yellow or "elevated" for all other sectors, indicating a "significant" risk of terrorist attack.”

“Crime rates are higher in the larger cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Tourists are often targeted for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft, particularly on public transport.”

“The United States is subject to a wide range of natural hazards including hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquake activity around the Pacific Basin including Hawaii; tornadoes in the midwest and southeast; mudslides in California; flooding and forest fires in the west, especially from March to November.”

“Mosquito-borne disease, particularly West Nile virus, is prevalent during summer and continues into autumn months. We recommend you take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, including using repellent at all times, particularly in rural areas.”

You can read the entire Australian summary on the United States here.

“Street crime can spill over into commercial, hotel, and entertainment areas. Riots occasionally occur; these are usually confined to the poorer districts of major cities, but the violence can spread to central commercial and hotel areas. Full cooperation is recommended when stopped by police.”

“FLORIDA - Attacks on tourists have decreased, but violent crime remains a serious concern. Criminals have demonstrated that they will use violence with little or no provocation. Many attacks have occurred in the Miami area, and others have taken place on rural roads and at interstate highway rest areas. Some rest areas have dusk to dawn security on site (which is indicated on the highway sign). Proceed cautiously when exiting from a freeway (including Interstate 95) into large urban centres, especially after dusk. Theft has increased, particularly from trunks of parked cars in the North Miami Beach area, South Beach and at airports. Be alert, as criminals use a variety of techniques to steal personal belongings.”

You can read the entire Canadian summary on the United States here.

“There is some risk to your health in the United States due to a significant number of Influenza A (H1N1) or ‘swine flu’ cases and we advise caution. There is also a risk to your security due to the threat from terrorism.”

You can read the entire New Zealand summary on the United States here.

“Human cases of A (H1N1) swine influenza, including confirmed deaths in Texas, Washington State, Arizona, Missouri, Utah, New York State, Connecticut, Michigan, Virginia and Illinois due to swine flu infection, have been reported in certain areas of the United States.”

“Violent crime related to the drugs trade is a major issue in the Mexican states along the border with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Though some foreign nationals have been among the victims in the border region, there is no evidence to suggest that they have been targeted because of their nationality. Visitors to border areas should exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities.”

“There is a general threat from terrorism in the United States. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated the terror alert status of "orange", or high, for all international and domestic flights in the USA.”

“Given that terrorist attacks have taken place in public areas, there is a risk that you could be caught up if there were other attacks in the future. You should therefore be particularly vigilant in high-profile public places.”

“Around 6.5 million British nationals visit the United States each year (source: US Department of Homeland Security). Most visits are trouble-free. 8,304 British nationals required consular assistance in the USA in period 01 April 2006 - 31 March 2007. The majority of cases occur in New York City; the tourist areas in Florida (principally Orlando and Miami); and Los Angeles and San Francisco. You should be alert to the dangers of car and street crime in cities. The main types of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in the USA in 2006-07 were for replacing lost or stolen passports (2,792 cases); dealing with deaths (95 cases); and hospitalisations (75 cases); and dealing with arrests, for a variety of offences (1,415).”

“West Nile virus is common to the USA and there are occasional outbreaks of eastern equine encephalitis (triple e virus) reported.”

“In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 1,100,000 adults aged 15 or over in the USA were living with HIV”

You can read the entire UK summary on the United States here.

So, is it safe to study abroad in the United States? What do you think?


  1. "Puebla, Mexico has lower homicide rate than Chicago, but colleges struggle to attract US students for study abroad: http://bit.ly/HYnkkS" [link to April 8, 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article]

  2. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Impact that Violence in the United States has on Prospective International Students on April 15, 2013

    http://bit.ly/ZpvBvb and http://wapo.st/ZpvIqB

  3. WAPO Fact Checker gives Sec. Kerry 3 Pinocchios in article "John Kerry’s claim that foreign students are ‘scared’ of U.S. gun violence" [via The Washington Post] at http://wapo.st/17rAlRO