Personal Safety when Teaching Abroad

Personal Safety is often a concern of teachers heading abroad for the first time. This article looks at the facts about personal safety abroad.


It’s often the case that people think the situation is worse abroad. It’s the fear of the unknown plus strange stories told by a friend of an aunt of the lady next door who went to a foreign land on holiday and had her bag snatched (or did she drink something poisonous?) and had to be brought home by air-ambulance. Add to this the hysterical reports on the news and no wonder your mother thinks you’re heading off to a war zone to teach English.

However, the truth of the matter is that in 99% cases you will probably be safer abroad than you are in your own country.

Here are a few facts and figures. They are taken from Nationmaster, a global statistics analysis site.

  • there is a higher crime rate in New Zealand‏‎ than the USA‏‎ and there are more crimes per person in Canada‏‎ than in Italy
  • you are more much likely to be the victim of sexual assault or rape in Canada or the USA than in South Korea, Thailand‏‎, Malaysia‏‎, Japan or Saudi Arabia
  • more people died in terrorist acts (per capita) in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand than in South Korea, Japan and China

And yet, people often fear going abroad to these countries and worry they won’t be as safe as they are in the West!

But, to make your time abroad as safe as possible, there are a number of simple precautions you can take in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming a statistic. (And of course these same tips can also apply to your own country to make you safer there!)


Take a look at the latest travel advice from your government. Their website will show you recent advice for traveling to certain countries.

  • Australian Travel Advisory
  • Canada Foreign Affairs Travel Advisory
  • Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs Travel Advisory
  • New Zealand Travel Advisory
  • South African Government Travel Advisory
  • UK Foreign Office Travel Advisory
  • US Department of State Travel Advisory

These sites often have advice for specific countries and the latest information about possible issues in different countries.

Before you go:

  • get a guidebook and learn about your destination; here you’ll learn not only about places worth visiting but also places worth avoiding
  • make copies of your passports‏‎, credit cards, insurance card and any other important documents you have; once you arrive put these in a safe place so you can refer to them if one goes missing or better still, scan them and upload to your Dropbox‏‎ account.
  • make sure your smartphone is password protected and then copy important documents over to that; put a tracker on your smartphone as well
  • try to learn a little of local language so that if you do get into problems, you have a few words to try and help yourself out


  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you.
  • Keep some small notes and cash in your pocket so that you don’t have to pull out a wallet stuffed with money to pay for a ticket or some coffee.
  • Stay with other people; if you’re on a train or boat try and are likely to fall asleep, try to do so close to a “nice” looking family rather than in a totally quiet seat where you could lose your bag.
  • Wear a money belt if that makes you feel safer.
  • Don’t give your bags to someone else to carry for you (occasionally thieves will pose as porters in crowded railway stations). And of course, always padlock your bags closed.
  • Don’t listen to your iPod all the time; it’s best to be able to hear what is going on around you.
  • Take with a you small wedge if you’re going to be spending a night or two in a hotel. You may end up in a grotty hotel or pension so it’s best to be prepared; jam the wedge under the door before you go to be so no one can open it in the middle of the night and come in while you’re asleep!

When You Are There

As soon as you can get to know your area. Learn as much as you can about it by walking around, asking others and checking online. This way you will soon become comfortable about finding your way home after work or a night out. You’ll learn which areas are well lit and which aren’t. You’ll also learn where the local police station is!

  • Avoid unlicensed taxis!
  • Learn a little of the language as soon as you can; the less you look and act like a gullible tourist the better!
  • Especially in poorer countries or areas, don’t be obvious with your expensive smartphone or tablet. In other words, don’t attract attention to yourself as a rich foreigner (as though English teachers are rich!)
  • Never let your passport out of your sight. It’s yours and no one can take it away from you.
  • Learn the emergency telephone number for the country; it’s probably not the same as the one at home.
  • Take out your house keys before you reach your front door so you can let yourself in immediately.
  • Trust your instincts. If you are out with a group of people and you’re not happy with the attentions or attitude of them then leave.
  • Don’t hitchhike alone.
  • If you’re in the school alone late at night, make sure the door is locked.
  • If it’s late at night and you’re on public transport, sit near the driver.
  • Make sure you always have the cab fare home.
  • If you carry a bag, wear it across your body and not just over your shoulder (which is far easier to snatch) and hold it between your arm and your body and away from traffic.


There are a couple of major points to end with.

The first is that thieves look for the easy target. Given the choice between a dumb looking local with the bulge of a wallet in their pocket and a confident foreigner they will choose the dumb looking one. They are not after you, they are after the easy target. Knowing this means it’s simple to avoid 99% of the problems by walking confidently and looking like you know what you are doing – even if you don’t!

And the second point is that in all likelihood, nothing will go wrong. If you take a few simple precautions and keep your head on, then you’ll be fine.

Useful Links

What to Take With You‏‎ – things to pack before you go abroad to make your stay safer and more enjoyable

Culture Shock‏‎ – adapting to a new country

Socializing in a New Country‏‎ – meeting people in a new country

Insurance‏‎ & Health Cover – the insurance you should have when abroad

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Posted in Finding TEFL Jobs, Teaching Around The World.

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