Guidance

Gap year foreign travel advice

Information on how to stay safe and healthy during your gap year overseas.

Overview

We have created useful advice and information in this section to make sure your gap year is the best and safest it can be.

It’s essential to plan well before any big trip abroad - especially one that could entail months away from home in lots of different places. Arriving in a foreign country is always exciting but it can be daunting. So when it’s all so unfamiliar, it’s important to do a little preparation before you go.

The best place to start is our travel advice for the country you’re going to. You’ll find the latest information and advice on topics such as Safety and security, Entry requirements, Local laws and customs and Health.

Insurance

Make sure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before setting off. Shop around and make sure that your insurance is the right one for you. Think about any activities you may be doing, even spur of moment ones, and make sure you’re covered for these. Your policy also needs to cover any medical costs, including an air ambulance. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself, including expensive medical bills.

  • if travelling within the European Economic Area or Switzerland get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • you can apply for an EHIC on-line at NHS Choices, by phone on 0845 606 2030 or at post offices. It’ll entitle you to reduced or free emergency care - but you will still need travel insurance

Alcohol and drugs

When it comes to alcohol, keep in mind if you have an accident when you’re drunk you probably won’t be covered by your insurance. Check the small print.

Different countries have different penalties for people supplying or possessing drugs, and sometimes they can be much more severe than in the UK. Being British won’t help you get out of jail.

Some other things to think about

  • personal liability for injury or damage to others and their property
  • your cancellation cover which starts as soon as you make a booking
  • cover for all your possessions - money, tickets and passports etc
  • personal accident cover which will pay out for death or permanent disability
  • cover for legal expenses to help you get compensation or damages
  • exemptions - look carefully at what you’re not covered for
  • keep a copy of your insurance policy details saved in your secure email account as back-up. Keep any paperwork, such as tickets, receipts, medical bills, police reports, etc, in case anything goes wrong
  • make sure you have the name of your insurance company and their 24-hour international emergency telephone number. Consider programming it into your mobile phone with your policy number, it is also useful for your family and friends to have this too
  • check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice pages for country specific travel advice. If you decide to go to an area where the FCO advises against all or all but essential travel, double-check that your travel insurance will be valid. Some policies are invalidated if you travel to such areas.

Staying healthy

Make a visit to your GP as soon as possible before you depart and find out what jabs you may need. You can also find information on recommended vaccinations on the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) country page. Take any prescribed medicine with you and keep it to hand.

  • make sure you have adequate supplies of any medicines that you normally take and pack it in your hand luggage It might be difficult to get further supplies of some medicines in some countries and in remote areas

  • check with the nearest embassy of the country you are going to (which may be based in London or another European city) that your medication will be legal in that country. Inhalers and other common prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines are banned in some countries

  • if you need to take prescription medication, carry a copy of your prescription and a note from your doctor. Always carry medicine in its original packaging

First aid kit

This is vital. You can get first aid kits to cover all eventualities and budgets. The type of kit you choose will depend on where and how you’re travelling

Staying safe

As part of your planning, check the Safety and security section of our travel advice for the latest information and advice on risks to be aware of, as well as tips on staying safe.

During your trip, you’re likely to meet lots of new people from all around the world. Remember to think about your own personal safety just as you would at home. Be wary of accepting drinks from strangers. If you’re travelling alone with someone new, tell friends and family your plans before you go and keep in regular contact.

Never leave your luggage unattended or with someone you don’t completely trust. Be aware of pickpockets who tend to operate in crowded areas and lock up your luggage with padlocks.

Gap year providers

If you decide to organise your trip with a gap year company, research the company thoroughly before committing yourself. Find out how long they have been operating and how many people they have taken abroad in the past. It’s a good idea to check reviews and speak to travellers who have used the company to find out about their experiences.

You could also check whether the company complies with British Standard ‘BS 8848’ which specifies operational requirements for organisers of adventurous and educational activities abroad including university and academic fieldwork, gap year experiences, adventure holidays, charity challenges and research expeditions.

Consider a flexible ticket

A flexible air ticket will ensure that you can come home or leave a country whenever you want without being restricted.

Book your first night’s accommodation

At the very least, make sure you have booked your first night’s accommodation in advance. You are at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a foreign country. You are likely to be tired and unsure of your surroundings, so it’s worth planning ahead.

Be aware of drugs - these have been used in incidents of rape, so keep your wits about you. For advice on how to stay safe if you are a lone woman traveller or a group of female travellers, check out our advice for women travellers page.

Working abroad

Working while you travel is a great way to help finance your trip, allowing you to stay away for longer. If you’re planning to earn a bit of extra cash abroad, make sure you have the correct work permits and visas. If you work without the right permission, you could face problems including fines, deportation and/or a ban from re-entering the country in the future.

Check out any potential employer before your interview and let friends or family know where you are going and who you are meeting.

Volunteering

Many gap year travellers want to make a contribution to a community abroad and volunteer for some or all of their time overseas. Voluntary work can be very rewarding, although the same factors which can limit the value of gap years generally, such as language and cultural barriers, apply here too. Volunteering projects require careful structuring, planning and support, and volunteers will get more benefit the longer the project and the closer it matches their skills.

Before you agree to a volunteering opportunity, make sure that the organisation you’ll be volunteering with is genuine. Speak to past volunteers and check that the organisation is registered with the local authorities (where required).

Gap year local laws and customs

Get a good guidebook and carry out a bit of research into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs and language. This will help you avoid offending people or breaking local laws however unwittingly.

You don’t need to become a native overnight, slaving over research about a country when you want to be having fun. But a bit of local knowledge can go a long way to enhance your travel experience and earn you respect in the country you’re visiting :

  • before you head off on your gap year, make sure you familiarise yourself with your destination and its local laws and customs. Checking the local laws and customs section of our country travel advice is a good place to start.

  • it’s a good idea to learn some key phrases and words of the local language. This can make a huge difference to your trip and the reception you get and might help in an emergency

  • try to blend in to the local community - be conscious of any religious dress codes and dress accordingly. It’s important to be respectful when you are visiting other countries

  • get a good guide book and read up on your destination. Your guide book may also have the layout of the town or city you are visiting which can prove very useful!

  • photographs - certain sites within a country can be sensitive, eg military bases, government buildings etc. Be mindful of what you are photographing. It’s worth asking before you snap so as not to run into trouble or cause offence

Gap year money

Before you go abroad you’ll need to think about how much money you’ll need, what format you’re going to take it in and where you’re going to keep it.

The following tips should help you when thinking about cash on your gap travel:

  • work out your budget before you go and try to stick to it. Think about how much you’ll need on a daily basis - such as food, accommodation and any additional activities - and then work that out for the number of days you’ll be away. It’s often better to over budget to allow for any unexpected events or emergencies. Check the validity, expiry dates and cash available on your credit or debit cards ahead of your trip - it’s best to know your spending limits before they run out

  • with a worldwide ATM network you can withdraw cash from cash machines in most places abroad

  • before you go, let your bank know which countries you are travelling to. They will be able to advise you whether you can use your debit/credit card in the countries you are visiting and any card usage charges that may apply. If you plan to get the bulk of your funds in this way, be sure to keep your cards safe

  • make sure you have at least two forms of payments with you (cash, credit/debit cards or travellers’cheques) and keep them separate. Take at least two cards, making one your emergency reserve and make sure you know the PIN numbers for both debit and credit cards - keep the emergency card somewhere safe.

  • make a note of your credit / debit card details and the 24-hour emergency numbers and keep them separately

  • have a return ticket, or enough money to buy one. If you don’t have a return ticket, many countries will refuse you entry unless you can prove you have enough money to buy one

  • remember that British consular staff can’t pay your bills or send you home if you run out of money

  • always have some change in the local currency for when you arrive in case you need to make a telephone call. It is also advisable to have some local currency in small bank notes to catch a taxi or get something to eat or drink on arrival

  • when carrying money around with you, use a wallet for loose change and your day-to-day spending. Wear a secure money belt under clothing for your valuable documents and money

  • you’re likely to be away for a long time so make sure you’ve made arrangements for any credit card bills to be paid - or your card may be stopped

  • if you want to, you can give someone the power of attorney to look after your financial affairs in the UK, while you’re away

Stay in touch

  • tell friends and family your plans before you go and keep in regular contact, especially if you change your plans

  • make a copy of your itinerary and other important documents, such as your passport, your insurance policy, tickets etc. Leave these with a trusted friend or family member back home before you leave

  • check whether you’ll be able to use your UK mobile phone in the country you’re going to, or think about getting a local SIM card or phone when you arrive. This will help you keep in contact with people at home and make it easier for them to reach you

  • set up an webmail account such as Hotmail or Yahoo! to help you keep in contact. There are public internet cafes or WiFi facilities in most major cities around the world

  • don’t promise too much. Telling your parents you’ll call home every day is unrealistic and will only cause them to worry when you don’t. If you are to be out of reach for a few days, let family and friends know where you’re heading to and with whom. Also let them know when you plan to be back in touch

  • make sure that at least one person (in addition to yourself!) knows where you are and has all your essential details

Visas and passports

If you wish to travel abroad you need a passport, even for a day trip. Apply in good time. You can get advice from the HM Passport Office website or call them on 0300 222 0000 (calls are charged at your network provider’s standard national rate).

Some countries have an requirement for a passport to have a certain amount of validity remaining on it from the date you enter the country. You can check each country’s requirements in the Entry requirements section of our country travel advice , under ‘Passport validity’.

Visas

  • if you plan to travel overseas you may need a visa to enter the country you are going to
  • you can check visa requirements in the entry requirements section of our travel advice for the country you’re visiting. For further information or any enquiries about work visas contact the Consulate or Embassy of the country you plan to visit
  • if you are a British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas Citizen, British Subject, British National Overseas, or a British Protected Person, you may need a visa that is not required by British Citizens

Passport tips

  • make a note of your passport number, date and place of issue, consider taking a photocopy (keep separately in a safe place) and/or store online using a secure data storage site
  • check the passport expiry date
  • write the full details of your next of kin in your passport
  • take a second means of photo-identification with you
  • keep your passport in the hotel safe and carry a photocopy with you, unless local laws stipulate that you should carry the original
  • if your passport is lost or stolen overseas, you will need to apply for an Emergency Travel Document to continue your travel or return to the UK. Contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate office immediately for advice

Stay up-to-date

Keep updated while you’re away by subscribing to the FCO’s free email alert service, which will notify you of any travel advice updates for the countries you are visiting. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Returning home

Illegal food imports to the UK from outside the EU

Did you know that it’s illegal for travellers to bring all meat and meat products, and milk and dairy products, plus some fish and plant products into the UK from non-EU countries? You can find more information in our guide about bringing food, animals or plants into the UK. If you’re not able to check, or you’re still not sure, there’s only one way to be safe: don’t pack it.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 8 May 2018 + show all updates
  1. Update to whole document with new links and text
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