Information on how to stay safe and healthy during your gap year overseas.
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. 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.
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 really severe. 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
- if something goes wrong and you need to make an insurance claim, you should be aware that your insurance policy could be invalidated if you are deemed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- 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 go to an area which the FCO advises against travel to, make sure your travel insurance will be valid
Make a visit to your GP as soon as possible before you depart and find out what jabs you may need. 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
- 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 medication you should ensure that you have a note from your doctor and that the medicine is 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
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 speak to past gap 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.
Book 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 while you travel is a great way to help finance your trip, allowing you to stay away for longer. If you are planning to earn a bit of extra cash abroad, make sure you have the correct work permits and visas. Also ensure you properly check out any potential employer before your interview and let friends or family know where you are going and who you are meeting.
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.
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
- 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
- reading up on local laws and customs and finding out a bit about the local culture can also prevent you from offending people or breaking local laws
- 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 someone else’s country
- get a good guide book and read up on your destination. Make sure you know about local laws and customs, especially those relating to alcohol and drugs. Your guide book may also have the layout of the town or city you are visiting which can prove very useful!
- book your first night‘s accommodation in advance. You’re at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a foreign country and are likely to be tired and uncertain of your surroundings
- 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
We know you can never have enough of it but make sure that whatever money you do have 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 stash it.
The following tips should help you when thinking about cash on your gap travel:
- 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 hole-in-the-wall machines in most places abroad
- check with your bank prior to going abroad 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
- 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. You may wish to make use of 0% introductory rates to lessen the cost of using the card in any emergency
- make a note of your credit / debit card details and the 24-hour emergency numbers and keep them separately
- make sure you have back-up funds such as travellers’ cheques, some cash (sterling, Euros or US dollars) or a credit card you don’t intend to use except in emergencies. It’s often better to over budget in case of emergencies
- have a return ticket, or enough money to buy one. It’s worth noting that 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
- be aware 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
- make sure you have at least two forms of payment - take a mixture of cash (sterling and dollars), travellers’ cheques and credit cards. Don’t keep them together in one place in case you lose them or they are stolen
- jot down your travellers cheque numbers and an emergency telephone number for them should they get lost or stolen
- 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
- work out your budget before you go. Some pre-trip research will make it easier to work this out and try and 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
- 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. If there’s an emergency, at least people will know where to start looking for you
- 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
- consider taking a roaming mobile so that you can contact people at home and they can reach you
- set up an email account such as Hotmail or Yahoo! that you can access from anywhere in the world to help you keep in contact. There are public internet cafes in most major cities around the world and it’s a good way to inform those back home of where you are and what you’re doing
- 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 Identity & Passport Service website or call them on 0300 222 0000 (calls are charged at your network provider’s standard national rate).
Some countries have an immigration requirement for a passport to remain valid for a minimum period (usually at least 6 months) beyond the date of entry to the country. You can check each country’s requirements by visiting our Travel Advice section.
- if you plan to travel overseas you may require a visa to enter the country you are going to
- check visa requirements with your travel agent or 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
General gap year advice
- 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
- tell family and friends where you are going and leave them your contact details, insurance policy details and your itinerary and/or store them online using a secure date storage
- 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, contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate office immediately for advice
Keep updated while you’re away by subscribing to the FCO’s free email notification service which will alert you to any travel advice updates for the countries you are visiting. For more information visit FCO Travel. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
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 are not able to check, or you’re still not sure, there’s only one way to be safe: don’t pack it.
Keep an eye on your belongings
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.