Health and Safety Abroad

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill considers the health and safety of students studying abroad one of its top priorities. Student safety comes first and we strive to provide a healthy and safe learning environment abroad through the following activties:

  • Collaborate with campus colleagues to develop and maintain emergency and crisis response plans.
  • Monitor world events and inform participants of known and potential risks.
  • Assess the health, safety, and security of programs abroad according to the University’s Policy Concerning Global Study, Travel, and Research.

Emergency Contact

Call UNC Public Safety at +1 919-962-8100, any time, from anywhere in the world.

  • Provide comprehensive pre-departure orientation for all participants.
  • Provide health and safety workshop for all faculty who lead programs abroad, allowing program leaders to proactively plan for and respond to emergencies and crisis abroad.
  • Require mandatory, comprehensive health and accident insurance for the duration of the program abroad.
  • Serve on campus Global Risk Response Team, charged with assessing and responding to emerging travel and work risks and is empowered to disapprove travel to international sites when necessary and/or to remove students, staff and faculty from sites which are no longer safe or tenable.

In addition to these activities, students and their their families have important roles to play in helping to ensure the health, safety an security of students abroad. Each participant in a UNC study abroad program is expected to take an active role by exercising good judgement, remaining aware of their surroundings at all times and monitoring current conditions.

COVID-19 FAQs

We know that many students and their families have questions about the status of study abroad programs. Please check out our FAQs for more information.

Step by Step

The Study Abroad Office strongly encourages U.S. citizens participating in a study abroad program to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that makes it possible for the U.S. Department of State to contact a traveler if necessary, whether because of a family emergency in the United States or because of a crisis in the place the traveler is visiting.

In addition to signing up for the STEP program, you are encouraged to do the following:

  • Visit the UNC Travel Clinic: All students are encouraged to schedule a visit and become a more informed traveler regarding health issues in their host country.
  • Leave a detailed itinerary with family or friends: This will be invaluable in case they need to contact you in case of an emergency.
  • Leave a copy of your passport biographical-data page with your familiy: It is always easier to replace a lost or stolen passport if a copy is easily accessible.
  • Sign your passport, and fill in the emergency information: Make sure you have a signed, valid passport, and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
  • Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws: While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The U.S. Department of State has useful cultural, legal, safety and other information about the countries you will visit.

All study abroad participants are required to maintain comprehensive health and accident insurance for the duration of their program abroad. The University provides international accident and sickness coverage from GeoBlue.

In addition to providing comprehensive sickness and accident insurance, the GeoBlue policy provides emergency travel medical insurance, including coverage for medical evacuation and repatriation of remains, which generally is not provided by domestic insurance policies. GeoBlue also has identified a network of doctors worldwide who will provide treatment and file claims on your behalf without requiring payment at the time of treatment. Prior to departure for study abroad, GeoBlue assists students in establishing treatment for ongoing medical conditions while abroad (including doctor visits and continuing medications). For a brief summary of the features and benefits of this plan, please see the policy brochure.

After you have been enrolled in GeoBlue insurance and have received your medical insurance ID card from GeoBlue, you should go to the GeoBlue student website. Using the certificate number of the front of the card, sign in to the site to obtain comprehensive information relating to this plan, including a doctor locator, city health profiles and translations of medical terms and phrases. Your family can access this same information by logging in to the GeoBlue parent website. Your family will need your insurance ID card number or your email address to sign in.

While GeoBlue insurance is valid anywhere internationally, it is not valid in the United States. Therefore, you will need to maintain some type of domestic insurance coverage while you are abroad, whether it’s your UNC StudentBlue policy or your parents’ policy. Domestic insurance is necessary not only for your return to the US at the end of your program, but also in case an emergency situation causes you to come home before the end of your program.

Semester “exchange” students will automatically be enrolled in StudentBlue as they would in a typical semester and can take action to waive StudentBlue if they have an equivalent insurance policy.

Semester “non-exchange, study abroad, direct enroll” students are not automatically enrolled in StudentBlue and may need to take action to purchase this to maintain domestic coverage. Please contact Vicki Warwick in Campus Health (vwarwick@email.unc.edu) or your Study Abroad Advisor for guidance on enrolling in StudentBlue.

The first thing you should do when you arrive in your host city is to contact your family and/or friends to let them know you’ve reached your destination. We encourage you to share your contact information, as well as the information about your host organization contacts.

While abroad, the staff at your host institution will be your primary contact for any on-site issues. Of course, you are welcome to contact your UNC Study Abroad Advisor with general questions or issues relating to UNC. Don’t forget to refer to your Heels Abroad Handbook too!

If your family needs to reach you while you are abroad because of an emergency, they can pass a message to you through the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, which can be contacted from within the United States at 888.407.4747 (toll free), and from abroad at +1.202.501.4444. The Office of Overseas Citizens Services will contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country in which you are traveling in order to pass the message to you.

Become familiar with your program location as quickly as possible. Also familiarize yourself with cities you will visit before you begin to explore them. Review Department of State website or guide books for information about your host country and city. Cities in other countries, just like American cities, have their safe and less safe neighborhoods. You can find out what areas to avoid by asking at an information booth in a train station or airport when you arrive, or by asking your on-site primary contact person. Use your common sense and do not take risks.

Experiencing an emergency abroad? Call UNC Public Safety at +1 919-962-8100, any time, from anywhere in the world.

Emergency Procedures

If you are impacted by an emergency situation, you have a number of resources available to you. It is important to familiarize yourself with these resources before you travel abroad so that you can quickly respond if needed in an emergency situation.

  • Get immediate help: Know the local equivalent of 911 so that you can get immediate emergency assistance. To find the local emergency phone numbers in the country(ies) you will be visiting, go to travel.state.gov/destination and search for your country-specific information
  • Notify your onsite contact: Know how to reach your Faculty Director, host institution or program provider emergency contact. Someone is available to you 24/7 on-site and you should contact this person as soon as is prudent so that s/he may assist you.
  • Contact GeoBlue: They provide 24/7 health insurance assistance, call GeoBlue collect from outside the U.S. at +1.610.254.8771, toll free within the U.S. at 1.844.268.2686, or email assist@hthworldwide.com
  • Contact UNC Study Abroad: During regular business hours, you can reach us at +1.919.962.7002; after hours contact the UNC Police at +1.919.962.8100. Students should ask the UNC Police to contact the Study Abroad Office.
  • Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy. Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies abroad are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates appears on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. The Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs may also be reached for assistance with emergencies at +1.202.501.4444.
  • Contact your family. If you are involved in any emergency, it is important for you to remain in contact with your family. They will be concerned about your well-being and will be anxious for regular updates from you. There is a limit to the nature and amount of information the Study Abroad Office may disclose to your parents (and/or designated emergency contacts), so it is best for those interested parties to communicate with you directly.
  • A downloadable and printable Emergency Information Card is available.

Should you encounter serious legal, political, health, or economic problems, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can offer limited assistance. It can provide you with a list of attorneys or physicians, contact next of kin in the event of an emergency or serious illness, contact friends or family on your behalf to request funds or guidance, provide assistance during civil unrest or natural disaster, and replace a lost or stolen passport. An embassy or consulate is the primary source for information on where to obtain advice; however, it cannot give advice directly.

In any situation where students are capable of making their own decisions, communicating, seeking medical care, and making travel arrangements, students will decide whether to notify their emergency contacts[1].

At its discretion, the Study Abroad Office and other campus units, in consultation with the UNC-Chapel Hill (“UNC”) Global Risk Response Team, may inform a student’s emergency contact[2] about a real or perceived health or safety emergency abroad. Such situations include, but are not limited to, when:

  • UNC enacts new travel restrictions;
  • UNC, the host institution, or provider decides to evacuate students from the site; or

Students’ academic program is terminated or disrupted for more than one week, or the program location changes after the study abroad contract is signed, due to a health or safety emergency.

[1] Emergency contacts are individuals listed by students in Connect Carolina or submitted with the study abroad application.

[2] Only emergency contacts of students with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) waivers on file will be contacted. In case of a health or safety emergency relating to a student without a FERPA waiver on file, the UNC Global Risk Response Team, which includes the Dean of Students and the Office of University Counsel, may elect to contact the student’s emergency contact on file in accordance with the health and safety exception under UNC’s FERPA policy.

The University will consider the totality of the circumstances pertaining to a threat to the health or safety of student or to others.  If it determines there is an articulable and significant threat to health or safety, the University will record:  (i) the articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of a student or others that formed the basis for the disclosure; and (ii) to whom the University disclosed the information.  This record shall be included in the record of disclosures and be kept with the student’s education records in accordance with the University’s Policies and Procedures Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 available at:  https://unc.policystat.com/policy/6383185/latest/.