Health and Safety | API Study Abroad

Connect with Us

Interview with Joan Solaún.

API Institutional Relations team member, Emily Nagle had the opportunity to interview API’s Director of Caribbean and Latin American Programming, Joan Solaún. Joan was recently honored with the NAFSA International Education Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field in honor of Marita Houlihan.  “Given Joan Solaún’s warm, vibrant character, it is no surprise that her passion for [...]

The post Interview with Joan Solaún. appeared first on The API Abroad Blog.


True emergencies warrant a phone call.  Please do not send emails or Facebook messages during emergencies.  Email and Facebook messages are not always checked on weekends or after normal business hours.

Participants abroad are instructed to call their on-site API director or local coordinator first in the event of an emergency.

Individuals not currently abroad or family members/friends who need to report an emergency should call the API office at 1.512.600.8900 during business hours, M-F, 8:00 to 5:00 pm. Outside of normal business hours, please call 1-866-311-2261 or 1-702-380-9073 and your message will be relayed to an API representative. An API staff member will respond to all messages within two hours.

In the event of an emergency that affects a group of students, updates will also be posted on our Facebook Page and Groups.

Health and Safety at API

Questions of health and safety are treated with the utmost care by API and its staff, both in the United States and abroad. In the preparatory phases of the study abroad process, we encourage all students and their parents to carefully think through the implications of studying in another country, not only in regard to academic concerns, but also in terms of the emotional and physical demands that will be placed on the student participant.

API begins providing students with essential information about health, safety and emergency preparedness upon their acceptance. Students, in turn, are asked to be as detailed as possible when sharing their own health concerns with API on the medical form. Utilizing this form, API staff members both in the U.S. and abroad determine which special requests can be accommodated and prepare students to handle any local characteristics that could affect their stay in-country.

Additional information and resources required to be safe and stay healthy can be found throughout the API pre-departure materials, including our on-line toolbox. Most importantly, API students will participate in detailed on-site orientations where they will receive important health, safety and emergency preparedness information from our on-site staff.

We hope that the following information about health and safety will help to answer any questions you might have regarding health and/or safety while abroad.

Health and Safety FAQs

What safety features do all API programs for high school and university students offer?
  • Emphasis on safety from the very beginning. When deciding which programs will be offered for students, API believes in the importance of researching safety and security issues related to the desired location.
  • Assurance that students are well prepared for the experience prior to their arrival on-site. API takes pride in providing extensive health and safety information to participants during the pre-departure phase. Participants benefit from reviewing the resources available in the online pre-departure system known as the API Toolbox.
  • Appropriate housing and excursion selections for participants. All API programs include housing, and safety is the number one consideration for API when selecting participant accommodations. All API housing must be located in areas of the city with low levels of crime. Participants should be able to feel comfortable walking alone in the evening (before 9-10 p.m.) in their neighborhoods, subject to city variations. In sites where participants are housed with host families, API directors conduct extensive interviews and work only with families who have been personally referred to API staff or who have been screened by a trusted housing agency. API directors are very careful when selecting excursion sites, and seek to work only with providers that are trusted and referred by others.
  • Inclusion of extensive insurance coverage in the standard program fee. All API participants benefit from a comprehensive medical insurance package, as well as emergency medical evacuation and repatriation insurance and life insurance. Likewise, emergency evacuation coverage is provided in the event of an on-site political or natural disaster.
  • On-site directors in each of our city sites. API’s highly qualified and experienced English-speaking Resident Directors (RDs) are available to participants in each host city throughout their session abroad. API Resident Directors are charged with essential health and safety duties, including:
    • Informing participants of safety and security policies and procedures;
    • Conducting extensive safety sessions during orientation and throughout the semester as needed;
    • Maintaining a list of English-speaking doctors, counselors, and other medical professionals;
    • Referring and accompanying participants to doctors as needed;
    • Updating an SMS system to reflect all participants before the start of each session and periodically
    • Serving as the on-site respondent for all emergencies, 24/7;
    • Periodically updating emergency contact information and reviewing procedures on-site.
  • Continual training for our on-site Resident Directors. All of API’s academic and internship programs have on-site directors that are hired and trained by API’s stateside staff or seasoned Regional Directors abroad. API stateside staff conducts annual virtual trainings, annual in-person trainings for Regional Directors who directly supervisor our on-site directors, and in-person trainings for all resident directors every three years. At our training meetings, we invite experts from the fields of psychology and risk management to conduct specific exercises with our directors.
  • Extensive on-site orientation and arrival services. During the initial days of the program, all API students participate in an extensive on-site orientation program. Resident Directors focus on establishing a rapport with each new group of participants so that they feel comfortable coming to the RD(s) in the event of an on-site emergency or difficulty. Directors convey to participants what practices can be dangerous on- site, which areas of the city are best avoided, etc. All students are provided with an emergency card that details all emergency numbers for the RD, as well as local authorities, including the police, fire and 911 services, during the first day of the onsite orientation. Likewise, all API sites prepare an on-site handbook that serves as a guide for students abroad. RDs must include all sections referenced in a “model” handbook, to ensure that all API participants are provided with essential health and safety information in a concise and easy-to-read format.
  • Ongoing safety updates to participants. Resident Directors inform groups about upcoming protests or other potentially dangerous situations via email and the API Facebook groups throughout the semester. API RDs remind students to monitor local media and to follow instructions provided by local authorities at all times. In instances where a fellow participant has been the victim of a local crime, API RDs may hold impromptu safety meetings with groups to ensure that other participants are aware of the safety risk and modify their own behavior.
  • Timely intervention when students are at risk of harm. Resident Directors (RDs) are trained to respond to participant incidents 24/7. For example, RDs are trained to assist participants in any of the following scenarios:
    • Emergency illness/injury or visit to doctor’s office/hospital for emergency treatment;
    • Drug use or alcohol abuse;
    • Theft or assault;
    • Housing or excursion violations (e.g., parties, overnight guests, returning to host family home in inebriated state);
    • Academic problem
    • General misbehavior (e.g., excessive drinking or disruption of group activities);
    • Housing concerns;
    • Non-emergency illness or visit to doctor’s office for non-emergency treatment.

Note: Parents/guardians are notified by API Texas staff when incidents represent a serious health risk or jeopardize a student’s continued participation in the API program.

  • Referring participants to medical professionals and accompanying them if desired. It is common that participants fall ill when traveling abroad, as they are exposed to new food and water systems and may experience high levels of stress. API RDs will refer participants in need of care to local doctors who speak English and/or accompany them to doctor’s appointments, as requested.
  • Maintaining extensive Emergency Action Plans (EAPs). API believes in being prepared for the worst-case scenario and directors are trained to respond to emergency situations, including (but not limited to) the following types of emergencies:
    • Abuse within a host family environment
    • Civil unrest, terrorism or anti-American threats
    • Drug/alcohol abuse
    • Emergency situations during excursions
    • Medical emergencies or serious illness
    • Mental health crises
    • Missing or lost student
    • Natural disasters
    • Student arrest
    • Sexual assault
    • Suicide attempts
    • Student death
    • Unplanned pregnancy

API has managed emergencies both for individuals and groups over the years, including but not limited to drug/alcohol abuse, serious medical and mental health emergencies, sexual assault, suicide attempts, natural disasters and terrorist crises. Throughout the years, the support of the on-site resident directors offered to participants, combined with the collaboration between the API stateside office, the participants’ family and the home university in the event of on-site emergencies, has been instrumental in helping participants to have safe and successful experiences abroad.

During any emergency affecting one or more individual participants, API maintains regular communication with all involved parties (e.g., participants, victims and families) and home university officials as appropriate. Though not a university, API strives to comply with best practices and federal regulations and policies mandated for U.S. universities, to ensure the utmost health, safety and privacy of our participants.

During any emergency affecting an entire API group, API maintains initial and on-going communication with our participants via SMS, Facebook posts and emails. These methods have proven to be the most efficient, time sensitive and wide-reaching. After an emergency has passed, API staff continues to communicate with participants in person, group meetings, emails and other communication methods established to be effective with that group.

API communicates with involved parties via telephone and email, striving for the most timely and efficient vehicles of communication. In the event of a mass emergency, API will also maintain updated information on our website, blog and Facebook groups.

  • Involving mental health professionals in crisis situations. API stateside staff members consult with mental health professionals whenever necessary to ensure the safety of our students abroad. Following the Paris attacks, for example, we invited mental health professionals to meet with API students at our offices and centers, to help students to handle their emotions and manage their fears following the incident.


How can I feel safe sending my participant abroad with API, especially given such high levels of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment around the world?

Each family must make a personal decision regarding their comfort level with sending a loved one abroad. While API cannot control local perceptions of international visitors in our sites abroad, it can and does seek to provide participants with an extensive amount of health and safety information both prior to studying abroad and upon arrival in the host city. API has been sending participants abroad for nearly twenty years and hires on- site directors in each of our study abroad destinations to serve as cultural guides, confidantes and an emergency resource for our participants. We believe that strong preparation pre-departure, trained on-site directors and participants committed to making prudent decisions (e.g., limiting alcohol consumption, taking taxis at night, etc.) reduce the risk of personal emergencies.

Large-scale emergencies, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are not possible to predict and can make travel to a new country seem even more daunting. API’s on-site directors are prepared to support students in the event of an on-site emergency. Our first priority when handling any on-site emergency, including the attacks in Paris in November 2015, was to identify the physical safety of all of our on-site directors and participants. As crises unfold, our on-site directors provide participants with as detailed recommendations as possible, based on the information provided by local authorities. Students are encouraged to check their phones, email and Facebook group pages frequently for updates on what actions to take and what behaviors to avoid in the immediate aftermath of an on-site crisis. API has successfully managed student groups during a wide variety of large-scale crises, including bombings, earthquakes, flooding, and global health pandemics.

Can I feel comfortable sending my participant abroad with a health condition?

Traveling is a demanding endeavor, but one with so many rewards! We encourage all outbound students to speak to prepare in advance. This should include speaking to their physician(s) and mental health professional(s) about the physical and emotional demands of studying and traveling abroad. Physicians can help determine any specific medical needs your participant may have while traveling outside of the United States. If your participant is currently taking any specific medications, your physician can also help to determine how much medication can be secured before traveling abroad and whether or not your participant will need to visit a local physician on-site to continue a specific health regimen.

API has sent many participants abroad with chronic health conditions, food allergies, and other special needs. Upon acceptance, all API participants complete a detailed medical questionnaire. This questionnaire provides them with the opportunity to share any information necessary to ensure their successful participation in an abroad program. We ask all of our participants to be as honest and straightforward as possible when completing this medical form. It will allow API staff both in the U.S. and abroad to determine how special requests can be accommodated and properly inform future travelers of any limitations to the availability of on-site care.

Students and their families are encouraged to visit API’s Diversity and Identity Abroad page for further information about how API programs can accommodate special needs.

API encourages future participants to allow extra planning time and disclose special needs early in the application/pre-departure process to allow API more time to obtain accommodations whenever possible.

Following acceptance into an API program, participants are highly encouraged to consider health needs when selecting their preferred housing option. In most sites, multiple housing options are available. Participants who have very specific food concerns may wish to select an accommodation that allows them to prepare their own meals (e.g., private apartments, dormitories, etc.). Additional fees may be assessed to cover special accommodations.

SelectWisely is a great source of information for travelers with food allergies. The website offers customized translation cards and allows travelers to select from among 25 allergy-causing foods and nine languages.

The following resources can be accessed online for more information about traveling abroad with disabilities:

What if my participant becomes ill or injured overseas?

Local resident directors and coordinators provide participants with extensive information about where to seek medical assistance when needed. We prioritize identifying medical staff that are able to work with patients in English. API on-site directors are happy to accompany participants to medical appointments when English-speaking doctors are not available.

Participants are advised to contact their resident directors in the event of a medical emergency using the 24/7 emergency line provided on-site.

Where can I find country-specific health information like vaccinations?

Country-specific health information can be found by visiting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, The CDC website provides up-to-date information about recommended vaccinations, local food and water conditions, and other pertinent health information for the informed traveler.

Do API programs offer insurance for my participant?

All API high school and university students and interns will receive medical insurance coverage through AMA & Associates as part of the standard program fees. API insurance benefits also include emergency medical evacuation and repatriation insurance, as well as coverage in the event of a serious security incident or natural disaster.

Students and families should be aware that international health coverage varies greatly from domestic insurance in the United States. International patients are generally required to pay for all medical visits up front. The insurance provider will directly pay the doctor or hospital in only the most rare of incidents, and arrangements can be difficult to orchestrate. For overnight stays in hospitals, large fees may be requested from the patient in order to receive care.

In order to properly submit a claim for reimbursement with the insurance company, participants must retain all receipts that detail the diagnosis and treatment received. For more elaborate procedures, it is recommended that the participant also solicit a written statement from the attending physician detailing the rationale for a particular form of treatment.

The insurance company must be notified within 90 days of the date of injury or the first treatment for sickness in order to process claims. Academic Programs International is not responsible for this process, but our on-site directors are happy to help a participant work through the paperwork if they need additional assistance.

Participants should be aware that the insurance provided to treat pre-existing conditions is more limited.

In addition to the health insurance and evacuation coverage, all participants are provided with $100,000 of life insurance for accidental death. Each participant will have named a beneficiary for their policy on the notarized document provided by Academic Programs International. This policy is also provided through AMA & Associates.

Click here to download the AMA Insurance Claim Form.

Volunteer, Work and Teach participants will be provided with insurance plans. The provider varies based on the length of the program. Please contact API’s Experiential Program Manager for more information.

What is API’s policy on drinking?

In all API program sites, most university participants are of legal drinking age. At the orientation, the correlation between drinking and unsafe or risky behavior is specifically addressed. Participants are encouraged to carefully monitor their own alcohol consumption and act responsibly. They are cautioned only to drink in the company of trusted friends and host locals and never drink to the point of inebriation or loss of control. The API Study Abroad Agreement and Code of Conduct expressly prohibit abuse of alcohol. Participants who engage in behaviors that put their own safety or that of their program peers at risk are advised that they could be dismissed from the API program. API strives to make students aware that many dangers abroad are avoidable through careful monitoring of one’s consumption of alcohol and by making prudent choices about socializing and traveling.

Our high school participants are prohibited from consuming alcohol as a condition of their participation in an API program.

Participants who are concerned about their drinking can access support worldwide through Alcoholics Anonymous:

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services

P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Station

New York, NY 10163

Tel: 212-870-3400

Gender discrimination and sexual assault is a big topic on college campuses. What protections are available abroad in the event of sexual harassment or assault?

Though significant data does not exist specifically regarding this question, there is some indication that some forms of gender discrimination are higher abroad than on a home campus. The studies conducted have been small and focused on the experience of female travelers. Some consistent themes related to sexuality and (unwanted) attention while abroad were as follows:

  • In many countries, “cat calling” and verbal comments regarding areas of the body are more common than would be considered acceptable in the U.S. This is not considered harassment in many countries, though it would be in the U.S.;
  • Unfamiliarity with local norms regarding body language, attire, behavior and actions can lead to misinterpretations regarding interest in, and availability for, sex;
  • Unwanted touching, verbal overtures, rape or other non-consensual sexual activity is often linked to excessive alcohol consumption, and may result in decisions to leave friends to follow an unknown or lesser known party.

Based on these findings and anecdotal evidence from our own experience sending thousands of participants abroad every year, API cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining sobriety and remaining with trusted friends while out late at night. It is also critical for participants to trust their instincts. If participants feel like they are in an unsafe situation, regardless of cultural “norms” or politeness, they should leave the situation and/or seek help.

In the event of rape or sexual assault, API encourages our participants to contact their on-site director or coordinator immediately to receive help and support. Participants will be referred to sources of medical attention and counseling (if desired). Once API is informed, please be aware that API has an obligation to share basic information about any type of gender discrimination with the home universities of any current students. (See our Non-Discrimination Policy).

As a special note, local laws vary by host country, though there are generally protections in place to support victims of sexual harassment and assault. (In some API destinations, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, sexual assault victims are discouraged from reporting abuse to local authorities, due to the nature of local laws.) Should allegations of harassment or abuse be put forward against an API participant, steps will be taken by API to limit contact of the reporting party and the responding party while information can be collected to determine the veracity of the allegations. All API participants are warned that abuse and disrespectful behavior toward fellow participants goes against the API Code of Conduct and can result in disciplinary action and sanctions.

The following links provide important information and support for how to prevent and deal with sexual assault and harassment while studying abroad:

I’ve heard that pickpocketing is common abroad. Is this true? How can my participant avoid being targeted?

API participants are given advice on-site about which areas of the city to avoid at certain times and how to carry one’s belongings in such a way as to deter theft. While it would be impossible to stop all crimes involving API participants from occurring, there are basic practices that can help to minimize risk. Once participants are on- site, API resident directors and local coordinators address specific techniques and tactics to help travelers avoid common pitfalls. In general, leaving valuable (and flashy) items at home and trying to blend in with the local population in dress and attitude is one way to avoid being targeted.

What one piece of safety advice does API consider to be the most important for all travelers abroad?

Though the news tends to focus on international terrorism as the biggest reason not to travel, API’s experience sending thousands of participants abroad each year shows that personal emergencies are much more likely to affect a traveler than a terrorist attack. Making wise personal choices can be the number one factor in avoiding unnecessary risk. Whether that means choosing to pay for a taxi when returning home late at night or choosing not to overindulge in alcohol, API asks our participants to always keep their personal safety in mind when making decisions on-site. Local resident directors and coordinators will provide participants with strategies for minimizing risk, but ultimately, individuals make their own choices.

When participants find themselves in an uncomfortable situation abroad, to whom can they talk to on-site?

Local resident directors and coordinators are here to support your participants throughout their program. They provide participants with their emergency contact information upon arrival. Participants should use these emergency numbers to seek assistance if they find themselves in a situation that they consider potentially dangerous. Likewise, local directors and coordinators will provide students with contact information for local authorities, such as the police. Participants are also highly encouraged to talk to local directors and coordinators in confidence in their program site for information regarding any sort of recurring problem.

What behaviors are considered safe abroad?

Travelers are sure to encounter situations abroad that they have not encountered at home. Additionally, linguistic and cultural barriers can make even familiar situations seem more difficult. Being as informed as possible about local political and social situations can help students to avoid problems abroad. API participants are required to join the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to departure. Registration allows travelers to receive warnings from the U.S. State Department about upcoming events in their host country and be formally recognized as an American citizen. Non-U.S. citizens are still eligible to register for the travel and safety alerts.

Are there any governmental sources of information that I should get in the habit of consulting?

For information on U.S. State Department Resources: