LGBT Safety: Advice for Study Abroad Students and Their Institutions

Post last updated on 8/22/2016.

Preparing for a study abroad program can be both exciting and overwhelming—and for the members of the LGBT community, there may be some unique concerns and challenges as they embark on their international journeys. While most LGBT travelers won’t encounter any issues abroad, the better prepared they are, the less likely they will be to encounter problems. Share this information with your LGBT travelers to help them prepare for a safer trip abroad.


Provide Resources for Destination Selection:
 Extensively researching all destinations that your students are interested in will not only help you better protect them, but will also help your LGBT students feel more at home overseas. The State Department provides information regarding travel and safety for LGBT travelers as well as documentation needed for travel.  NAFSA’s Rainbow Special Interest Group provides advice and country guides and the IGLTA can provide information on social activities and local hotspots. Education Abroad provides an extensive country guide that lists safety risks and acceptance rates for popular study abroad destinations. Equipping your students with the right information will help them make an informed decision.

Prepare Your Students: When preparing LGBT travelers for study abroad, it’s important to provide them with relevant health and safety information. If you already have this information readily available, make sure that everyone in your institution knows where to access it. Also consider making these resources accessible on your website or portal for any students who may be afraid to come forward or who think they are on their own when it comes to planning. Make students aware of guidebooks specifically for members of the LGBT community and put them in touch with LGBT alumni or with members of the LGBT group(s) on campus.

Weigh the Options: It’s important to help your students get an in-depth look at the available options before they select a program. Does your institution offer any study abroad programs specifically for LGBT travelers? What is the culture of the country and school they will be attending? Are there active organizations and groups for the LGBT community? Are scholarships available for LGBT students? If your students are staying with host families, are the families comfortable hosting an LGBT student? All of these factors should go into the decision-making process.

Encourage Cultural Awareness: Although your students may be comfortable fully expressing themselves in the United States, it’s important to remember that every culture is different.  Public displays of affection for same-sex couples can be frowned upon, or even illegal, in many places around the world. Just because a country has legalized gay marriage, does not mean it’s widely accepted. Make sure your students are aware of local laws, customs and any behaviors that will not be tolerated in their host country(s). Use the Local Laws and Special Circumstances section for each country on the State Department’s website for more information. When in doubt, it’s typically safest to be discreet.

Prepare for an Emergency:  Confirm that every student is equipped with an emergency plan prior to departure. Make sure they have the number to your institution’s risk management office as well as emergency contacts and third-party resources, such as your travel risk management firm. Your students should have a designated contact at your institution that they are comfortable speaking with in the event they run into trouble. Provide the phone number and location for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for each country they will be visiting. Students can always turn to a consulate officer if they are uncomfortable approaching local authorities as these officers are trained not to pass judgement.

With some research and proactive planning, you can help your LGBT students have a safe and enjoyable study abroad experience—and we can help. Contact us today to learn more about our holistic travel risk management programs.

Safe Travels!