Skip to main content

Safety and security abroad: How to increase your situational awareness

Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, knowing the potential risks is crucial for your peace of mind, safety, and the safety of your family.

Even the most level-headed of travellers research their location and take on board the recommended advice to ensure if they do work or holiday away from home they have taken all necessary precautions.

Being aware of the risks involved in travelling to another country is a big consideration, even more than ever with the threat of terrorism factoring as a serious issue. found that the fear of a terrorist attack influences 83% of U.S. adults’ views when they consider travelling, even though the risk poses less of a threat now than the 1970s or 1980s, as the Statisca figures from Western Europe show. In fact, the risk of dying in a terrorist attack is about one in 20 million while the risk of being killed by lightening is half that.

If you’re concerned about terrorism or smaller crime, such as theft, it’s worth thinking ahead and doing some preparatory reading about the country you’re heading to. And although it is impossible to predict where and when the next incident may occur, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk of becoming involved.

What you need to know — situational awareness tips

These tips could help you stay safe and secure when travelling:

  • Do your research into the country and specifically the area you’re travelling to. Don’t make assumptions about your destination — some may consider the Middle East a particularly dangerous place to visit compared to the U.S. or UK, for example. And yet the 2017 InterNations survey includes Oman as one of the safest expat destinations, while the U.S. and UK don’t feature in the top 11.
    If you’re working for a large organisation they may already have information they can give to you, advising the safety precautions to take. Or check out the information available online regarding different countries and the risks, such as the UK government’s list or Nations Online, which includes areas to avoid. At Aetna International, we also have useful travel guides for destinations across the globe, and Aetna Security Assistance — powered by WorldAware offers timely travel advice specifically based on any imminent threats in any worldwide location. As an Aetna International Aetna Pioneer or Aetna Summit plan holder, you can access Aetna Security Assistance services to help ensure you have protection 24/7 in case your lose your passport, are affected by a nature disaster or need help because of a security threat.
  • Know the emergency numbers and keep useful contacts — such as the police, the emergency health number and anyone you know locally — in your mobile phone and in your wallet or purse, in case you need to get in touch quickly.
  • Scope out the exit routes of the building you’re in too.
  • Use your senses. Find yourself feeling a bit uneasy? Think someone’s body language is a bit ‘off’? Trust your gut feeling, move away or leave. If you’re in a public place, report your suspicions to the relevant security body or other authority.
  • Avoid travelling alone. If possible travel with a friend or colleague and only use modes of transport that are trusted. If you must venture alone to a new location or somewhere that’s known for high crime rates, use a checking-in system with colleagues or friends.
  • Be discreet. Don’t flash your cash or tell everyone your plans — be a bit more suspicious than usual. Criminals in certain areas will target obvious foreigners.
  • Eat and drink regularly. Don’t risk fatigue or dehydration, especially in a warmer area as this may impact your ability to notice dangers. It’s essential for you to stay sharp and alert, should you need to act quickly.
  • Listen to safety advice from others and read security information for the building you’re in. If you’ve been told to avoid a certain area because of violent crime, for example, then heed the warning, even if it means a shorter commute.

Real risks you could face and how to deal with them

The following are some of the threats you could face while in an unfamiliar environment. Aetna International members can access more security advice from our partner Aetna Security Assistance via a dedicated website.

Express kidnapping

Express kidnapping usually involves the victim being forced to go to an ATM and take out as much money as possible. Countries such as Mexico, Haiti, Columbia, India and Brazil have the biggest issues with express kidnapping.

Follow the advice outlined in this article (above), never use an unlicensed taxi, do not carry large sums of cash, stick to using ATMs in key resorts and busier areas and during daylight hours only. Also think about your clothes or the items you’re carrying. If wearing the latest designer suit or expensive watch it could attract attention towards you, so maybe rethink your outfit!

Becoming a hostage

If you’re a CEO of a conglomerate arriving into a country then take some precautions to help avoid becoming a hostage target. Don’t use branded luggage or accessories as these could highlight to criminals that you’re worth money.

Consider hiring security guards and a chauffeur from a trusted agency. Using a false name can help you to avoid unnecessary attention or information about where you are. Maintain a low profile and tell only your partner and PA your exact travel plans.

Make sure your laptop or other devices are encrypted or have additional security in case they’re stolen and keep your GPS active on your phone so you can be traced — if still in contact with your cell phone.

Lone wolf terrorist attacks

One concern many travellers have are about terrorist attacks, including ‘lone wolf’ attacks carried out by individuals not affiliated with any particular political or terror organisation. Although very rare, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of lone wolf attacks across the globe, including in countries and cities traditionally viewed as ‘safe’. Between 2010 and 2016, it was reported by The American Lone Wolf Terrorism Database that there were 35 attacks, such as the July 2016 French Nice attack where a man drove a lorry into the crowds celebrating Bastille day, killing 86 people and injuring many others. Preparing for such attacks is very difficult, but being aware of your surroundings, using your instincts and knowing your exit routes, are all helpful should such an attack take place.

Although rare, taking on board the tips above and feeling prepared will in turn make you more confident when travelling, visiting or working in another country. Knowing the dangers, by visiting sites from trusted sources such as Aetna Security Assistance, and avoiding the places that could increase the risks is crucial to staying safe, secure and having a successful trip.

Learn more about how Aetna Security Assistance and Aetna International work together in our case study about a family that were caught up in a military coup. Eligible members also have access to various benefits including Aetna Security Assistance’s country and city intelligence, which lets them know exactly which threats to prepare for in their location or travel destination.

For more information on getting the best international health care for you and your family, contact one of our expert sales consultants.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

We use cookies to give you the best possible online experience. See our cookie policy for more information on how we use cookies and how you can manage them. If you continue to use this website, you are consenting to our policy and for your web browser to receive cookies from our website.