Tips

SELECT A TOPIC
General Security Tips
Dressing Down
At the Airport
On The Street and In Public
Security Tips for Hotels
On The Road –In Motion
On The Road –Parked, Stalled or Stopped
Residential Security
Surveillance
Credit Card Safety
Tips For Islamic Areas

GENERAL SECURITY TIPS

  • Notify others of your whereabouts while traveling. Let people know when you expect to return. Register with your embassy on arrival, and ask for security tips. Security officers are usually happy to inform travelers.

  • By simply looking alert and confident, you can deter a thief from choosing you as a target.

  • Keep your voice down, especially in non-English-speaking areas. Do not discuss your business or travel plans in public areas where they may be overheard.

  • If possible, use shabby-looking luggage. Ensure that any luggage-tags with your name, address, etc. are well covered (visible only when moving a flap, for example). Don't mark your key chain with your name, address, etc.

  • Vary routines and daily routes (see "Surveillance" below).

  • Do not wear logos that reveal personal information (your company or nationality).

  • Always avoid isolated areas and streets, civil disturbances and demonstrations, and involvement in local politics or political activity.

  • Do everything you can to stay alert, including limiting alcohol consumption. Never leave your drink unattended. Never accept food or drink from strangers, as covert drugging is an increasing concern. Be alert to overly friendly locals who may have criminal intentions. They may offer to take you to a "special" restaurant. Their ruse may be to offer drugged refreshments.

  • Consider using a money clip. If you are robbed, you may lose the money in the clip but will retain important credit cards and documents. Place a rubber band around your wallet, it will make it much more difficult to remove from your pocket without your knowledge.

  • Reduce wallet and purse contents, particularly cards denoting affiliations, memberships, accounts, etc.If you will not be using your checkbook, don’t bring it.

  • Wear clothes and shoes that allow freedom of movement.

  • Consider carrying a personal duress alarm.

  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation, leave.

  • Take extra care in protecting cell phones and laptop computers. These are favorite items of thieves/burglars around the world. Laptops are taken from hotel rooms, vehicles, on the street and even from official residences.

  • Make copies of your passport, travel itinerary and tickets, credit cards, driver's license, and other pertinent paperwork. Keep the originals in the hotel safe. Keep the contact numbers for banks, airlines, and embassies in case of theft.

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DRESSING DOWN

  • Before leaving, consider local sensibilities. It is always a good idea to dress modestly. Men should avoid shorts; women should avoid clingy garments, and keep shoulders and thighs covered. Women may consider carrying a pashmina, to cover up and to keep any valuables safer.

  • Typical "tourist" wear can include fanny packs, sneakers, shorts and t-shirts, and tote bags (particularly those imprinted with a tour group operator name or symbol).

  • In certain parts of the world, iPods, cellphones, and certain clothing styles are the norm. In other places, they can make you stand out more than anything else.

  • Dress discreetly and use a body or belt wallet. Study how the locals carry themselves, then imitate them.

  • Do not wear exposed jewelry or watches on the streets. Keep your valuables close by or hidden. By doing so, thieves may not give you a second look.

  • Brand-new clothes or shoes can draw the attention of pickpockets.

  • In Africa and other strong-sun areas, being pale (untanned) can mark a traveler as a newcomer.

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AT THE AIRPORT

  • At airports, proceed through security checks and go to the "sterile" boarding area as quickly as possible. These areas are usually the most secure in the airport.

  • Pay attention to your valuables in security lines at the airport, especially in nations and areas where airport security is lax. One scam involves delaying you at the start of the security screen while your valuables move on down the conveyer belt. The person in front of you might set off the alarm and delay you while they take time getting cleared. This delay gives their accomplice enough time to steal your items, so keep an eye on your property as it moves through security. Wait until the line is clear in front of you before you release your bags onto the conveyor belt and watch that it does go though and stays there if you are delayed at the checkpoint.

  • If someone bumps into you, check to make sure they didn’t remove anything. They might have cut your purse strings, or taken your wallet or airline tickets.

  • Watch your bags closely in the restroom. They may not even be safe in the stalls. If you place them on the floor next to the door or on the coat hook, a thief might reach under or over the door, grab them and run. If your bags aren’t uniquely marked, they will be able to blend into the crowd and be gone by the time you give chase. Some airports provide a shelf in the stall, which is preferable to the hook. If you have a choice, pick the stall next to the wall and place luggage between you and the wall.

  • If you are being met at the airport, ensure you know your contact’s name and company. It is not enough for someone to hold up a card with your name on it; they may have seen someone else doing the same.

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ON THE STREET AND IN PUBLIC

  • In most cities, the most prevalent crimes are those of opportunity: purse-snatching, pick pocketing and snatching of jewelry.Check periodically to ensure the presence of your wallet.

  • Do not carry anything you are not willing to lose. Above all, do not carry all your valuables in one bag, or leave them in one place (other than a secure hotel safe).

  • If carrying a handbag, keep it in front of you, closed, with the fastening toward your body. Keep a wallet in your front pants pocket.Let go if your bag is snatched.People have been injured, some seriously, from trying to hang on to their purse/bag.

  • Crowded streets, shopping/market areas and tourist areas always draw pickpockets, as do public transport vehicles and hubs. Be wary when getting off a bus or train, or riding escalators; that’s when pickpockets tend to strike. Be especially aware of your valuables if you should observe some of these common pickpocket ploys:

  • Getting bumped by someone else.

  • Having something spilled on you or someone pointing out a spot on your clothing.

  • Someone approaching you and asking for help or directions.

  • Someone causing a disturbance that draws everyone’s attention.

  • Being surrounded by a crowd, especially if you are surrounded by groups of children.

  • Pickpockets have been known to throw coins or dollar bills on the floor to distract their victims before offering to assist them in retrieving the money.

  • Carry enough cash so you can hop in a taxi or go into a café if you don't feel safe. Ensure you don't have too much cash, and don't make it obvious. Keep cash in front pockets, rather than the back.

  • A phone card is a good item to have, even if you have a cellphone. Should your phone and/or wallet get stolen, with a phone card you can make a quick call to a cab or your hotel to arrange for transportation, or get in touch with friends and family who may be able to help. Be very careful any time you use a telephone calling card. Fraudulent uses of these cards are on the rise. Look for people observing your card or your fingers as you dial your code (they could be across the street in a parking garage with binoculars). Avoid being heard giving the number to local telephone operators. Use similar precautions with ATMs.

  • Study a street map of your destination before arrival. Do not stand on the street with a map. Most airports have a good tourist information office. Exploit the knowledge of local drivers.

  • Avoid unlighted or isolated areas and streets

  • Avoid civil disturbances and demonstrations and quickly move out of areas where you notice large gathering.

  • Avoid involvement in local politics or political activity. Do not engage in political conversations with strangers or people you have just met.

  • If you must ask for directions, approach families or women with children. If you are a woman traveling alone, to be extra safe say "Where is the ---? I’m meeting my husband there."

  • Use the buddy system. Do not walk alone. Travel in groups of two or more whenever possible.

  • Be aware of who is around you, so you’ll know if you are being followed or observed.

  • It is a good rule not to take any photographs or videotapes of government facilities, personnel in uniform, or transportation terminals. Some places are clearly marked with signs banning photography; others are not. Also, in some countries people may object to having their picture taken; if in doubt, ask permission before taking any pictures.

  • Walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic, so you see approaching cars. Avoid doorways, bushes, and alleys. Walk to your car with keys in your hand.

  • Avoid wearing headphones so that you can hear what is happening around you.

  • When using public transport, check timetables to ensure you are not waiting long periods at transport stops. If you do have to wait, stand in a well-lit area and near other people if possible. Do not isolate yourself when traveling. Sit or stand near others or near the driver. Be aware of who gets off at your stop.

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SECURITY TIPS FOR HOTELS

  • Inform yourself before arrival of emergency services’ capabilities. Select a hotel room between the third and fifth floors, as a higher floor may be out of reach of fire equipment (but thieves can often gain access to the lower floors from the outside). In case of fire, do not use the elevators. Be able to find the fire escapes in the dark. Note that rooms near the elevator or fire stairs tend to get burglarized more often.

  • When checking in at your hotel, take a few precautions to ensure safety. When registering, sign only your last name and first initial. Make sure other travelers around you do not hear your room number upon check-in. In many cases, the hotel clerk will not say what room you're in, and will instead discreetly write the room number on your key envelope. If your room number is loudly announced and you don't feel comfortable, request a change to a different room.

  • The parking garage should not have elevators taking passengers to guest floors.It should only go to the lobby.

  • Arriving in your room, turn on all lights and inspect the room. Make sure:

  • Locks on the windows or balcony doors are secure.

  • The lock on the room door functions properly.

  • Doors to adjacent rooms are locked and secure.

  • The curtains close completely

  • A "Do Not Disturb" sign is provided.Immediately place it on the outside of your door.

  • Have your key out when you leave the elevator.

  • Some travelers use rubber door wedges to ensure that no one with access to a key can enter their room.

  • Put any expensive clothing on hangers under other garments. Robbers usually move fast and will take what is easily seen.

  • Leave your room light and television on, when gone.This makes the room appear occupied.

  • Use the door chain or bolt lock whenever you are in your room. Use the door viewer before opening the door to visitors. Always make sure that all doors, including sliding glass doors, are locked at all times, especially if the curtains are drawn.

  • Never leave valuables in your hotel room exposed or unattended, even if locked in a suitcase. Place valuables such as money, jewelry, airplane tickets, passports, and credit cards in a hotel safe deposit box. Keep your room neat so you will notice disturbed or missing items quickly.

  • If meeting someone, arrange to meet in the hotel lobby, not on the street outside.

  • Don’t leave your room key on restaurant or bar tables.

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ON THE ROAD –IN MOTION

  • Taxis should always be metered. In higher-threat areas, use only taxis called through a restaurant or hotel. Never share a taxi.

  • Never offer a ride (or accept one) with someone you do not know well.

  • In high-threat areas, prearrange transportation, with a driver who is familiar with local driving habits. If necessary, hire a driver trained in defensive tactics, and travel in convoy, keeping in touch with satellite phones.

  • "Smash-and-grab" theft is a crime of opportunity; you can lessen its likelihood by keeping your vehicle doors locked and windows rolled up. Keep valuables out of sight, or at least under your feet. If suspicious persons approach you while you are stopped, do not roll down your window for any reason; drive away quickly. Anytime you drive through areas with traffic, stoplights, stop signs, or anything that significantly reduces vehicular speed, keep your windows up.Leave ample maneuvering space between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

  • Be especially alert when departing and arriving at your destination. In areas where carjacking is a concern, be especially wary when entering or leaving driveways, or waiting for a driveway gate to open. Always leave room for an escape route. In higher-threat areas, carjackers have preyed on drivers who pull right up to their gate, waiting for the guard to open the gate. The carjackers either driver up and blockthe car or simply surroundthe car demanding the driver to exit the vehicle. Shots may be fired to scare away the guards or others who may want to offer assistance.

  • Would-be carjackers may point at your tires, screaming for you to stop because the tire is flat. Once the driver stops the vehicle, he/she is at the mercy of the carjackers. Do not stop if someone is screaming that your tire is flat or your car is on fire. Drive to a safe haven (embassy, police station, etc.) and then check to see if what they are saying is true.

  • If you think you are being followed or surveilled, verify by going completely around an arbitrarily chosen block. If another driver tries to force you to pull over or to cut you off, keep driving and try to get away. Never drive home. Drive to a place where there is a police or security guard presence. In all cases, attempt to note the license plate number of the car and a description of the car and driver. However, if this effort places you in danger, do not do it. The information is not as important as your safety. If you have a cellphone and can use it, do so. If you don’t, consider pretending to use a cellphone with a similar-looking object. Once you find a place of safety, don’t worry about using a legal parking space. Park as close as you can, and get inside fast.

  • If you are traveling alone and a car "bumps" into you, don’t stop to exchange accident information. Go to the nearest service station or other public place to call the police. (Check with your embassy to see if this advice is appropriate for your destination.)

  • When you park, look for a spot that offers good lighting and is close to a location where there are a lot of people.

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ON THE ROAD –PARKED, STALLED OR STOPPED

  • Always park your car in a well-lit and highly visible area and think ahead about safely returning in the dark. When possible, park facing out, to allow a speedier departure.

  • If you have car trouble on the road, raise your hood. If you have a radio antenna, place a handkerchief or other flag there. When people stop to help, don’t get out of the car unless you know them or it’s the police. Ask the "good samaritan" to stop at the nearest service station and report your problem.

  • If you are in a parking lot or parked on the street and have trouble, be wary of personal assistance from strangers. Go to the nearest telephone and call a repair service or friend for assistance. If you feel threatened by the presence of nearby strangers, lock yourself in your car and blow the horn to attract attention of others.

  • Handbags, packages and other valuables are easy prey for thieves when they are stored in vehicles.If items must be left in the vehicles, store them in the trunk of your car before you reach your destination, so that thieves don’t see you stow them in the trunk. Remove the radio, if possible.

  • In countries where roadblocks/checkpoints are common, approach them slowly. Turn off the headlights (leaving parking lights on) and turn on the domelight, so officers can see you. Keep hands visible. Do not back up or try to avoid the roadblock, as officers may regard this is suspect. Ensure you have identification. Be compliant and courteous.

  • Extra precautions are necessary when shopping. If you take packages out to lock them in your trunk, then plan to return to the stores to do more shopping, it may be a good idea to move your car to another section of the parking lot or street. The criminal knows that you will be coming back and can wait to ambush you. By moving your car, you give the impression you’re leaving. If you think you are being followed, do not go back to your car. Return to the safety of the occupied shopping area or office building and contact the authorities.

  • When returning a rental car, relinquish keys only to uniformed car-rental company agents. If you rent a car, never leave the rental contract in the car. The contract contains information about you, including your credit-card number. Care for your rental car contract as you would other valuables.

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RESIDENTIAL SECURITY

  • Do not use your full name on your mailbox or in the telephone book. If a stranger phones asking for Miss or Ms so-and-so, ask for a first name. If they cannot provide it, hang up.

  • All entrances, including service doors and gates, should have quality locks--preferably deadbolt. Do not install separate "doggy doors" or entrances. They also can admit small intruders.Keep doors locked even when you or family members are at home. Have window locks installed on all windows. Have locks installed on your fuse boxes and external power sources.Don’t leave keys hidden outside the home. Leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor or colleague. Know your neighbors. Develop a rapport with them and offer to keep an eye on each other’s homes, especially during trips.

  • Locks should be changed or re-keyed if a key is lost or if there is a change in the domestic help.

  • Windows and balconies should be protected with steel bars, with special attention to any balcony or window near an adjoining roof.

  • The less remote, the safer your home will be, particularly in a neighborhood close to police and fire protection.

  • Houses should be surrounded by fencing or walls. Pedestrian and car-entry gates should be of solid metrical (wood or metal). The car-entry should have an automatic garage door opener, with controls both in the automobiles and inside the house. (It should also be able to be opened manually in case of power cuts.) All gates should have viewers. Outer doors should be of solid wood or covered with steel and equipped with 180 degree viewers. Outer doors and gates should have a communication system, with closed circuit television, and with good lighting. Doors and gates should have strong hinges set into the framing. All outer doors and windows should be equipped with loud-sounding alarm mechanisms, if available, connected to a trustworthy central alarm company for response. The alarm system should include "panic buttons" installed in the bedrooms, near exterior doors, and in the kitchen.

  • If setting up a safe-haven in your home, designate an internal room;install a two-way communications system or telephone; andfurnish the safehaven with an emergency kit. Local security officers can suggest a list of possible supplies, and further information.

  • When planning to travel, notify your embassy’ regional security office of your departure and return dates but don’t otherwise publicize your travel or vacation plans. Leave contact numbers with trusted people. Check outside lighting and replace older light bulbs, to prevent a light burning out while you are away.

  • Consider purchasing timers to turn on outside and inside lights automatically at various times throughout the night.Arrange to have a friend or colleague pick up your newspapers, mail, or other deliveries daily, and check your lights, furnaces, etc. The decision to set the automated alarm system may vary from region to region. Power outages and brownouts may trip alarm systems. Check with your security officer for advice on setting alarm systems when you are away for long periods of time.Unplug all unnecessary appliances such as televisions, stereos, and personal computers.

  • Mow your lawn just before leaving; make arrangements to have someone mow it again if you will be gone for an extended period of time. Also arrange for watering, if that is likely to be needed.In the winter, make arrangements to have someone shovel walkways if it snows. At a minimum, have a neighbor walk from the street to your door several times.If possible, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway (if you are taking yours).

  • If you use a telephone answering machine, turn off the ringer on the telephone. If you don’t have an answering machine, unplug or turn off ringers on all telephones. Lock all valuable portables in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or home safe.

  • Teach children never to admit strangers into the home. Teach children local emergency phone numbers, the mission number, and how to use the two-way radio. Make sure younger children know their name, address, and phone number. Caution teenagers about meeting anyone they do not know.Teach younger members of your family not to open mail or packages. Teach young children how to answer the telephone so that they do not give out personal information, such as home address, absence of adults, etc.

  • If you come home and find a door or window open or signs of forced entry, don’t go in. Go to the nearest phone and call local law enforcement and/or your embassy.

  • Never give the impression that you are home alone if strangers telephone or come to the door.

  • If a stranger asks to use your phone, have him wait outside while you make the call.

  • If using a guard force, all guards should be trained to detect attempts of surveillance.

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SURVEILLANCE

  • The purpose of surveillance is to identify a potential target based on the security precautions that individual takes, and the most suitable time, location, and method of attack. Surveillance may last for days or weeks. Naturally, the surveillance of a person who has set routines and who takes few precautions will be easier and take less time.

  • Detecting surveillance requires a fairly constant state of alertness and should become a habit for regular travelers. A good sense of what is normal and what is unusual in your surroundings could be more important than any other type of security precaution you may take. Above all, do not hesitate to report any unusual event.

  • There are three forms of surveillance: foot, vehicular, and stationary. People who have well-established routines permit surveillants to use methods that are much more difficult to detect.

  • If you leave the office at the same time each day and travel by the most direct route to your home, or if you live in a remote area with few or no alternate routes to your home, surveillants have no need to follow you all the way to your residence.

  • Vary your routes and times of travel. Be familiar with your route and have alternate routes. Check regularly for surveillance. Most attacks take place near the victim’s residence, because that part of the route is least easily varied. People are generally most vulnerable in the morning when departing for work because these times are more predictable than evening arrivals.

  • Many surveillance teams use vans with windows in the sides or back that permit observation from the interior of the van. Often the van will have the name of a business or utility company to provide some pretext for being in the area. Be alert to people disguised as public utility crews, road workers, vendors, etc., who might station themselves near your home or office.

  • Where it is not possible to watch the residence unobserved, surveillants must come up with a plausible reason for being in the area. Women and children are often used to give an appearance of innocence. Try to check the street in front of your home from a window before you go out each day.

  • If you suspect that you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station, fire station, or the U.S. mission. Note the license numbers color and make of the vehicle, and any information printed on its sides that may be useful in tracing the vehicle or its occupants. Don’t wait to verify surveillance before you report it. Whenever possible, leave your car in a secured parking area. Be especially alert in underground parking areas.

  • Always check your vehicle inside and out before entering it. If you notice anything unusual, do not enter the vehicle.

  • Household staff can be one of the most effective defensive mechanisms in your home--use them to your advantage. Household staff and family members should be reminded to look for suspicious activities around your residence; for example, surveillance, attempts to gain access to your residence by fraudulent means, and telephone calls or other inquiries requesting personal information. Tell household staff and family members to note descriptions and license numbers of suspicious vehicles. Advise them to be alert for details.

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CREDIT CARD SAFETY

  • Credit card fraud is a problem around the world. It is safer to pay bills, including hotel bills, in cash or with traveler's cheques.

  • In your hotel, don’t leave your credit card lying on the check-in counter while you complete your registration. Don’t let the card out of your sight, and observe carefully while it’s swiped through the machine.

  • Make sure all credit receipts (carbon copies) are destroyed or returned to you.

  • Make sure the card that is handed back to you by the hotel clerk is really yours

  • Do not pack credit cards inside your checked luggage.

TIPS FOR ISLAMIC AREAS

  • Islam, especially more orthodox forms of it, sets constraints on women’s dress, behavior, social habits, and personal freedoms. In Muslim-majority areas, unaccompanied women who do conform to Islamic customs are more likely to be viewed as morally decadent, and this can draw unwanted attenion or harassment. By the same token, unaccompanied women who show respect for regional customs may find themselves treated with extra sympathy due to their perceived vulnerability. In less conservative areas, traveling women may conform to religious sensibilities as a matter of courtesy; in more conservative areas, it is often a means to avoid drawing unwanted attention from private individuals or the authorities (as in Saudi Arabia).

  • In Islamic regions, women travelers should observe conservative norms of dress – keeping arms and legs well covered – and exhibit a modest demeanor. All clothing should fall to at least knee-length, and nothing should be clingy. Simple baggy cottons in conservative colors are customary. A long-sleeved cotton blouse and a full, calf-length black cotton skirt and a scarf are versatile. Be in tune with norms for the area in which you are traveling, and if it is more conservative, consider wearing a veil or scarf overhead, shoulders, and hair, and wearing hair pulled back. When visiting mosques, cover hair and arms, and be prepared to remove shoes. Sunglasses can be a mode of avoiding evident eye contact, which can be perceived as flirtatious.

  • In more conservative areas, public places, transportation and business premises (e.g. restaurants) may be segregated. When out in public, avoid eye contact with men, except for official hosts or business contacts, as it is considered provocative.

  • Do not sit in the front passenger seat of taxis or hired cars, as drivers may interpret this as flirtatious.

  • Devout Muslim men may prefer not to shake hands with women. 

  • In social settings, men and women may eat or dance separately