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Global business travel: Safety tips for travelers

February 20, 2020

Global business travel presents many risks for companies and their employees. Here are business travel tips to address health, security and safety risks.

Fred Myatt

Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director

As Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director for Zurich North America, Fred and his... About this expert


As the global marketplace expands, businesses and their employees need to properly plan and prepare for international travel risks. Travel risks fall into three broad categories: health, security and safety.

Navigating a foreign country, whether as a tourist or a businessperson, means taking steps to plan for cultural differences, personal safety and differing laws. Travelers need to prepare for a variety of challenges, which may include language, attire, food and passport control, to help ensure that their trip will be successful. Contacts in the destination country can be a valuable source of information and may assist in travel planning and stay.

Planning tips for global business travel

During the planning phase and again prior to departure, travelers and their companies should review any travel warnings posted by their government. The U.S. Department of State publishes travel advisories on its website. Both travelers and their companies also need to apprise themselves of any visa or other travel requirements.

Companies and employees should thoroughly evaluate trips to countries under military occupation, after a natural disaster or during an outbreak of illness.

Travelers can obtain information regarding travel warnings or the political status of a country from the U.S. Department of State. As part of the planning process, travelers should carry the address and phone numbers of the U.S. Embassies and consular offices in the countries to be visited. Additionally, photocopies of the traveler’s passport should be provided to emergency contacts. When traveling to countries with travel warnings, travelers should register their whereabouts with their local embassy or consulate office to facilitate prompt notification and other assistance in an emergency.

Managing health risks when working abroad

Travel to a less-developed area of the world may pose an increased risk of infectious disease. The Travelers’ Health page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website contains information on topics such as safe food and water, preparing for medical emergencies and recommended vaccinations. If traveling to a higher-risk area, a health examination should be conducted by a qualified physician prior to and after the trip. Even if someone feels fine after such travel, he or she may have returned with a parasite, virus or disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) also provides information pertinent to travelers.

Consulting with travel medicine specialists is recommended prior to travel to tropical, subtropical or developing countries. For a list of clinics, visit the International Society of Travel Medicine. If immunizations are required, the process may need to begin as early as two months before departure.

Travelers with chronic medical conditions should carry a sufficient supply of their prescription medicines for the duration of the trip. Prescriptions should be kept in carry-on bags, as checked bags may be lost or delayed in transit. Copies of prescriptions should be carried with the medications. All travelers should also take some simple first aid supplies, such as adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, gauze, adhesive tape, etc. In general, travelers should practice enhanced precautions to reduce the exposure to infection.

Medical insurance coverage should be reviewed for care outside of the traveler’s home country. Consider supplementary medical insurance coverage if existing coverage is inadequate. Even if a health insurance company reimburses for treatment in a foreign country, they may not cover the cost of medical evacuation from a remote area or from an area where medical care is inadequate. Lists of doctors, hospitals and air ambulance services are available on the U.S. Department of State website. Additionally, purchasing travel assistance insurance may be prudent as many policies provide assistance in obtaining medical services and coverage for medical care and repatriation, where necessary.

Enhanced travel precautions

When traveling overseas, travelers should practice enhanced precautions, including:

  • Avoid contact with animals (alive or dead).
  • Ensure meat is thoroughly cooked before consumption.
  • Practice good personal hygiene (particularly hand washing) and respiratory etiquette.
  • Avoid contact with individuals who are ill.

Travelers are also advised to monitor their health and seek immediate medical attention if any respiratory symptoms occur.*

*U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs


Security risks to consider in foreign countries

The U.S. State Department website is a primary source for up-to-date, accurate and reliable information regarding security risks.

  • Travel warnings are issued to recommend avoiding travel to a certain country.
  • Public announcements provide information about terrorist threats, disease outbreaks and other relatively short-lived conditions posing significant risks to travelers.
  • Consular information sheets are available for every country in the world and include information such as location of embassy/consulate, crime and security information, drug penalties and health conditions.

Other items of interest found on the site include: assistance to U.S. citizens arrested abroad; emergency services for U.S. citizens abroad; medical information and evacuation plans. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. STEP also provides travel advisories to travelers during their trip and allows travelers to monitor events in countries before they leave.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) was established in 1985 by the State Department to foster the exchange of security-related information between the U.S. government and U.S. companies operating abroad. Through OSAC, companies receive timely information to inform their decisions on how best to protect their investment, facilities, personnel and intellectual property abroad. Registered constituents (members) can receive newsletters, reports and other information on safety and security issues.

Safety risks for business travelers

Travelers should stay in well-traveled areas, avoid behaviors that might attract criminals, such as displaying large sums of cash or valuables, and avoiding clothing or actions that identify themselves as a foreign traveler. Familiarize yourself with local signage; demarcation of emergency exits may differ between countries, so travelers should review exit pathways upon hotel check-in and formulate an exit plan.

In addition to petty crimes such as pickpocketing, kidnapping poses a serious threat to personal safety in certain parts of the world. Travelers should verify their company purchases kidnap and ransom insurance when traveling to areas where kidnap and ransom are known risks. Establish a call-in routine (including emergency words/phrases) with your company so that action can be taken if you are under duress or threatened.

If the traveler chooses to drive while overseas, familiarization with local “rules of the road” should be undertaken. As a general rule, employees should avoid traveling after dark in unfamiliar areas and always carry a mobile phone that works in that country. Further, a battery backup and charging cable for the mobile phone should be in every traveler’s possession.


Checklist for international business travel

Travel to foreign countries carries with it some unique exposures. Travelers should undertake detailed research well in advance of the departure date. By taking the time to learn about destinations, including any local laws and customs, the traveler prepares themselves to address or avoid unexpected situations, as much as is possible.

Predeparture decisions/concerns

  • Does your organization have a formal policy restricting travel when “travel warnings” are in effect?
  • Do you have a passport that is valid well past the anticipated length of the foreign travel? Countries typically desire the passport expiration date be no less than six months after the return date.
  • What are the entry and exit requirements for the country or countries that you plan to visit?
  • Do any of your destinations require a visa from their embassy or consular office for entry?
  • Have vaccination requirements been reviewed, titers checked (i.e., vaccines are up to date and remain effective) and additional vaccinations received?

Safety and security precautions

  • What security measures will you face during your travels? Will you or your party experience any delays due to cameras, laptops or other electronic equipment?
  • Maintain prescription medications in their original bottle and in the traveler’s name to avoid problems. Obtain a letter from the prescribing doctor for any unusual medicines and carry copies of all prescriptions.
  • Have you or your travel party participated in any training on travel security? Have you taken time to ensure that you avoid displaying political or national symbols that could attract attention?
  • Have you reviewed travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State and taken steps to ensure your safety?
  • Have you identified news sources in your language that will provide information about strikes (e.g., transportation strikes), public demonstrations or civil unrest?
  • If one or more of your destination points fall into the "high risk" category, have you or your organization consulted with a domestic security company to evaluate the merits of hiring security during the trip?
  • Have you verified the security and ownership of the hotel where you will be staying and the transfer points and transportation arrangements?
  • Are you aware of crime statistics of the intended destinations and specific areas to avoid?
  • Do you need security escorts/travel guides to any of the destinations you need to visit while in the country?
  • If using taxis or car services, use only reputable companies with ties to your company or arranged through your hotel. Take a picture of the driver and vehicle (including license plate).
  • Avoid wearing clothing or carrying bags that display your company logo. Do not wear expensive jewelry or designer clothing/shoes that make you a target for thieves.
  • If you are being picked up at the airport, ask the driver to put your company name, not your name, on the welcome card being displayed.

Medical care or medical emergency needs

  • If the CDC or WHO issued a travel warning to the country, what precautions are suggested? If a Warning Level 3, “Avoid Nonessential Travel,” has been issued by the CDC, is the trip necessary? Can the aim of the trip be accomplished via digital means?
  • What is the availability of medical care and prescription medicines? Does the area pose an increased risk of infectious diseases?
  • Is supplemental health insurance needed to adequately cover you and your travel party? Is Travel Assistance insurance needed?
  • Will doctors in the country being visited require cash payment in advance prior to treatment?
  • Are your credit cards commonly accepted in the country?
  • Does the WHO, CDC, the local health department or your company require quarantine or health clearances when you return? Does the company have provisions for “work at home” to fulfill the requirements?

Driver obligations and supplemental training

  • Did you review driving procedures, related laws and license requirements for all destinations? If manual transmissions are common in that country, can you operate a vehicle with a manual transmission?
  • Keep vehicle fuel tank no less than half full. Avoid driving in rural areas and after dark. Keep vehicle doors locked and windows closed while driving and when parked. Avoid helping hitchhikers along your route. Avoid using your mobile phone while driving. Before entering the vehicle, inspect the interior and exterior for evidence of tampering, people hiding in or under the vehicle or suspicious packages left nearby.

Communication/contact information

  • Prior to departure, leave a detailed itinerary and a copy of your passport with a friend or relative in your home country or designee from your company. Establish a call-in schedule with your company, including emergency words/phrases. Carry emergency contact addresses and phone numbers for consulates, embassies, local company offices. Ensure mobile phone will function in the country or countries visited.
  • Will mobile phone function in all countries visited? Do you have a charging cable that will work in countries visited? Are you carrying a battery backup to charge the mobile phone in an emergency?
  • Consider a “buddy system” for group travel.
  • Identify the locations of police, hospitals and emergency services along travel routes.
  • Upon arrival in a country with travel advisories, check in with the local consulate or embassy and provide them with a copy of your itinerary.
  • As you travel, keep abreast of local, national and global news via the internet in your native language – of the countries being visited as well as your home country.

  • Zurich offers various accident insurance solutions that include travel assistance programs to companies whose employees travel for business.

Conclusion: Do your homework

Travel presents many issues that require careful review and planning prior to departure. Take adequate steps to ensure personal protection and maintain proper health and safety during your trip. Review safety- and security-related materials offered by the U.S. Department of State, CDC and other related organizations. Address travel requirements for entering and exiting a foreign country before departure. For additional information and guidance on overseas travel, contact the applicable embassy or consulate directly, reputable travel agencies or any of the organizations/websites listed below.

  1. Travelers’ Health. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. International Society of Travel Medicine.
  3. Travel.State.Gov. U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs. (Basic travel information to any country and specific travel warnings for regions being visited. Medical information, overseas insurance programs, and safe travel tips can also be accessed through this website.)
  4. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. U.S. Department of State.
  5. U.S. Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council.
  6. International Travel and Health. World Health Organization.

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