All travellers face risks overseas, but unfortunately women, whether experienced international travellers or first-timers, can face greater risks than men and be particularly vulnerable in certain countries or cultures.
This page provides you with information to help minimise the risks you can face when travelling overseas. It should be read in conjunction with the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers.
Choose safe transport
- Try to arrange your transfers from the airport before you arrive.
- Use only officially licensed and reputable taxis. Before you arrive in any location, find out what an official taxi looks like and be wary of touts or people posing as taxi drivers.
- While in a taxi or car service, act as if someone is expecting you and will raise the alarm if you don't arrive - you might like to make a phone call or mention in passing to your driver that your boss, colleague or partner is waiting for you at your destination.
- Try to sit in the back seat of a taxi behind the driver.
- Be cautious when travelling on crowded public transport in cities, or on transport in remote areas, as it can provide opportunities for harassment or theft. If you feel uncomfortable, try to sit next to another woman, or near the driver or guard. You should also try to sit in train compartments with other women.
- Avoid travelling in a train carriage where you are the only passenger.
- Remember that no country in the world is safe for women to hitchhike.
Be secure in your accommodation
- Book and check in using only your first initial and surname - no title (Miss, Ms or Mrs).
- As often as possible, try to book your accommodation prior to arrival, especially if you're due to arrive at your destination at night.
- If you're travelling alone, try to avoid accommodation where entrances are in back streets or isolated locations. If you can't tell from a map, online reviews from other travellers will often give you an indication of entrances.
- You can always ask to see your room before taking it. Make sure that the telephone works and that your room has a peephole, deadbolt or chain lock, and use them when inside to ensure your door is always firmly secured. You might also like to use a door wedge on the inside of the door when you're in the room.
- Where possible, avoid taking a room on the ground floor.
- If you return to your room to find any doors or windows open or broken, do not enter. Instead contact reception or the police.
- If you judge that your accommodation is secure and provides a safe, lock your valuables in the safe. Otherwise, use a money belt for your passport and other valuables, and spread your cash between your money belt, pockets and bag.
- Be aware that in some countries, it is illegal for a man and woman a share a hotel room if they're not married.
- Try to not discuss where you're staying when you're out in public and remember that offers of free accommodation are usually too good to be true.
- Ask staff to write down your hotel's address and contact information in the local language.
Avoid unwanted attention
- In some countries you may become the focus of unwanted attention just because you're a woman. Try to maintain your composure and remove yourself from a concerning situation as quickly as possible. Get to a safe, public location.
- Always act confidently. If you act like you know where you're going and what you're doing, even if you're lost, you're more likely to keep a low profile.
- Avoid wearing or carrying anything that makes you look like a wealthy tourist, such as expensive jewellery or handbags.
- You may like to wear a wedding ring, even if you normally don't, to avoid unwanted attention. You could also carry a photo of your partner (real or imagined) to hold off inquisitive people.
- Dress appropriately. This may involve wearing conservative clothing or covering your head or shoulders in certain locations. Our country specific travel advisories will usually note countries where conservative dress standards apply, or where women are legally required to wear certain clothing. When you're on the ground, look at what local women are wearing and try to comply.
- Avoid shopping in isolated areas and trying on items in back rooms at bazaars and markets.
- If you ever feel uncomfortable or in danger, draw attention to yourself by shouting or otherwise making a scene. However use your judgement if you suspect the perpetrators may be carrying weapons.
Be social safely
- Do not drink to excess or take drugs that might make you more vulnerable or impair your decision making.
- Try to not share too many details of your travel plans and don't tell people you meet if you're travelling alone.
- Be aware of what you're posting on social media – you might like to increase your privacy settings while you're travelling.
- Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger or new friend. Drink-spiking is common around the world.
- When you're out walking, keep your bag close and hold it on the opposite side of your body to the street to avoid bag snatchers in cars or on motorcycles.
- As in Australia, avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas. Our country-specific travel advisories often detail areas of major cities that are particularly dangerous and should be avoided. Your hotel, travel guides, locals and other travellers are also good sources of this type of information.
- Be aware of cultural standards. For example, in some cultures, women shaking hands with men is unacceptable, and simple things like making eye contact with a man or sitting in the front seat of a taxi can be misinterpreted as a sexual advance.
- If you are visiting new friends, make sure you have independent control over your travel options.
Look after your health
- In some countries supplies of feminine hygiene products and contraceptives, including condoms, can be unreliable or unavailable, so it may be best to purchase in advance. This could also apply to other prescription medications, such as HRT.
- If you are travelling alone and become ill, get to a health facility quickly, as your capacity to do so may diminish with time.
- Be aware that the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is much higher in some countries than in Australia.
- If you're planning to travel while pregnant, see your doctor well in advance. Airlines around the world have different restrictions on pregnant women travelling and you may not be allowed to fly as late into your pregnancy as in Australia. It is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor verifying the stage of your pregnancy, but check with your airlines for any other requirements. Make sure that your travel insurance also covers your pregnancy.
- In some countries, female genital mutilation (FGM) continues to be practiced and some families could seek to inflict this on visiting female relatives. See our FGM page.
- You can find more information about staying healthy overseas on our health page.
Be aware of the law
- Some countries have legal systems that impose strict limits on women's rights, and while these may be harsh by Australian standards, they will apply to you when you're in the country. Check the Laws section of our country-specific travel advisories for your destinations.
- Women of any nationality can be subject to "stop orders" in some countries, including Lebanon and Egypt, where their husbands or other relatives can legally prevent them leaving the country. This can also apply to children.
- Similarly, overseas immigration authorities may require proof that children have their father's approval to leave the country.
- Be aware of laws around divorce – you may be required to obtain both a legal and religious divorce before you are allowed to enter into another relationship overseas, or leave a country. You should also seek legal advice on property entitlements, inheritance, alimony, child support and custody issues.
- Sex outside of marriage is illegal in some countries, such as in the United Arab Emirates, where foreigners have been imprisoned for this offence. It is possible that victims of sexual assault may face criminal prosecution rather than being considered the victim of a crime in these countries. In countries where de-facto relationships or civil unions are not legally recognised, couples may be prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage.
- Homosexuality is illegal in many countries and is considered socially unacceptable in others. For safety and legal reasons, there are some countries where LGBTI travellers should keep a low profile and same-sex couples should avoid public displays of affection. For more information, see our LGBTI travellers page.
- Adultery is illegal in some countries, and corporal punishment can apply.
- Women may be legally required to travel with a male escort in some countries. There may also be laws against women driving alone.
- A forced marriage is one where, because of coercion, threat or deception, a person enters into a marriage without freely and fully consenting. This is a criminal offence in Australia, and this law can be applied to actions carried out overseas. More information is available on our forced marriage page.
Be cautious about relationships
- Be careful about holiday romances. Taking a relaxing holiday doesn't mean you should relax your standards for your personal safety or security.
- Be wary of relationships initiated over the internet - cyber-dating scams are common and Australians have lost large amounts of money on prospective marriage partners. In some instances, people who have travelled overseas to meet their partner have been kidnapped and held to ransom. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's SCAMwatch website has further information on how to recognise, protect yourself from and report scams.
- If you do travel overseas to meet your partner for the first time, meet in a public place. Make sure a travelling partner or trusted friend or family member back home knows where and with whom the meeting will take place, and contact them afterwards.
- If you plan to marry overseas, learn about the legal, cultural and religious implications for yourself, your intended spouse and any existing or possible future children.
Other areas of the Smartraveller website provide information for specific issues that may affect female travellers, including:
- Marriage overseas
- Overseas births, adoptions and surrogacies
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) travellers
- Sexual assault overseas
- Forced marriage
- Female genital mutilation
Final tips before you go
- Read the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and subscribe to receive a free email notification each time the advisories are updated.
- Many guidebooks and online forums cover issues for female travellers in great detail. You should also talk to friends, relatives and colleagues who have travelled to the places you plan to visit.
- Before any trip, you should register your contact details and travel plans with Smartraveller so that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can contact you in case of a serious emergency.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home, and plan to keep in regular contact.
- Remember that careful planning before you leave is essential to help you choose a destination where you'll feel safe and comfortable, and be prepared for any issues you might face.