Australians are travelling overseas in ever-increasing numbers.
Overseas travel can be both an exhilarating and daunting experience.
All travellers may face risks overseas, but women, whether experienced international travellers or first-timers, may face greater risks in unfamiliar environments or cultures.
This information provides women with information to help minimise these risks. It should be read in conjunction with Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers.
When you travel abroad, you leave behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. The Australian Government will do what it can to help Australians in difficulty overseas, but there are legal and practical limits to what can be done to assist travellers in other countries. You should have realistic expectations about this and read the Consular Services Charter, before you go.
Before you go - be prepared
Read the travel advice
Start with the latest travel advice for your destination. This advice will give you information on the main risks you may face and some precautions you can take while travelling and living overseas.
Register before you travel
Make sure you register your travel and contact details online before you travel. This will make it easier to contact you in an emergency, whether it's a natural disaster, civil disturbance or family issue. The registration information you provide is protected by Australia's strict privacy laws.
Subscribe to travel advice
Subscribe to receive email updates to travel advice. This will help you stay across any changes to the safety and security situation, local laws and health issues in the countries you're living in or visiting.
Don't base your decision about taking out travel insurance on the assumption that 'it will not happen to me'. Accidents do happen and comprehensive travel insurance could save you and your family thousands of dollars.
You should make sure your comprehensive travel insurance covers all medical expenses for injury or illness, as well as theft of valuables, damage to baggage and cancellations or interruptions to flight plans. It will save you worry and a possible financial burden. Medical costs overseas can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and many people have been burdened financially in paying these costs when things go wrong.
If you plan to rely on the travel insurance provided by your credit card, before travelling you should obtain written confirmation that you're covered and ensure that you have the details of the policy clearly outlined in writing.
You may be able to obtain travel insurance for yourself and your travelling partner under the one policy. However, cover varies from policy to policy so check the fine print. Make sure you confirm all details with your insurance provider and receive written confirmation of your policy.
- Always read the product disclosure statement carefully and ensure that you understand exactly what your travel insurance covers.
- Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of your insurance policy and any legal requirements.
- Compare insurance policies and make sure the policy you choose suits your needs, covers the activities you plan to do and is valid for the whole time you'll be away.
The Australian Government won't pay for your medical treatment overseas or medical evacuation to Australia or a third country. Travellers without travel insurance are personally liable for covering any medical and associated costs they incur.
For more information on travel insurance, including tips for choosing a policy that's right for you, visit our travel insurance page.
Three young Australian women, members of an international volunteer group, were travelling by road in East Africa when their minibus was involved in a collision. Two of the three Australian volunteers were severely injured and required urgent evacuation. The insurer, working with the Australian High Commission and the DFAT Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, organised an air ambulance to transport them to another country for safer surgery and better medical attention.
Several weeks later, when their conditions permitted, they were medivaced to Europe for further treatment. Without the insurance covering the purpose of their visit to Africa, medivac by air would have taken much longer to organise or may not have been possible, potentially threatening the lives of the two volunteers and costing many thousands of dollars.
Take out comprehensive travel insurance for the complete duration of your stay overseas, and ensure that your policy will cover you for the activities you plan to do.
Passports and visas
Your passport is your most important travel document. All Australian citizens must have a valid passport before leaving Australia and maintain a valid passport while overseas. All children travelling overseas, including newborn infants, must have their own passport.
Be aware that countries have different passport validity requirements. Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. Carry extra passport photos just in case your passport is lost or stolen and you need to replace it while you're away.
Find out early what visas you need by contacting the relevant foreign mission (embassy, high commission or consulate) of the countries you intend to visit. Some countries have specific entry and exit requirements, including compulsory vaccinations. Be aware that a tourist visa may not allow you to undertake any form of work—including voluntary or unpaid activities. Remember to check the visa requirements of countries you might be transiting. Contact details for foreign missions can be found in White Pages or online at www.dfat.gov.au/embassies.html.
More information on Australian passports can be found on the Australian Passport Office website or by calling the Australian Passport Information Service on 13 12 32 in Australia.
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia and Australian missions overseas cannot help you arrange visas or work and residency permits for other countries.
- A visa does not guarantee entry to a foreign country.
- In most cases, a tourist visa does not allow you to work in a foreign country, including voluntary or unpaid activities.
Being a national or citizen of more than one country is called dual nationality.
Some countries offer citizenship to people who marry their citizens, or to persons whose parents or grandparents were born in that country.
You should be aware that if you have dual nationality, it may have implications when you visit the country of your second nationality.
You may be prevented from obtaining Australian consular assistance if the country you're in considers you to be one of its citizens.
If you hold another country's passport, seek advice about using it.
Take your Australian passport and use it to depart from and return to Australia.
For further information, read our information for dual nationals.
Planning your trip
Research your destination
Find out about the political, cultural and economic environment of your destination so you'll know what to expect on arrival. Consult the travel advisory for your destination and either purchase a guide book or search the internet for recent information. Talk with family or friends who are familiar with the countries you'll be visiting. You could also consult DFAT's country briefs to learn more about your destinations.
If you're concerned the airline may question your fitness to fly, we recommend you obtain a letter from your doctor confirming that you're fit for air travel.
If you have a disability, contact your airline to find out about services such as shuttle services, seating arrangements and special meals.
If you need to carry needles and syringes with you, obtain a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them and seek early advice from your airline on how to comply with enhanced airport and air travel security regulations.
If you're travelling independently, it's recommended that you book your accommodation prior to arrival, especially if you're due to arrive at your destination late at night.
Protect yourself against loss and theft by carrying minimal pieces of luggage. Overloaded, you make yourself more vulnerable to bag snatchers and pickpockets. Secure credit cards and passports in a money belt or under your clothes.
If you're travelling to the USA, make sure you familiarise yourself with their specific airline baggage lock requirements. Information is available from the US Department of Homeland Security website.
Staying safe overseas
Money and valuables
You can take a number of steps to protect yourself against loss and theft of money and valuables.
- Organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as debit and credit cards, traveller's cheques and cash.
- Check with your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas.
- Register with your bank the period you expect to be travelling.
- Never let your credit card out of your sight.
- Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, travel insurance policy, visas and credit and ATM cards. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave the other copy with someone at home.
Local transport and tours
Be aware that the safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, are not always met.
Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.
Make sure you organise an International Driving Permit before you leave Australia if you're planning to drive overseas. In some countries women are not allowed to drive vehicles. Learn about road conditions and traffic culture of the places you plan to visit. If you're renting a car, make sure it's roadworthy.
Local laws and customs
Familiarise yourself with local laws and show sensitivity to local customs.
Read the travel advice for your destination for practical information on local laws and customs. In some cultures people are deeply offended by revealing clothing and overly affectionate behaviour. Breastfeeding in public may also be considered offensive.
Be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that may appear harsh by Australian standards, apply to you. Age or health concerns are not valid excuses. Many countries apply capital punishment, including for narcotics-related crimes. Every year, many Australians of all ages are arrested overseas on drug charges.
Women travelling alone
Take particular care
Most women experience trouble-free travel; however, women face greater risks, particularly if travelling alone. You should be aware that in some countries you may become the focus of unwanted attention. This could take the form of hissing, passing comments, obscene behaviour, stalking or unwanted physical contact such as pinching. In these situations, maintain your composure and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
You should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas to minimise the risk of harassment. You should also be sensitive to local standards of dress and behaviour. If in doubt, seek local advice.
You could unwittingly find yourself in danger simply by accepting an invitation to go out with a stranger alone. In societies where this is not an accepted practice, just saying 'yes' to an invitation may give the wrong signal and expose you to the risk of sexual assault.
Belinda was visiting friends in Asia on her way to Europe.
Her friends took her to a bar to show her the local night-life.
Belinda decided to stay longer despite her friends' insistence that she leave with them. She returned to her friends' place the following morning and explained that a group of students, male and female, invited her to their table to practise their English. Only one male student was with her at closing time.
He convinced her that walking alone late at night was very dangerous and therefore she should wait for daylight at his place only a few minutes away. She vaguely remembered feeling very tired immediately after arriving in a dark room.
When she woke up, she was alone in a dirty storeroom and undressed. She found that her handbag had been ransacked and her money had been stolen. She was certain that her drinks had been spiked and that she had been raped. She returned to Australia to have a medical check-up and seek counselling to recover from her traumatic experience.
Try to stay in the company of people you trust and avoid accepting drinks from others or leaving your drinks unattended.
Our sexual assault page provides guidance on how to deal with this traumatic experience and provides details on the support available to victims and their families overseas and in Australia.
Additional safety hints
- Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger. Drink-spiking is common around the world.
- Be wary when travelling on crowded public transport as it can provide opportunities for unwelcome harassment or theft.
- Avoid travelling in a train carriage where you are the only passenger. Attackers are known to target women travelling alone on trains.
- Avoid hitchhiking. There are no countries in the world where hitchhiking is safe for women, particularly for women travelling alone.
- Avoid shopping in isolated areas and trying on items in back rooms at bazaars and markets.
- Use only officially licensed and reputable taxis.
- Always ensure that the door of your room at your accommodation is firmly secured.
- Keep your bag firmly tied to your body and avoid displaying items such as jewellery and cameras. Bag snatching and theft of valuables is common in many countries.
- Be aware of credit card fraud. Credit card details are frequently copied for later illegal use. Never let your credit card out of your sight.
Do not use, carry or get involved with drugs. Minimise your chances of getting into trouble with drugs overseas by:
- obeying the law
- locking your luggage
- never leaving your bags unattended in public areas or in the care of a stranger
- never carrying anything into or out of a country for someone else.
Jean, a young Australian woman, was shopping in a crowded bazaar in the Middle East. She wanted to buy a new outfit and was asked by the male shopkeeper to come back later when he would have the outfit in her size. Jean returned late in the afternoon when the bazaar was much quieter and there were no other customers in the shop. Jean was led to a room at the back of the shop to try on the clothes and was assaulted by the shopkeeper. She had been placed in a situation where she was extremely vulnerable. Jean was isolated from the help of other shoppers or passers-by and had no means of escape from the room. Jean suffered a traumatising experience and without witnesses she was unable to press charges.
Try to avoid entering locations that are isolated and, if possible, try to be accompanied by a friend or family member.
Developing a relationship overseas
Some countries impose strict limits on women's rights, with possible restrictions on:
- establishing a relationship with a foreigner
- property entitlements, inheritance, divorce, alimony, child support and custody
- leaving the country without their husband's permission.
Women in some countries are also subject to strict family controls. 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.
Be aware that an apparent strong relationship pursued on the internet could be a planned fraudulent internet dating scam. You could be asked by a prospective marriage partner to send money for them to travel to Australia. Some Australians have lost large sums of money this way. Any chance of recovering lost funds is highly unlikely. In some instances, people who have travelled overseas to meet their prospective marriage partner have been kidnapped and held to ransom.
It's not uncommon for the relationship to end once suspicions are raised that it could be a scam. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's SCAMwatch website has further information on how to recognise, protect yourself from and report scams.
Staying healthy overseas
Health checks and vaccinations
Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic checkup at least six to eight weeks before you depart and find out if any vaccinations or health checks are required for your destination.
If you are taking medicines overseas, we recommend that you:
- discuss with your doctor the medication you'll need to take
- carry a letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is, how much you'll be taking with you, and stating that it's for your own personal use
- leave the medication in its original packaging so it's clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions.
If you're travelling with medication, make sure it's legal in the countries you're visiting by contacting the relevant embassy or consulate in Australia.
If you need to travel with large quantities of medication, it's good practice to separate the quantity between your luggage, in case bags go missing. Keep all medication in the original, labelled container to avoid customs problems.
If you have to inject your medication, it may be preferable to carry your own needles and syringes, if it's allowed in the countries you're visiting. If you buy needles and syringes overseas, make sure they are sealed and sterile.
Take enough medication to cover the length of your trip. If you need to purchase medication at your destination, be careful not to buy imitation or counterfeit medications and prescription drugs, and always check the strength of a medication with a doctor. Be aware that packaging and labelling may be similar to those available in Australia, but the strength and active ingredients can vary from country to country.
It's an offence to carry or send Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication overseas unless it's for your own personal use, or for the use of someone travelling with you. You could be fined $5,000 and spend two years in prison if you break the law.
More information on travelling with medicines and medical devices:
- Taking and sending PBS medicines overseas – Department of Human Services (Medicare)
- Travelling with medicines and medical devices – Therapeutic Goods Administration
- 1800 500 147 – Department of Human Services PBS medicine enquiry line
If you wear glasses, take along a spare pair and/or a copy of the prescription so that they can be replaced more easily if lost or broken.
Additional health tips
- Do not use or get involved with drugs.
- Be aware of the risk of hepatitis and HIV - avoid ear-piercing, acupuncture, tattooing, beauty treatments such as manicures and pedicures, or dental work while travelling in countries with lower health or hygiene standards.
- Practise safe sex. Never assume that your partner is free of HIV or a sexually transmissible infection. Carry a reliable brand of condom as they may not be available at your destination.
- Avoid temporary 'black henna' tattoos as they often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions. For further information see the Australasian College of Dermatologists website.
- Medical tourism, including cosmetic surgery and sex-change operations, is common in Asia. Be aware that while the range of medical and dental services available may be impressive at first sight, standards can be low, resulting in serious and possibly lifethreatening complications.
- Take feminine hygiene products and contraceptives if you're going to places where they may not be available or may be expensive.
Reciprocal health agreements
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
These agreements enable Australians to access urgent or emergency treatment overseas. However, medical services are only provided when it would be unreasonable to delay treatment until the person returns to Australia. It's important to remember that healthcare agreements are no substitute for travel insurance. They won't cover you if a doctor recommends medical evacuation back to Australia.
To find out more about healthy travel and vaccinations you can visit:
Further information about health care when travelling overseas and international health agreements is available on the Medicare website, or by calling 13 20 11.
Getting help overseas
DFAT provides assistance to Australians who find themselves in trouble overseas. This support is referred to as consular services; however, there are legal and practical limits to what can be done.
The Consular Services Charter sets out the standard of services all Australians can expect to receive from consular staff, including what they can and cannot do.
Australia has an agreement with Canada to provide consular assistance to Australians in some countries.
The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can also be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 (local call cost within Australia).
Contact your travel insurance provider
Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour call centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas or are involved in a medical emergency, you should contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you take your travel insurance policy information and contact numbers with you so you can easily contact your insurer from overseas.
Australians in need of counselling services overseas can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone counsellor.