Tips to Enhance Your Safety While Traveling or Relocating to Africa
The suggestions below are meant – enhance your safety, health and security while traveling or relocating to Africa. Hopefully the advice will make your travel or relocation experience a successful and an enjoyable one.
-Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so the State Department can better assist you in an emergency. You can record your travel plans through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free online service the State Department travel registration site. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts will not be released to others without your express authorization.
-Sign your passport, and fill in the emergency information. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport, and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
-Leave copies of itinerary and passport data page with family or friends, so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
Heath safety while traveling or relocating to Africa
-Check your overseas medical insurance coverage. Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance.
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-Consult travel medical Web sites such as the American Family Physician which covers a large number of destinations, to ensure that they will get all the medical vaccinations that are needed for the destination country.
General safety while traveling or relocating to Africa
-Great sources of information for your general safety preparedness include the travel warnings from embassies – the most useful ones being those from the US government travel warning for citizen traveling overseas.
Know your Country
-Reading about your country of destination will provide useful information to enhance your safety by making you aware about key dos and don’ts before you travel to the country. Such information could cover dress code and life style “transgressions”; arrival advice such as which taxi companies to use or avoid upon arrival at the airport; which hotels to use; down to whether you can swim at the beautiful beach that you can see from your hotel room etc; which months of the year to avoid and whether you should rethink your travel based on your medical conditions. For examples if you have asthma you should consider avoiding the months during which the Harmathan (a dry and dusty wind) blow from the desert south to most Sahelian countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal). Similarly, if malaria is a concern, one should avoid the rainy season during which the disease is more prevalent. The US State country profiles is a good source for such information.
Once in country, your first act should be to register at your embassy. The registration allows the embassy to know of your presence and where to find you if needed. Most embassies will also give you a security briefing and if not, some security and safety info to enhance your security during your stay.
The most common safety issues for foreigners who relocate or travel to Africa are house robberies, traffic accidents or carjackings; and other safety risks which can be brought up by being around unruly crowds and culturally unacceptable life styles.
– You can reduce the risks of house robberies by heeding the advice of the embassy or your company security staff with respect to safe neighborhood where to live and the type of physical security set up you should have at your home. If you are hiring household help, make sure to obtain a police report of the staff you are considering to hire. Better yet, hire household help vetted by a former expatriate. Above all, do not let your guards down, just because you are no longer in a big western city. The fact that you look different and are believed to have more money than the next person around you makes you a sure target.
-Traffic accidents- Avoid driving at night as road accidents are the major source of expatriate deaths in Africa. In many countries, the roads leading out of the capital cities are often not well kept or well marked. This coupled with the fact that poorly maintained trucks crowd these roads at night makes driving at night a very dangerous endeavor.
-Avoid political gathering or marches- this is a particularly relevant to those who are interested in politics and who might mistake the initial festive mood of such gatherings into believing that they are void of danger. The reality is that these marches and rallies often end with forceful police intervention, inter-ethnic in fighting and stampedes or mob attacks against “foreigners” or women which can lead to serious injuries or worse.
Likewise, one should observe caution in stadiums and night clubs. The biggest risk in both places is crowd control and the high potential for stampedes. Both places require greater awareness of one’s surrounding and of crowd mood, particularly in stadiums where the outcome of a sporting event can trigger violent reactions and manifestations. To avoid stampedes, purchase VIP tickets as such ticket often come with separate entry gates and leave before the end of the sporting event, particularly if you sense restlessness in the crowd around you.
Finally, here is a note on dress code and life style. Even if you take all of the precautions I discussed above, your safety could still rest on you appearance- and your behavior. Two of which are worth pointing out.
– First with respect to dress code, women should refrain from wearing revealing clothes- which in many instances are associated (rightly or wrongly) with prostitution. This is particularly true when travelling away from major cities where such behaviors are likely to draw verbal harassment; attract unwanted attention which in some instances can quickly lead to physical harassment. This is really not the place for a philosophical discussion about whether your dress code gives anyone the right to harass you. Your focus should be on your safety and how to avoid provoking any harassment in settings where women rights are still not fully recognized nor accepted.
– Second, be aware that homosexuality can lead to legal prosecution in several countries- most notably in Uganda, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. Gays and lesbians must therefore use the utmost discretion and respect local laws. Openly expressing one’s homosexuality in the countries listed above, and possibly others, can lead to prison sentences, deportation, public and physical harassment and ultimately a danger to your safety and life. There is however one significant exception- South Africa where homosexuals are free to express their life style.