To ensure your safety when traveling, please review the topics below. This information is intended to provide a quick summary only and should be cross-referenced with the Government of Canada’s Bon Voyage, But…: Essential Information for Canadian Travellers booklet.
As a student going abroad, you will receive an Emergency Contact Card once you have registered for the program. This card includes information on how to contact York in case of an emergency while overseas. Details will be given at your Pre-Departure session.
Signing up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service on the Global Affairs Canada website allows you to stay connected to Canada in case of an emergency abroad or an emergency at home.
Provincial health plans will not cover all costs if you get sick or injured while abroad. At best, your health plan will cover only a portion of the bill, therefore all students participating in a York International program are required to purchase guard.me® insurance as part of the travel risk management program of York International. For more information about the insurance coverage, click here. To view a brochure on the plan, click here.
If you are currently covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), or another provincial plan, be sure to contact the closest office to find out what regulations are applicable if you are outside Canada for an extended period of time. For more information, visit the Ontario Ministry of Health website.
It is recommended that you observe local behaviors and cultural cues. Body language, social mannerisms, and tones of voice are not universal. Your actions may be interpreted very differently than you intended and vice versa. For example, often body language can conflict with what you say, such as smiling while saying no. Be aware of your own mixed signals. It is good to be mindful of how one is perceived, as well as how you can adjust to a new culture and lifestyle.
Review the following websites for helpful country and cultural information:
- Country Travel Advice and Advisories, published by Global Affairs Canada, provides regularly updated information on security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate, and how to find help when you are there.
- Country Insights provided by the Centre for Intercultural Learning, also affiliated with Global Affairs Canada, provides cultural overviews for each country of the world.
- Amnesty International maintains an annual report on the state of the world’s human rights.
- Country Profiles by BBC News.
- CultureGPS is a tool for the iPhone and iPod Touch based on Professor Geert Hofstede's research on national cultures that enables you to analyze visible behavior differences in intercultural encounters and to predict to a certain degree, which interactions evolve when people from different nationalities meet. You can compare 98 countries and 3 regions with each other or with your personal profile. CultureGPS will help you analyze, understand and handle cultural differences in a business context.
- Culture Crossing Guide for cross-cultural etiquette and understanding.
- New Internationalist allows you to explore by topic and region.
- Social Watch works with national groups and reports on the progress towards internationally agreed commitments and goals.
- Some locations have produced websites specific for incoming exchange students: The Hong Kong Institute of Education
Culture shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment. It is a normal, healthy psychological reaction to the stress of living in a culture different from one’s own. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating to the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not.
Due to the abrupt loss of the familiar, culture shock can cause people to feel isolated and very often a diminished sense of self-importance. At times, people develop a strong disgust (moral or aesthetically) about certain aspects of the new culture.
Culture shock will probably affect you one way or another, but it doesn’t last forever. While it may be somewhat painful, it can be a mind-stretching process that will increase your understanding of your host culture and of yourself.
Possible symptoms of culture shock:
- Withdrawal (spending too much time in your room, avoiding host nationals)
- Negative feelings and stereotyping of nationals
- Inability to concentrate
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Compulsive eating or drinking
- Lack of appetite
- Irritability and frustration
- Crying uncontrollably or outbursts of anger
- Physical ailments, such as frequent headaches or stomachaches
Coping and adjusting
There are a few things to consider before you go abroad that can make the shock a little less shocking. Research your host country’s traditions on:
- Appropriate dress
- Gift giving
- Topics to avoid discussing
Careful observation, not clouded or skewed by your own cultural presumptions and expectations, will help you develop an understanding of the new culture and will facilitate your inclusion in that culture.
Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. This is one of the key indications of success in a foreign environment. Your adjustment will be much easier and quicker if you remember to be flexible.
Be patient. In some countries bank lines, ticket lines, etc., may take a lot longer than you are accustomed to. Don’t get angry or resentful, just get used to it.
Expect to make some mistakes. Don’t be a perfectionist. Cultures are different and there is no way you can learn everything about the host culture from a book ahead of time.
Be prepared that “efficient” and “quick” may be very different concepts from what you are used to. While everyone likes an idea that works, some cultures value aesthetics over practicality or emphasize the process over the end result. Family ties and social obligations are often given priority over individual needs and wants.
Ways to overcome these feelings:
- Write in a daily journal
- Force yourself to go out and do new things and join new activities
- Develop new friendships
- Share feelings with other foreign students or advisors
- Plan excursions to different parts of the city/country
Living abroad will likely present some increased costs compared with living and working in Canada. You will be exposed to many new and different activities, foods and cultural events. The costs depend largely on the activities you choose, the country you are visiting and your personal spending habits. Please find below some suggestions for successful financial management while abroad.
Handling Money While Abroad
Upon arrival at your international destination, you may not have a chance to exchange money at the airport. You will need cash to pay for a taxi, food, porters, etc. You should take about $100 worth of foreign currency with you when you leave Canada. Some banks, however, do not keep a supply of foreign currency on hand and must order it, so plan ahead. You should check currency exchange rates before you leave.
Options that may be available to you for accessing money abroad are briefly explained below. We strongly recommend that you have several alternatives and that you open a bank account as soon as possible.
Please note: Before you go abroad, you need to notify your bank and credit card companies of your overseas trip, the length of time you will be abroad and the countries you will be visiting, so service is not cut off or denied as a fraud prevention measure.
Traveler’s cheques are the safest way to carry cash overseas. They are known and accepted worldwide (with a few exceptions). Traveler’s cheques are also insured and will be replaced if lost or stolen. In order to make a claim for lost or stolen traveler’s cheques it is essential to know the numbers of the missing cheques. You should keep a good record of your cheque numbers and keep this record separate from your cheques. Traveler’s cheques may be purchased at any bank, American Express office, or CAA office. It is possible to buy traveler’s cheques either in dollars or in the units of a foreign currency.
Please note: Most banks and other businesses charge a small fee for cashing traveler’s cheques. The downside of traveler’s cheques is that it can be difficult to find a bank that will cash them in some countries. Find out in advance which banks in your destination country accept traveler’s cheques.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs)
In most cities, the simplest way to obtain cash is through an ATM. Withdrawing money through an ATM will give you the best exchange rate for the day. You should check with your bank before leaving Canada to find out where its ATM cards are accepted. In order to use an ATM, you must know your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Some banks assign a different PIN for overseas transactions. Check with your bank to find out which PIN you should use in your destination country. Also, please note that a foreign withdrawal surcharge may apply to your transactions.
Most banks now offer a check debit card rather than a regular ATM card. A check debit card can be used almost anywhere a Visa or MasterCard is accepted. This is a very convenient method to pay for things while abroad. As with any ATM transaction, the best exchange rate for the day is given. Again, you should confirm whether additional fees will apply to transactions overseas.
American Express provides a service called Express Cash for its cardholders. This service allows you to withdraw money from your checking account in Canada via any American Express ATM. American Express has many travel offices and ATMs worldwide. Visit the American Express website for a list of locations.
If you have a large sum of money that you would like to take with you when you leave Canada, you can take it in the form of a cheque issued by your bank suggested in USD. When you open a bank account in your host country, you can deposit the bank cheque. This takes less time to clear (about a week, depending on which country you are in) than a personal check from Canada, which can take several weeks.
Wiring money involves transferring money directly from one bank account to another. Before leaving Canada, it is a good idea to ask your bank if it has a relationship with a particular bank in your host country. If it does, you should open a bank account there. This will make money wiring simpler, and possibly less expensive.
The fee for wiring money is fairly expensive. The person in Canada who is sending you money could pay approximately $30-50 and you will be charged a similar fee upon receiving the money. The benefits of wiring money are that it is safe and quick, especially if you are in an area where there are no ATMs.
Based on the experiences of other students who have worked abroad, some other things that can add up are:
- Supplies for living (bedding, pillows, linens, cooking utensils and appliances, personal hygiene)
- Cultural activities (movies, concerts, plays, operas, museums, etc.)
- Eating out and groceries
- Laundry and dry cleaning (generally more expensive than in the U.S.)
- Sightseeing trips
- Gifts and souvenirs
- Postage and freight
- Utilities (including internet) at home or at cafe
Some cultures do not accept the legitimacy of non-heterosexual relationships. Laws vary from country to country. Students should review Information on the Government of Canada Travel website.
It is very important that you have someone designated in Canada to act as your Power of Attorney for various purposes. For example, if you lose or have your bank cards stolen, the POA can represent you at your bank, etc.
There are two types of POA: Continuing Power of Attorney and Power of Attorney for Personal Care. Continuing POA would be the representative for you while abroad. POA for Personal Care would make decisions for you if you were unable to do so in a medical situation.
YFS has a lawyer who can you advise you on these matters.
It is important to visit your doctor before traveling and to ensure you have copies of:
- official record of immunizations
- medical certificates
- your prescriptions (including eye glasses)
Copies should be made and left with the person you give Power of Attorney to.
Give permission to your physician to disclose important medical history to the Department of Foreign Affairs in case of medical emergency.
Official Record of Immunizations
You may be required to show proof of specific immunizations when you enter certain countries. Ask your health-care provider for an official record of your vaccinations before you leave.
See these websites for more information:
- Well on Your Way - A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad booklet from the Government of Canada
- The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for required vaccinations by country.
- The World Health Organization International travel and health book for an overview of health and safety concerns.
- Visit a travel clinic, for health risks that you may encounter when travelling, and to find out how to minimize or manage those risks or see a complete list of travel clinics in Toronto.
- International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) provides a worldwide directory of qualified English-speaking health care providers, hospitals and health care centres.
It is important to sign a Release of Information with your physician so that if a medical emergency arises abroad, important information about your health may be released as needed to responding attendants such as physicians, hospitals, and Canadian diplomatic staff.
Travelers should consider trip cancellation and property insurance to cover changes to travel plans, and lost baggage or personal items while abroad.
Some homeowner insurance policies extend property insurance worldwide. Check your policy to see if you need additional coverage. Normally a copy of the police report filed at the time of loss or theft will be needed before any claim will be considered. Taking preventive measures will decrease the likelihood of theft or property loss. When buying property insurance, ask:
- Is there a maximum amount I can claim?
- What does the insurance cover?
- What is the deductible (what amount will I be responsible for)?
- What items are not covered or get only limited coverage (usually cash, jewellery, computers, etc.)?
If you can't bear to lose something, leave it at home.
Your Canadian passport is your official identification as a citizen of Canada. You must have a passport to travel to all countries, including the United States. Certain restrictions apply depending on whether you fly or drive to the U.S.
Your passport is your most important legal document while traveling abroad. Some countries require foreigners to carry their passport at all times. Guard it and do not leave your study abroad site without it.
Applications for Canadian passports are available at:
- passport offices
- travel agencies
- Canadian embassies, consulates and high commissions
Allow at least three weeks for delivery. If you apply for a passport in person at a passport office, you can expect it within five working days.
If your passport will expire within six months of your departure, check with your destination's embassy or consulate in Canada for their rules regarding passport validity and expiration. Most countries will not admit you if your passport is close to its expiry date.
Photocopy your passport's identification page and keep it separate from the original when you travel. For added security, leave a photocopy with a friend or relative at home. This will speed the replacement process if you lose your passport.
When making a photocopy of your passport have it notarized as a true copy. You can use this notarized copy as identification in the country where you are living as an exchange student, rather than carrying your passport with you.
Lost or Stolen Passports
If your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest Canadian mission immediately for a replacement and report the theft to the police. Get a copy of the police report or the report number.
To get a replacement:
- Complete an application form.
- Produce written evidence of your Canadian citizenship (e.g. a birth or citizenship certificate).
- Produce a copy of the police report or number.
- Present new photographs.
- Pay the required fee.
Dual citizenship means that you are considered a citizen of both Canada and another country. Find out whether you or any family members are citizens of another country before you leave. Some countries may claim you as a citizen if:
- You were born there.
- One of your parents is a citizen.
- You are considered a citizen under that country's laws.
There are privileges to having dual citizenship, such as being able to work in some countries without having to get a visa.
When traveling abroad, you should always travel as a Canadian citizen and use your Canadian passport:
- Not doing so may put serious limitations on our ability to assist you if you encounter difficulties.
- If you are considered a national, you may be forced to do military service or pay special taxes.
- Your Canadian passport guarantees your easy re-entry into Canada.
To learn more about dual citizenship, visit the Government of Canada’s Dual Citizenship website.
A visa gives you official permission from a foreign government to enter their country and to stay for a specified period of time. Visa formats vary, from a simple stamp in your passport when you enter a country, to an official document with your photograph attached.
You will require a visa to travel to certain countries. Check with your travel agent, or with the country's embassy or consulate in Canada to find out.
Visas can take a few hours to a few weeks to obtain. If you are applying for your visa by mail, use registered mail or a courier, as you will have to send your passport with your application. Make sure you include all pertinent items. Forgetting to do so could delay your visa by weeks and you may not receive it in time to travel.
Know the Rules
Be aware of the in-country rules and restrictions governing visas and your length of stay. If you stay after your visa expires, you could be fined, arrested, deported or forced into a lengthy bureaucratic process.
Extra Visa Photos
Take a few extra visa photos with you. They can be invaluable if you try to extend your visa, get a visa for a third country, or do other official business. You can obtain these at photography stores or mall photo booths.
How to get a Visa
Please note: Embassies or high commissions are always located in a nation's capital, while consulates are located in other cities within the host country. A list of foreign consular offices in Canada is available on the Global Affairs Canada website.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure your safety is to research your destination. Start by asking previous travelers to the country of your destination for tips and suggestions for staying safe. Conducting research will help you better understand the health and safety issues you may encounter. Illness, crime, civil unrest, natural disasters and terrorism are issues that might affect your stay. Pay particular attention to the crime issues. While street violence may be rare, mugging and theft can be quite common in larger cities, learn what measures the locals take and do everything you can to make sure you are not a victim of crime.
Travelers abroad are subject solely to the laws of the countries they are visiting. You are responsible for obeying all of the laws of the country you are in, regardless of whether you are traveling or a resident. Penalties in some countries are often more severe than in Canada. York University cannot intervene if you are arrested or prosecuted for violation of local laws, including laws on drug use and disturbances of the peace. What may seem to you like a harmless prank may have serious consequences. Do not assume that you will be treated leniently; the opposite is often the case. Do not count on the consulate or embassy to assist you except in a superficial advisory capacity. If you do become involved in any legal problems, notify your co-op coordinator immediately.
Drugs and Alcohol
Be aware of the drug and alcohol laws of your host country. Several countries have drug laws that are far more strict than those in Canada. Penalties can range from years in prison to death. Be aware that Canada customs officers are extremely thorough in their inspections for smuggled drugs coming into Canada. If any of your prescription drugs have even small amounts of illegal substances as part of their composition, have your doctor write a note indicating why that drug is in your prescription. Even that small amount could have you arrested in another country.
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 1.3 million people die annually on the roads of the world. It has also been reported that 90 percent of road fatalities occur in developing countries.
Be aware that road crashes are the single highest death rate for travelling abroad (twice as high as homicide).
We recommend before traveling abroad that you contact ASIRT for specific road safety information. The organization produces road safety reports on 160 countries as well as safety word phrases in various languages for students to communicate to drivers.
Road Safety Tips:
- Choose the safest form of transportation in each country.
- Avoid night road travel in countries with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain.
- Keep a mobile phone with you for emergencies.
- Avoid overcrowded, overweight, and top-heavy buses, minivans and taxis.
Ask the driver to be responsible or disembark at the first safe opportunity.
- Avoid riding with drivers who seem to be under the influence of alcohol or medication, or appear over-tired, irrational, or distracted.
- Ride in vehicles with functioning seat belts.
- Understand local “road culture.”
- Learn about seasonal hazards and local holidays when road accident rates rise.
- Report reckless driving to the bus or taxi company, embassy, and ASIRT.
- In many countries, it is generally safer to hire a highly responsible, well-trained, professional driver than to drive a rental car.
While you are abroad, you will have to be particularly street savvy. Gender roles, traffic laws and drinking laws may be different in each country you visit. As a traveler, it is your responsibility to be observant and cautious.
Use caution on busy city streets and do not assume that any car, truck, bus, or scooter will stop for you. Know where you are going when you leave. Just like in any big city, a foreigner holding a huge map could invite trouble. Take time to study a map before you go out and get to know the city’s layout and culture. Keep a map with you though in case you do get lost. Locals won’t always give directions to foreigners.
Remember that safety in numbers is a smart idea wherever you are.
Avoid Being a Victim of Crime
- Try to blend in with your surroundings; use discretion and common sense in your behavior and dress.
- Learn the cultural norms of where you will be living.
- Be alert, avoid crowds, demonstrations, or other situations that could put you in danger.
- Be aware of the unconscious messages you may give through your posture, gestures, tone of voice, clothing, and eye contact.
- Don’t walk alone or in isolated areas. Always walk home with friends, especially at night. And never let friends go home alone late at night. Safety in numbers is a smart idea wherever you are.
- Be aware that fights can break out late at night or during sporting events. We advise you to avoid restaurants and bars near sports stadiums due to the potential violence that may result.
- Learn basic help phrases in the native language.
Remember the following tips for blogging while you are on exchange/internship/ Summer Abroad:
- Your blog experience is very public. Do not post specific information about where you are staying and/or living. Never offer any personal information including your last name, contact information, home address, phone number, email address, last name of friends or relatives, instant messaging names, age, or birth date.
- Although we encourage students to document their cultural experiences, you should not be critical of your host society. Keep blogs positive. Do not use them for slander or to attack others.
- Never post provocative pictures of yourself or anyone else. Be sure images you post do not reveal any of the previously mentioned information. Always consider the background of a picture too.
- Assume what you publish on the Internet is permanent. Anyone can print out your blog or save it to a computer.
- Avoid trying to outdo or compete with other bloggers.
All travel blogging sites below: are free, require functional email address, standard features include an opportunity to blog, share photos, create maps of travels and participate in forums and have the option to subscribe to a newsletter.
- Arguably the best blogging platform
- All you need is an email address to sign up
- User friendly – spell check, content save as you go, easy to upload pictures
- Blog can be public to the world or private for just your friends
- Integrated stats system lets you see how many people are visiting your blog and from where
- Over 100 great free and customizable designs for your blog
- A great option for beginner bloggers
- Template Designer lets you easily create a blog that looks uniquely yours
- Drag‐and‐drop system lets you easily decide exactly where your posts, profiles, archives and other parts of your blog should live on the page
- Send camera phone photos straight to your blog while you're on‐the‐go with Blogger Mobile
- Blog can be public to the world or private for just your friends
- All the profits made through advertising, donations, and merchandise are donated to charities that the members get to choose
- Automatically plots your trip across the globe
- Will organize pictures for you as you add them
- Option to notify subscribers, Facebook friends or make a private journal only to be seen by travel friends
- Option to upload photos by dragging and dropping instead of through the ‘browse’ button
- Can search travelers on site
- User friendly
- Also contains ads right on the page
- Friends can sign up for RSS feeds and read your journals and blogs every time you post
- Option to form groups with those who share your interests
- Can register as traveler or travel advisor
- Includes personal space for inquiries, to search for programs for your travels abroad and bookmark the programs for future reference online scrapbook
- Possible to post résumé and GoAbroad.net will make it available to database of clients
- Can create groups of travelers
- Search option to find other travelers
- Website includes a custom built wiki in which users can edit destination information to help assist potential visitors
- No ads on page, very user friendly site
- Differentiates between online diary (can be password protected) and blogs seen by public
- Option to create personal travel cards and luggage tags
- Very user friendly and pretty control panel which allows users to manage services
- Provides statistics on blog activity, manage entries and favorites
- Allows travelers to notify subscribers whenever an update is made to their blog
- Includes section on world facts
- Can search blogs by world region
Other tools that can be used to enhance your blogs/videos include:
York International co-hosts with Verge Magazine an annual re-entry workshop called "What Next?! Re-entry conference". It is normally held late September. More details will be made available to you.
Reverse culture shock is usually more difficult than culture shock, simply because you do not expect to have any issues returning home. After maintaining a different lifestyle abroad, you must readjust to your previous life. You’ll be different, your friends will be different, and lots of things will have happened in people’s lives, in the city, and in the country that you will not know about. Returnees are often disappointed about the lack of interest in hearing about their experiences abroad or looking at their photos.
The best approach is to be proactive in dealing with the situation. Take advantage of re-entry meetings or sessions offered by the university, become a mentor for foreign students on campus or volunteer at co-op abroad events. You want to remember and reflect on your experience and stay in touch with friends you made abroad. Submitting an entry to Steinbright’s annual photo-essay contest is a great way to share and reflect on the value of your overseas experience.
Ways to reduce the effects of reverse culture shock:
- Keep in contact with friends and family while you are away.
- Keep updated on your hometown news and current events.
- Share experience and photos as you go along via email or social media
International Career Options
Students often are interested in a long term international career. One path is to pursue an IMBA degree. Schulich IMBA graduates work in Canada and abroad - in over 40 countries - for multinational corporations, ranging from RBC Financial to Sony and Siemens, and multilateral organizations, such as Medecin Sans Frontieres, the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as smaller entrepreneurial companies.