Assessing Safety

The safety and security of students abroad is our top priority. Penn Abroad continuously monitors events worldwide to ensure that our travelers are in locations deemed safe for student travelers. Penn Abroad works in conjunction with Penn’s Office of Risk Management & Insurance, International SOS, and our local contacts in onsite locations to monitor safety abroad. Penn Abroad receives daily updates on health and security across all locations where Penn travelers are present on a daily basis via International SOS. We use this information to drive conversations with the Office of Risk Management & Insurance and our abroad partners to determine whether a location is safe for students. As needed, we contact International SOS directly for further information if a particular incident occurs where we have student travelers. International SOS provides guidance from medical or security experts that are regionally based around the world and are able to provide real-time advice on the status of an incident.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What criteria does Penn Abroad use to approve locations for travel?

Penn Abroad is guided by the travel criteria put forth by Penn’s Committee on Travel Risk Assessment (CTRA), the US Department of State, and International SOS, along with information provided to us by partners abroad based on their program structure and on-the-ground health and safety information.  Conducting program reviews and site visits are also key as Penn Abroad maintains close relationships with partners and institutions abroad. Students wishing to participate on a Penn-affiliated program to a location considered heightened risk travel must complete a travel petition process.

How and when will Penn Abroad communicate with students regarding health, safety, and security incidents occurring in abroad locations?

International SOS provides alerts at four levels: 1. Notice, 2. Advisory, 3. Special Advisory, and 4. Evacuation Notification. All students traveling on a Penn Abroad program receive International SOS alerts automatically when registration in MyTrips, Penn’s international travel registry, takes place prior to departure. For semester abroad and PGS students, Penn Abroad completes MyTrips registration for students. For GRIP, students are expected to register in MyTrips on their own.

Penn Abroad does not email students regularly because International SOS provides “Notice” alerts on health or security incidents abroad. Penn Abroad expects that all students are reading International SOS guidance as received, and are following appropriate advice provided by International SOS, and/or their host program, as relevant to the incident.

Example of an e-mail from ISOS, at the “Notice” level:

ISOS Sample Alert indicating the risk level/overview of a potential situation and a second section of the alert that details advice. Exact text varies per the situation, main information to be taken from image is that the alert explains the situation and gives advice.


When an International SOS alert is issued at the “Advisory” or “Special Advisory” level, Penn Abroad may reach out to students if the incident directly impacts the immediate safety of student travelers, university campuses, or locations where student travelers are known to be. If Penn Abroad is in touch following an “Advisory” alert, an email will be received after the International SOS notification and will include any relevant information specific to Penn student travelers. If Advisory alerts continue, Penn Abroad will not continue to email students unless a new development occurs which warrants different steps from previous guidance. As with “Notices,” Penn Abroad expects students to keep an eye on international SOS Advisories, as well as host program communication, and are following all guidance as it is received.

When an alert is issued at the “Evacuation Notification” level, Penn Abroad reaches out to all student travelers and will notify students of specific and relevant next steps to be taken in light of the incident. As with “Advisories,” Penn Abroad outreach will come after the International SOS notification. Students should be following all guidance provided by International SOS and/or their host program and remain in a secure location until follow-up is received from Penn Abroad. During this time, Penn Abroad will work with the Office of Risk Management & Insurance and on-site partners to develop the most appropriate guidance and next steps for students to follow as relevant to the incident.

All correspondence from Penn regarding health, safety, and security will always be sent to the student’s Penn email address. Penn Abroad is aware of worldwide incidents and we are continuously assessing the safety of abroad locations, even if we do not email students regularly regarding an incident. Although not all worldwide incidents will yield follow-up correspondence from Penn Abroad, concerned students are always encouraged to contact Penn Abroad with questions regarding alerts or associated guidance received from International SOS or their host program.

How and when will Penn Abroad communicate with parents and/or guardians regarding health, safety, and security incidents occurring in abroad locations?

Penn Abroad does not provide updates to parents and/or guardians regarding health, safety, and security incidents occurring in abroad locations. Penn Abroad expects that students are checking in with their contacts at home and are sharing any relevant information with them as they deem appropriate.

Should parents or guardians choose to call Penn Abroad to discuss a health, safety, or security concern related to a student’s program abroad, we will provide general information regarding how we assess safety abroad and for a particular location. Further information specifically related to an academic program and/or academic impacts from a safety incident will only be discussed if the student has provided consent to speak to the parent and/or guardian via their Penn in Touch “Consent to Disclose Academic and/or Financial Data” settings, per federal FERPA policy

What would cause Penn Abroad to cancel an abroad program?

Some safety incidents require a temporary pause in a program, such as a hurricane requiring evacuation for a set time period or a change in a travel itinerary. Some safety incidents are significant enough to require the complete cancelation or evacuation from a program location.

Should Penn Abroad determine a location is no longer safe for student travel, a program will be canceled or students will be evacuated from an abroad program with the support of the University of Pennsylvania and International SOS.

A program will be canceled, or students will be evacuated (temporarily or permanently) if:

  • The International SOS alert level rises to “Evacuation”

  • The abroad program/host university academic calendar is significantly disrupted due to a health or safety indecent

  • Penn Abroad, in conjunction with the Office of Risk Management & Insurance, makes a determination that a location is no longer safe for Penn student travelers (temporarily or permanently) based on information gathered from any combination of sources above.

I am doing a semester study abroad. What will happen if a safety incident disrupts my academic program?

Study abroad programs can be altered, disrupted, or canceled at any time by Penn or by the Host Institution, including after a program abroad begins or after Penn’s term commences. Any alterations to the planned program, whether temporary or permanent, may have an impact on your financial commitments and academic expectations for your term abroad. For details on the implications to consider, please review “Financial & Academic Considerations in the Event of a Program Alteration” on the Semester Abroad Financial Information page.

Can parents and/or guardians also receive alerts from International SOS?

Yes! Parents and/or guardians are encouraged to visit International SOS using Penn’s Membership ID (11BSGC000012) to view alerts and updates by country. Parents may sign up to receive email notifications from International SOS by setting “email subscription preferences” on the International SOS home page. Parents and/or guardians can also call International SOS directly at +1 215 942 8478. Penn Abroad strongly encourages students and their parents and/or guardians to call International SOS together to discuss questions and concerns with a health or security expert.

I have a question that has not been answered here. Who should I contact?

If you have a question about how Penn assesses the safety of abroad locations that have not been answered above, students should contact their Global Programs Manager directly. If you do not know who your Global Programs Manager is, or you are a parent or family member, then you may contact: