Keeping Safe Abroad: Best Smartphone Apps

By Debora Aberastury on February 6, 2019

When you think of studying abroad, your mind immediately goes to jet-setting to new locations every weekend, meeting a vast array of people, eating new and exciting foods – the possibilities of something going completely wrong is completely off your mind.

Like it or not, disasters can happen anywhere. They can range from minimal to disastrous. While you shouldn’t go abroad thinking the worse of the worse, you can be better prepared with a few extra applications on your mobile devices.


Facebook and Facebook Messenger 

The first application that you should download and the second are two that you likely already have downloaded and use quite often: Facebook and Facebook Messenger. While it is not where the mind immediately goes in cases of emergencies, it is useful to contact those who you need to contact…. assuming here that they do have Facebook, that is. With Messenger, you can immediately send someone a message or video call (if you have data or access to WiFi).

When it comes to natural disasters or even man-made, Facebook has a feature called Crisis Response. If you are in an area where there is a disaster, Facebook will ask you to ‘mark’ yourself safe or unsafe. There are also resources to access, and you can also ask on the Crisis Response page any specific questions concerning where to find certain resources.



The third application is another that you may already have downloaded in some form: Notes. On Apple devices, it comes automatically. With Android devices, you will have to download a note application. (I would highly recommend Google Keep – it is one of the few free note apps, you can access your notes offline, AND it’s from a trustworthy company. OneNote works well too.)

Having some sort of note app is extremely important because there you can store everything you may want to know if something happens – from important phone numbers to the list of medications you are on to the address of the place you’re staying at. If you want to keep certain things more secret than others you can either be vaguer in the way that you write it – i.e. write the address without actually writing that it is YOUR address – or you can always password lock or fingerprint lock your phone so you can be the only one to access your apps.

 Medical ID

Another useful thing to have on your phone is a Medical ID app. With Apple devices, you automatically have it under the Health app. With Android devices, you will have to download Medical ID app. With the Medical ID app, you can add any medical conditions you have, medications you are on, your weight and height, as well as emergency contacts. When you call emergency services with your mobile device, the Medical ID app will automatically send a message to your emergency contacts with your current location.

While there are apps out there for your own personal safety – that will let you send out an SMS to loved ones, call the police with just hitting a button, let loved ones track you via GPS until you get home – but most are largely subscription based or at least a hefty one time fee, and there is no telling if it will work abroad or not. Whether you chose to risk it may not working once you get abroad is up to you – they do largely work within the U.S. for sure. Ask those within your country if they are familiar with any personal safety apps that work well in the country.

Google Maps

Consider ensuring that you have an offline map on your phone at all times instead. Google Maps allows you to download parts of maps, so you can access it offline. It expires after a few months – so the map you might download for that weekend trip to Paris will eventually automatically remove itself. Have important contacts as your favorites on your phone and have your phone or contacts application right on your first screen – or wherever it is that makes it easy to get to.


Embassy & Government Contacts

If you are a U.S. citizen, resident or hold a U.S. visa, the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler app gives you great information – from travel alerts and warnings to official country information and the location of the nearest U.S. embassies/consultants.

Even if you are not tied to the U.S. in any way the information can be extremely useful. You can always contact your country’s embassy to see what apps or at least website they have – almost every country out there has some sort of government program to ensure the safety of their citizens while they are abroad. Save that information whichever way you can – whether it is by downloading the app or saving the information on a Dropbox or Google Drive document (downloaded onto your mobile device, naturally, so you can access it without internet), you just don’t know if that information will ever be useful for you when you are studying abroad.

CDC and American Red Cross

Two last great applications when it comes to getting even more information are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross app. With the CDC, you are able to get vaccine recommendations, packing ideas, as well as it gives you a place to store travel documents and keep a list of immunizations and medications.

As for the American Red Cross…. well, it does what you think it does: it gives you information on First Aid and what to do on an array of injuries and sicknesses. It also gives you information on how to prepare for emergencies, and there is also a button where you can search for Hospitals near you.

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