Ensuring Worker Safety Abroad: Although kidnapping of Americans abroad gets all the publicity, other risks await business travelers. Here’s what a business manager needs to know before sending an employee overseas.
Research. Before a trip abroad, travelers should gain a general understanding of the country’s cultural, economic and political situation. The U.S. State Department issues Consular Information Sheets for every country of the world with information on the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, any areas of instability, and the location of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country. Travelers should also check the State Department’s current list of travel advisories before leaving at www.state.gov/travel.
Learn something about local customs and cultural taboos. Knowledge of local customs and language can help business travelers win friends and avoid causing offense. For example, many Arabic cultures consider it an insult to show someone the soles of your shoes, yet Americans often sit cross-legged with their soles showing. Knowledge of the local language—even basics such as “please” and “thank you”—can go a long way to show respect in the host country.
Learn something about local laws. While in a foreign country, travelers are subject to its laws. For example, many countries have very strict laws about carrying drugs—even ones prescribed by a doctor. Carry only the amount needed in the original container. Consider carrying a copy of your written prescription and your doctor’s phone number, in case you run out.
Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for health warnings and vaccination recommendations for the countries you will be visiting at www.cdc.gov/travel. Some vaccines may require planning well in advance before the date of travel.
Pack with safety in mind. Where possible, travelers should try to blend in with the locals or to be as inconspicuous as possible. Avoid bright colors, designer labels, ostentatious jewelry, expensive luggage—anything that suggests wealth or screams “American.”
Plan travel arrangements carefully. The safest floors are the second and third floors of most hotels. Staying in a ground-floor room makes you vulnerable to break-ins, while upper floors might be out of the reach of fire-fighting equipment. Avoid rooms with shared balconies. Obtain a valid passport and visas, if needed. Make sure to fill in the emergency information page of your passport. Leave copies of your itinerary, passport and airline tickets with a relative or friend and with someone in the office.
Register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration Web site. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html.
Check insurance coverages. In general, workers’ compensation applies to injuries occurring in the jurisdiction(s) named in your policy. In some countries, visitors are entitled to free emergency medical treatment; however, standards might not be up to those of U.S. hospitals. A separate foreign workers’ compensation policy will cover your employees for work-related injuries incurred overseas; some will also cover injuries incurred on personal time while on an overseas business assignment. Look for a policy that covers medical evacuation services, which can cost $50,000 or more.
Companies that send workers overseas should also consider buying kidnap and ransom insurance. Virtually unheard of in the U.S., kidnap for ransom is growing in certain parts of the world. In 2004, Mark Hall, a security expert interviewed by CNN, estimated there were 8,000-10,000 kidnaps for ransom reported every year. But many of these crimes are never reported, either due a company’s reluctance to bring attention to its operations, an insurer’s hesitance to advertise that it will negotiate with kidnappers or pressure from local officials.
Kidnap and ransom insurance covers ransom payments for your employees who are kidnapped. Perhaps more importantly, though, this coverage gives employers access to experts in hostage negotiation who can help handle a kidnapping situation more effectively.
Despite the fact that kidnap for ransom is a growing phenomenon, your overseas workers are much more likely to run into more mundane problems, such as illness or injury, which could just as easily occur at home.