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Civil Unrest: Travel Advice and Planning

Aerial view of throngs of people marching down a crowded city street in Hong Kong

Photo credit: Joseph Chan via Unsplash

Civil unrest is common throughout the world and takes on different forms. It may consist of peaceful marches and demonstrations or violent protests, riots, and clashes with police.

How to Travel Safely amid Protests and Civil Unrest

As a visitor in another country, you may not fully understand the purpose or reasoning for a given protest. If you’re traveling to a country or territory with known protest activity, the following advice will help you be better prepared before you leave and while you’re away.

Before you leave

Research your destination

Read the International SOS destination guides, available in the Assistance App and member portal, to understand the culture, history, and sources of tension and instability. You can also review Amnesty International’s annual report on human rights and; the State Department’s country reports on human rights practices to determine if the government has a record of abuses or repression.

Check the Harvard GSS risk ratings often, as prolonged civil unrest can prompt risk rating changes that trigger additional pre-departure requirements for students. You can also sign up for International SOS alerts for your destination even before you leave.

To prepare for unrest that may deteriorate into a larger conflict, watch our video on traveling in conflict zones.

Plan your communication and transportation

Regularly communicate with in-country collaborators or hosts to get a sense of the situation on the ground. Confirm all flights and ground transportation, and plan for alternatives in case protest activity shuts down airports and main roads.

Consider alternatives

Because prolonged civil unrest can create significant barriers to safe travel, you may want to consider deferring your trip or finding an alternate location. 

Talk with us

If you have any concerns before your trip, schedule a consultation with a member of our International Safety & Security team. We can discuss logistics, identify resources, and help you put risk mitigation strategies in place. Contact us.

And always, always register your trip with International SOS and your embassy.

While in country

Avoid all protests

If a protest erupts nearby, leave the area immediately. Identify safe havens where you can seek assistance if necessary. If needed, make sure you have enough money, food, and water to shelter in place.

If strikes occur, do not participate in activities that could be interpreted as crossing a picket line.

Stay informed and in contact

Follow trusted media sources, sign up for International SOS alerts through the Assistance App or email, and follow your embassy on social media. Avoid wearing clothing or symbols associated with protestors and counter-protesters.

Check in often with Harvard contacts, friends, and family.

Have contingency plans

Prolonged civil unrest can have ripple effects on things like public transit, business and school hours, and the availability of social services. Have contingency plans for transportation, where and how you can conduct your work/studies, and how you can reliably access basic necessities like food, water, and medication.

Follow the law

Never photograph or film a demonstration or protest—it may be illegal or considered subversive activity. Respect any curfews or other rules put in place by the government during the unrest. Always carry identification.

If you're ever arrested or detained by law enforcement, call your country's embassy or consulate, then call International SOS. If you're not allowed to make a call, ask a friend or bystander to call for you.

If you need to evacuate

Your decision to remain in country is personal. Your physical and emotional well-being are always the priority. You may want to weigh the current situation and risks against your personal, academic, and professional needs. In locations where prolonged civil unrest has significantly deteriorated the security environment or impeded the ability to obtain basic goods and services, you may want to consider leaving. Keep a "go bag" packed in case you need to evacuate quickly.

It's important to think about the following:

  • Your ability to attain your goals for the trip
  • Your ability to get around if significant transportation disruptions or road closures occur
  • Your safety and security if civilians, government officials, or police engage in violence
  • Your ability to maintain a supply of food and water in the event of business closures
  • Your access to basic medical support and any prescription medications you rely on

Emergency medical and security assistance

If you need immediate emergency services (police, ambulance, fire) while abroad, call the local equivalent of "911", if appropriate.

For all other medical, mental health, and security support and evacuation planning, call International SOS at +1-617-998-0000 or connect through the Assistance App.