Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program: Safety, Health, and Security

The safety and security of exchange participants is a top priority for the U.S. Department of State. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and U.S. Embassies abroad, in cooperation with binational Fulbright Commissions and the Institute of International Education (IIE), make every effort to ensure that Fulbright scholars are provided necessary support in case of emergencies.

 

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Important Contacts

  • The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) sponsors, administers, and oversees the Fulbright Program in conjunction with Posts, Commissions, and IIE.
     
  • Fulbright Commissions manage the Fulbright program, administer Fulbright grants in their respective countries, and supervise grantees in-country. Review the list of Commissions here. The staff at Fulbright Commissions serve as the primary point of contact for Fulbright participants during the Fulbright grant experience and are equipped to provide you with support and resources, should you have any health or safety concerns.
     
  • U.S. Embassies (“Posts”) manage the Fulbright program in their respective countries and supervise grantees in-country for countries that do not have Fulbright Commissions. Similarly, the Public Affairs Section of the Posts serve as the primary point of contact for participants during the Fulbright experience and are equipped to provide you with support and resources should you have any health or safety concerns. The main points of contact at Posts are typically listed and updated annually on ECA’s Pre-Departure Resources country pages, which are password-protected. All U.S. Scholars have access to the Pre-Departure Resources; if you do not have the password, please contact your IIE Advisor.
     
  • Institute of International Education (IIE) Advisors administer Fulbright grants for grantees going to countries without a Fulbright commission and help prepare Fulbrighters for their experience abroad. Find your IIE Advisor here. They serve as an additional point of contact while Fulbrighters are on their grants.

Program Resources

The Fulbright Program has several resources available to support Fulbrighters in case of emergencies:

  • The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a complimentary service for U.S. nationals to receive important information from the local U.S. Embassy about safety conditions in the host country and helps the Embassy/Consular Affairs staff contact you in case of an emergency. Please enroll before you depart the U.S.
  • State Department travel information for individual countries is available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
  • The American Citizens Services office (during non-business hours): 1-202-501-4444 (worldwide); 1-888-407-4747 (U.S.)
  • Orientation workshops organized by ECA and IIE, U.S. Embassies, or Fulbright Commissions provide special sessions on safety and security in the region and host country (orientations may occur pre-departure, upon arrival in-country, or both).  
  • Health care benefits are provided to Fulbright participants through ASPE (Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges) while in-country for emergency medical services.
    • Email: usdosinfo@sevencorners.com
    • Phone: 317-818-2867 (worldwide), 800-461-0430 (U.S.)
    • Website: http://usdos.sevencorners.com
    • NOTE: ASPE does not provide comprehensive insurance coverage, and it does not cover personal travel outside of the scholar’s country of assignment. It is strongly recommended that scholars have or purchase comprehensive health insurance with international coverage during the program 
  • A 24-hour hotline provided by ASPE ASSIST is available to provide support to Fulbrighters in urgent and non-urgent situations. ASPE ASSIST services include mental health advice and crisis support, and can provide support to those who have experienced a traumatic incident of discrimination or harassment.

Communication Protocols

ECA and IIE work closely with U.S. Embassies and Fulbright Commissions abroad to share information, monitor threats, develop strategies, and coordinate communication in a crisis. Fulbright scholars should be prepared for emergencies, which can occur without warning. 

The primary emergency contact for Fulbrighters abroad is the U.S. Embassy or Fulbright Commission in the host country. IIE Advisors should also be notified as soon as possible if there is an emergency.

It is essential for U.S. Embassies/Commissions and IIE to be able to confirm the safety of Fulbright participants in emergency situations. Ensure that your local contact information and travel dates to and from the host country are up-to-date and are shared with relevant contacts, including host institution colleagues. Additionally, emergency contacts in the United States should have the contact information for the Fulbright program in your host country.

Remember to keep phone numbers and email addresses up-to-date in the IIE Participant Portal. You can also email your IIE Advisor with any updates.

Emergency Preparedness and Safety Tips

Fulbrighters should be prepared for emergencies, which can occur without warning (e.g. natural disasters, disease, crime, civil unrest, etc.).

  • Upon arrival, take the time to locate your nearest police station, hospital and/or medical centers. Heed the advice of ASPE’s ‘Know Before You Go' document.
  • The Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy in your host country are prepared to assist in case of emergency.
  • Keep emergency numbers easily accessible; do not rely on cell phones.
    • Suggested numbers to keep accessible: local law enforcement, hospitals, U.S. Embassy or Commission contacts, ASPE and ASPE ASSIST, colleagues at the host institution and fellow Fulbrighters in-country, and IIE Advisor.
    • Make sure to print and carry with you your ASPE health coverage card, which can be downloaded from the Seven Corners website.
  • Should your grant be suspended while you are on your program as a result of safety and security concerns, the Fulbright Program will provide funding for early return travel to the United States, plus a fixed transition allowance determined at the time of the program suspension.

 In case of medical evacuation:

  • In the event that a Fulbright grantee requires emergency medical evacuation, the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy and IIE will assist.
  • ASPE will cover medical evacuation if needed, provided that the evacuation is pre-approved. You can read more in the ASPE Health Guide.

 Additional Resources and Scenarios

  • Assess your physical and mental health before starting your grant
    • Reminder: a completed medical form and medical clearance is required before starting your Fulbright program
  • Review your immunization records and health history
  • Consider dietary needs and learn how to communicate those needs in your host country; determine if you will have access to food items and medication you may need, and make arrangements to have prescriptions filled ahead of time, if applicable.
  • Familiarize yourself with COVID-19-related information in your country
    • Review COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Country (CDC)
    • Follow local health guidance and regulations
    • Wash hands frequently, bring hand sanitizer, and avoid contact with those who are sick. Consider wearing a mask, and follow all local public health guidelines concerning disease mitigation.  
  • Be mindful of how your mental health may be affected. Culture shock, uncertainty, navigating identity, and adjusting to new cultural norms are common when settling in to a new place.
    • Consult with your healthcare provider and insurance plan before traveling
    • Assess local resources at your host institution and in your host country
    • Utilize ASPE ASSIST (details above and below) as needed

Resources for Family Members: Family members can contact the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services at any time regarding a Fulbright grantee abroad.

  • From within the United States: 1-888-407-4747
  • From outside the United States: 1-202-501-4444

ASPE and ASPE ASSIST

Fulbright participants receive a health care benefit under the Department of State Group Accident & Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE). ASPE is a health benefit program for the participant only; it is not an all-purpose health insurance, and it is subject to limitations.
Grantees needing assistance with emergency as well as routine medical and dental services are advised to contact Seven Corners, the ASPE administrator for ECA’s health benefit program, which can be reached around the clock worldwide for emergency needs.

  • ASPE coverage will begin and end according to your Fulbright grant dates. The benefit is valid during travel directly to and from your host country and within your host country only. It is strongly recommended, but not required, that Fulbrighters have or purchase comprehensive health insurance with international coverage during the program. For more information and a complete list of exemptions, please visit: https://www.healthcare.gov
  • After creating your online account, you may access your ASPE plan online at https://myplan.sevencorners.com/   
  • We recommend that you print a hard copy of your ASPE card to keep with you during your grant. Please also provide a copy of your ASPE card to Post/Commission staff in case they need to assist you in an emergency.   

ASPE ASSIST Support Hotline: This 24-hour hotline is a mental health resource for U.S. Fulbrighters overseas, providing immediate, professional help with virtually any type of personal concern or problem that participants may experience. ASPE Assist can be reached any time at +1-813-963-1269 or +44-20-3859-4463 and offers confidential counseling for urgent and non-urgent situations and support service for grantees experiencing crisis.  

  • All telephone calls will be answered by medical personnel, who are trained to handle emergency and non-emergency situations.   
  • ASPE ASSIST personnel can provide support and counseling to grantees involved in a range of situations requiring mental health and other support, including depression, sexual assault or harassment, adjusting to the host country culture, discrimination or harassment related to identity, and personal safety guidance.  

Email: ASPESupport@anvilgroup.com

Assault and Harassment

If you are the victim of sexual or physical assault, or harassment, please contact the Commission or U.S. Embassy in your host country as soon as it is safe to do so. They will guide you through the procedures needed to ensure your safety and advise you about your legal rights and how best to preserve the option to prosecute. You may also reach out to ASPE ASSIST counsellors who are able to provide on-the-spot advice and support to Fulbrighters in urgent and non-urgent situations.  As ASPE ASSIST is a confidential service, you may also want to advise your point of contact at the Commission or U.S. Embassy, and/or your IIE Advisor.

It can also be challenging to mitigate harassment while overseas, due to language barriers, new surroundings, and lack of familiar cultural signals and cues. Here are some tips for Fulbright scholars:

  • Find an ally among your supervisors, colleagues, and/or neighbors.
  • Take cues from locals, including co-workers and peers.  
  • Exercise caution when meeting new people; arrange meetings in public places and/or with others when possible.
  • Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • colleagues whom you trust, or your point of contact at the Commission or Embassy.

Diversity, Identity, and Disability/Accessibility

The U.S. Department of State strives to ensure a reflection of the diversity of U.S. society abroad. Fulbright opportunities are open to people regardless of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. See ECA’s full diversity statement here.

ECA's Pre-Departure Resources page on Identity Abroad hosts resources and testimonials related to a variety of identities. All U.S. Scholars have access to the Pre-Departure Resources; if you do not have the password, please contact your IIE Advisor.

Gender: Local attitudes may differ towards gender. It is important to be aware of the cultural nuances related to gender and gender roles in your host country, and be prepared on how gender identity may impact your Fulbright experience.

 LGBTQIA+: Local attitudes and laws towards individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender differ around the world. Fulbright participants should research the host country prior to their departure from the United States.

Mobility and Accessibility: While the Fulbright Program offers accommodations for Fulbrighters with disabilities, some host countries may not be as accessible for grantees who have a physical disability, and stigma may differ from one location to another. For example, countries may not have the infrastructure to accommodate wheelchairs on sidewalks or legally require accommodations for persons with disabilities. It is important to research the host country to ensure accessibility and safety measures are met.

  • If U.S. Scholars have any accessibility requirements, please email your IIE Advisor and the Post/Fulbright Commission in your host country.
  • Fulbrighters can access mobility and accessibility resources at Mobility International USA (MIUSA)’s website.  

Race and Ethnicity: Local attitudes towards race and ethnicity differ widely and will largely depend on whether your racial and ethnic identity is a majority or minority group in the host country. It is advised that you research how your racial, ethnic, and cultural identities are perceived in your host country to understand how existing racial and identity dynamics may impact your Fulbright experience.

The following resources may be helpful:

 

Fulbright U.S. Scholars are encouraged to join the Fulbrighter networking platform, an exclusive online community that allows current and past participants from the many components of the Fulbright Program to engage, collaborate, and connect with each other. For more information, and to register, please visit the official website: https://fulbrighternetwork.com/

More specific information on your host country may be offered on the Department of State International Travel website under the safety and security section.

If you encounter any problems, contact the Fulbright Commission and/or U.S. Embassy in your host country, ASPE Assist, and/or your IIE Advisor as soon as it is safe to do so.

We recommend that Fulbright U.S. Scholar Participants download and print this important contact card to easily reference while on your Fulbright.