Safety and security issues when travelling on business

More and more businesses expect their employees to travel abroad as part of their work, as they operate in an increasingly globalised marketplace. Often this involves going further afield than just European countries, with larger companies in particular looking to do more business with developing nations. As businesses travel further from home they find that whilst their business opportunities may be increased, so too are the risks of issues such as terrorism, assault, theft, injury, kidnap and illness.

This guide aims to provide you with information about how to keep safe whilst travelling on business and how to minimise the risks to both employee and employer. Whilst this guide is aimed at people travelling for business, some of the information is applicable to recreational travellers as well, such as people going on holiday.

Employers' responsibilities

Working abroad can expose employees to risks that they would not normally face. But just as they do within the workplace, UK employers have a duty of care to do everything they can to ensure the health and safety of their employees whilst they are travelling, as laid out in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. So, they must have appropriate policies and risk assessments in place to manage their staff whilst they are abroad and to deal with any potential issues. The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) recommends creating an individual risk assessment for every employee travelling abroad, and also having an international policy to provide information to employees travelling overseas.

Employers' Liability insurance doesn't normally cover staff working abroad for long periods, so appropriate insurance may be necessary. For some countries this includes country specific policies and employers having cover for employees who are either injured or have contracted a work-related illness whilst there.

Many employers have a maximum number of days per year that their employees can travel. This is because long periods travelling abroad can affect the employees' emotional wellbeing. Longer placements where employees are seconded abroad can often fail as they might suffer from psychological distress or difficulties being away from home or adjusting to foreign cultures. So, it is in the interests of both employer and employee not to exceed the limit. Additionally, if employees don't feel happy, healthy and safe whilst abroad then they are unlikely to produce good quality work.

What to do before travelling

Before embarking on your journey, you should make sure that you are well prepared and aware of any potential risks. This is especially true if travelling to a country that is prone to revolutions, civil war or lawlessness, or any country that is known to be on the brink of any of these situations.

However, remember that you can be at risk in any city or country. Just because a risk isn't obvious doesn't mean it isn't there, and anyone travelling on business is a potential target.

You should learn about where you are going, including about the entire country, the region of that country, and the specific town, city or village that you are visiting. Also know where the local police stations and hospitals are. It is important to know what the political situation is and to be aware of any terrorist issues. Make sure you do your homework and visit the pages for the relevant country on for the latest travel advice.

Whilst you might think that your visit is completely harmless and not political or controversial, it might not be in the eyes of others, so think very carefully about how your visit might leave you open to unwanted attention. For example, are you meeting with people from the government, or a local business? Could this be an issue?

It might sound obvious, but you must make sure that all of your necessary documentation is correct before travelling. Of course your passport must be valid and up to date, but note that some countries demand that passports are at least six months away from their expiry date. Also, make sure that your visas are in order, and that your driving licence is valid for the country you are travelling to if you plan on driving whilst there. You should take copies of all of your important documents, and also store them online using a secure data storage site. Additionally, you should keep your documents separate from your money.

You should complete the necessary courses of vaccinations for the country prior to travelling and have comprehensive travel insurance that includes emergency medical repatriation. Travelling can expose you to a number of health risks, with illness and injury being among the most common problems experienced whilst travelling abroad. However, many of these risks can be prevented by taking necessary precautions before, during and after travel. So, as well as the above, get a check up before you travel, get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), exercise whilst on long-haul flights to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), avoid eating salads whilst abroad, drink bottled water, wash your hands frequently, and pack insect repellent and anti-malaria tablets.

Make sure you have enough cash and ways to access money whilst overseas, check that your bank or credit cards haven't expired or don't expire whilst you are away, and notify your bank and credit card companies before travelling, as they monitor bank accounts and credit cards for unusual usage, whether they are personal or business accounts. Only take valuables with you if they are essential, and if so plan how you will keep them safe and secure. Finally, it might help you to know a few key phrases in the local language, so perhaps buy a phrase book before your trip.

Things to remember at the airport

Nobody particularly enjoys going through airport security, but it is essential to protect all air travellers from real and potential threats. The airport is one of the most vulnerable parts of travelling. Whilst it can be stressful, preparation can help to reduce that stress.

Before travelling, check the website of the airline you are travelling with and be aware of their guidelines and how they apply them in the country you are going to visit. There are some general principles which can be applied to most airport visits, for example wear shoes that are easy to take on and off as you may be required to take off your footwear.

There are also restrictions concerning what liquids and gels can be taken on planes in carry-on-bags, which are quite standard across the globe. Currently, individual containers cannot be larger than 100ml and must be stored in a transparent re-sealable plastic bag that is no larger than one litre. This is to prevent liquid explosives disguised as everyday items such as toothpaste or hair gel being carried on board planes. Medicines that do not comply with these rules should be placed in a transparent bag, and prescribed medications should be kept in their original packaging with a note from your doctor bearing their signature and a formal letterhead. Certain items, such as sharp objects, are not allowed on planes.

Be vigilant and aware about who is around you when you are checking in, either in the UK or abroad. Think about what information you are revealing and to whom. For example, don't leave tags on your luggage displaying your name, address, phone number and a host of other information – just keep the information you have on display to the absolute minimum required, such as a mobile number. This doesn't just apply at the airport, but throughout your time travelling. Don't leave personal information on your belongings, remove any name badges you might be wearing after meetings, and just use your initials when you can rather than your full name.

Take the same level of care with your possessions, both at the airport and whilst abroad. So, make sure that your bags are zipped up or locked if possible, keep hold of them at all times, have your documents and money ready so that you don't have to open your bags in public, and always be conscious of "distraction theft". This is where one person distracts you, for example by asking you directions or for help, whilst another person steals from your pockets or your bags.

If you are being met at the airport, request full details about the company, the name and a photo of the driver, and details about the car that you are being collected in.

Hotel security

When choosing a hotel to stay in during an abroad visit, try to select one with modern electronic guest room locks that use security card keys rather than hard keys, as these systems usually automatically change the lock combination every time there is a new guest. Of course, even with this system, people may still be able to access your room, but it is much simpler to do this with hard keys because it is easy to make a copy of a hard key.

If possible, try to get a hotel room that is higher than the first two floors, as most thefts from hotels occur on these two floors. For women travelling on business, some hotels have "women only" floors, which is worth asking about. Also, try to stay below the seventh floor, as if there is a hotel fire, many fire engines ladders cannot reach higher than the sixth floor. On the subject of fires, you should only use hotels with fire safety precautions installed, such as sprinklers and smoke alarms, and make sure you know your escape route in case of fire. You should also keep a torch by the side of your bed in case there is a power cut.

Make sure the door to your hotel room has a "peep hole" so that you can see who is knocking on your door before opening it, and that it has no connecting door to a neighbouring room. Also, make sure your windows and any balcony doors are secure, and check the room for intruders before you lock yourself in – including behind curtains, doors and inside wardrobes and the bathroom. When staying in a hotel you should always keep your room tidy, so that if anyone does break into your room and steal anything you will notice immediately.

If you want to stay fit whilst travelling abroad, choose a hotel with a gym or a pool, as it is safer to use than it is to go for a jog in an unfamiliar area.

Getting around

Travelling alone is by its nature more risky that travelling as a pair or in a group and can sometimes be riskier for a woman to travel alone depending on the country being travelled to and their laws, culture and religion. Women travelling alone for business can often experience more problems than men and can be subject to second class treatment, intimidation and even sexual harassment. Many women travelling abroad on business choose to wear a wedding ring, regardless of whether or not they are married, to try to discourage unwanted attention from men. However, apart from this you should try to keep jewellery to an absolute minimum, so as not to advertise yourself as wealthy and a target for theft. The same applies with clothing and luggage – expensive looking clothes and luggage suggests that you are wealthy, and therefore makes you a target, so take plain looking suitcases and clothing. Try and stay below the radar and not make yourself stand out.

Be careful about what you are saying and to who, as you never know who might be listening. You should avoid talking about your business and travel plans in public and do not tell people about what your movements are going to be. When getting around abroad, always plan your journey in advance so that you know where you are going. You should always try to avoid travelling alone at night, or in quiet or poorly lit areas, so make sure you know the last times of local transport services. Definitely avoid isolated and badly lit alleyways, parks and subways. If you require a taxi, only use a reputable, registered one; pre-book if possible rather than just jumping into one in the street. Keep the hotel's business card and enough money for a cab on you at all times, and have your ticket and money ready so that you don't have to get your purse or wallet out.

In fact, it can be a very good idea to carry a "fake wallet" or "fake purse" with you. This can be an old wallet or purse that you don't use anymore, or a cheap one that you buy specifically for this purpose, containing a few out of date credit cards and a small amount of money. If you then find yourself in a situation where you are being forced to hand over your wallet or purse, such as a mugging, then you can hand this over instead.

Whilst chatting on the phone or listening to music can help to relieve some of the loneliness you might be feeling, it also means that you might not be alert as you otherwise might be, and can therefore not hear any potential threats approaching you. When abroad, you need to keep your wits about you.

Risk of kidnap

A key risk that people travelling on business face is the risk of kidnap, particularly people representing multi-national companies. The UK government has a policy of refusing to pay ransoms so as not to encourage other hostage takers, and international rules say that the government of the country where the kidnapping has taken place is responsible for resolving it.

Employers should therefore consider taking out Kidnap and Ransom insurance if employees are travelling to areas where kidnapping is more commonplace, such as the Middle East, Latin America and parts of Asia. Employers should also brief their staff on how to avoid kidnap and what to do in the worst case scenario. In particularly risky areas, businesses should consider hiring security consultants to protect their employees, and to help them if any problems arise.

You should always check the identity of anyone you are meeting, but there are many important things to remember when travelling overseas in cars. So, you should:

  • plan your route carefully and know where you are going
  • vary your route so that you don't travel the same way at the same time every day
  • keep the car doors locked and windows closed, especially when stopped in traffic
  • drive away quickly if approached whilst stopped
  • if being followed, drive to the nearest police station or hotel and get the car registration number
  • leave a gap to manoeuvre of half a car's length in slow moving or stopped traffic
  • go to a police station if rammed by another car – don't stop to exchange details
  • if feeling threatened, lock yourself in the car and use the car's horn to attract attention


Following the advice set out in this guide will help to reduce some of the risks businesses and their employees face whilst travelling abroad. Kingdom offers global travel advice and business travel management consultancy services designed to ensure business representatives are fully prepared, and appropriate travel measures are in place to support them. In addition to providing assurance to the individual, Kingdom's services help ensure companies meet their duty of care obligation. For more information, contact Kingdom on 0845 051 7702 or visit

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