Amid all the excitement of prepping for your travel abroad adventures to teach English, it’s normal to feel a little apprehension.
Getting used to a new culture, making new friends from scratch and starting a new job are all big undertakings in their own right. Even more so when you’re doing all three at once, on your own.
For solo female travelers, especially, staying safe while teaching English abroad can be a concern. That is not to say that solo travel is automatically dangerous!
Every year, many female TEFL teachers move to countries all over the world and have safe, positive experiences.
But in a new environment, where you may or may not speak the language or understand the culture, taking extra steps to stay safe makes sense.
Taking a few simple precautions (as you probably already do at home) can help you avoid danger and get the most out of your overseas experience.
Choosing where to teach English abroad as a solo female traveler
Each country has its pros and cons and it’s impossible to say that you can have an entirely safe (or entirely dangerous) experience as a solo female traveler in any destination.
Here are some different safety factors to consider in some of the most popular destinations to teach abroad in 2022:
- South Korea
Staying safe in Spain
Spain is generally considered a safe country to travel in, ranking as 29 out of 83 countries on the 2022 Global Peace Index, with a high level of societal safety and security.
Even so, it is still wise to take basic safety precautions when traveling in Spain, especially in large cities.
Madrid and Barcelona neighbourhoods can vary, so make sure you do your research before visiting.
Barcelona, especially, has a reputation as the “Pickpocket Capital” of the world.
To reduce risk, leave your valuables in a safe place at home, only carry essentials in a secure bag when you are out, and pay extra attention to your bag when you are near major tourist attractions and on busy public transport.
In general, public transport and taxis are safe ways to travel. But, as Spanish nightlife can continue well into the small hours if you’re going out at night time, make sure you have a plan to get home safely.
Staying safe in Japan
Japan is considered an extremely safe country ranking 10 on the 2022 Global Peace Index and comes in third place out of all countries for societal safety and security.
Although Japan has a low crime rate, crimes still do occur. Foreign females can also be the target of attention, even if it is often well-meaning and friendly.
One way to mitigate this is to pay attention to how locals behave and make an effort to blend in, by dressing similarly, for example.
Cities in Japan are generally clean and safe but it is still a good idea to take care of yourself at night, and on the transport system.
Many trains and buses provide women-only cars during rush hour to prevent harassment.
On a more practical level, language barriers and extensive transport networks can make travel confusing and it is easy to get lost, especially in major cities like Tokyo.
Travel with a map, and be prepared to order a taxi in case of emergencies.
Staying safe in Vietnam
Vietnamese cities are big and busy, but generally safe.
If a crime does occur it’s likely to be petty theft like pickpocketing, which can sometimes happen as an opportunist thief whizzes past on a scooter.
Reduce the risk by leaving valuables at home and carrying a secure bag on you.
Speaking of motorbikes, this popular mode of transport can be a great way to get around in Vietnam but make sure you wear a helmet.
Transport scams can also be a risk to watch out for, so make sure you use a taxi app or a reputable taxi company to avoid being taken off course and overpaying.
Residents in some parts of Vietnam can be conservative and traditional. Pay attention to how people dress so that you can blend in, especially if visiting pagodas and temples. Finally, make sure to drink bottled, boiled or purified tap water.
Staying safe in Dubai
Dubai was recently voted the third safest city for female travelers, and it is true that theft and violent crimes are extremely rare.
That is because the UAE is a country that takes laws seriously, and as a visitor, it’s in your interest to do the same. There are rules banning drinking alcohol in public, public displays of affection, and homosexuality in place in Dubai, among others.
When out in public, it is also a good idea to pay attention to local dress codes: bikinis are fine on the beach but be prepared to dress more modestly elsewhere.
Busses, taxis, and metros in Dubai are all generally safe for female travelers.
Staying safe in South Korea
South Korea is a generally safe country with a low crime rate. It ranks 12th among all countries on the 2022 Global Peace Index for societal safety and security.
Public transport systems are safe and inexpensive, and it is also relatively safe to walk around cities, even at night. You should still use your best judgement and stick to well-lit, busy areas.
In large cities like Seoul, neighbourhoods can vary so it’s a good idea to do your research before you visit. South Korean drinking culture is robust so, if you’re going out partying at night, make sure you have a safe way home.
It’s also worth being aware that South Korea is rooted in its patriarchal culture. Although this doesn’t present a direct risk in itself, attitudes towards women might not be what you expect. As always, observing others is a good way to gauge appropriate behaviour.
As South Korea is becoming a popular destination for international travel, the multi-lingual 1330 Korea Travel Helpline can offer assistance, advice and emergency aid at any time of day or night in Korean, Japanese, English, and Chinese.
What’s it like as a POC teaching and traveling abroad? Read what ESL teacher Lea Martin learned and what her experience as an older Black female living and working abroad has been like.
General tips for staying safe as a solo female traveler
Wherever you go as a solo female traveler, there are general precautions you can take to protect yourself.
Here are some tips that will help you, no matter where you are in the world:
Make copies of your documents so that if they get lost you have a backup.
Dress like the locals to draw less attention to yourself.
Don’t flaunt your valuables and keep them in a secure bag when you are in public.
Do your research. Online groups can be a great source of local info from other female travellers.
Know where to go for help. In a pinch, local hotels will often have an English speaker.
Share your itinerary or location so that someone knows where you are.
Avoid walking alone at night.
Save your Google maps offline and write down your address in case you lose signal.
Buddy up with other travelers for safety in numbers.
Ultimately, using your best judgement and avoiding unnecessary risks are the best way to protect yourself as a solo traveler.
Doing so might mean taking a little extra care during your travels, but the extra effort is worth it if it means you can stay safe and make the most of your overseas experience.