Be sure to know before you go

28th September 2001 at 01:00
It's a sensitive time to travel abroad, so planning is more important than ever, writes Jill Parkin

Working abroad may not seem like the sunniest option right now, with the tension following the terrorist attacks in the USA. The Foreign Office is advising British citizens abroad to keep a low profile and stay up to date with the news and changing guidelines.

Britons have also been told to leave Afghanistan and not to travel to Pakistan. Those in the border areas of Pakistan are being advised to leave and others are asked to "consider whether it is necessary for them to stay".

Yet working abroad is still an exciting prospect for many teachers. Preparation - and close attention to the FO's slogan Know Before You Go - will almost certainly see you through.

If you have taken a job through an organisation such as the British Council (the Central Bureau); the European Council of International Schools or the League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers, you'll get plenty of help. If not, there's still a lot you can do to help yourself. Your first port of call should be the Foreign Office website (www.fco.gov.uk). As well as being up to the minute, it has country-specific advice. The Department of Health (www.doh.gov.uktraveladvice) is a good source of medical information, including vaccinations, which you'll need at least six weeks before you go.

When buying a guidebook, check that it has a comprehensive section on laws and customs, vital if you're not simply confined to tourist areas where more liberal codes have often developed.

Laws and customs vary. So does the treatment of offenders. In Islamic countries, you must be careful not to offend dress codes and to abide by laws affecting sex, alcohol and drugs. Hobbies such as birdwatching and trainspotting - anything with binoculars or cameras - can be misunderstood. You might even be arrested on suspicion of spying.

If you're on an exchange with another teacher, swap useful information in advance. It's handy to have local maps, timetables, price lists and some handy tips about local customs.

Checklist for travellers

* Check what visas and workpermits you need

* Get insured: baggage and medical. You need a valid passport for the duration of your trip. Keep a note of the number and leave a photocopy with a friend in the UK

* Keep another form of ID with you

* Make sure your credit card is valid in your destination country and leave a spare credit card with a friend in the UK

* Find out whether your driving licence is valid in the country where you will be working

* Check on your pension options in your new job

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