Issue: September 2014


Personal Safety During Earthquakes- Dealing With Customs Requirements


How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy While Traveling - From the Assist America Case Files


How to Recover Quicker from Jet Lag - International Roaming: Using Your Mobile Phone in Other Countries

Regional Information

Africa - East Asia - Europe - Near East
South Asia - Western Hemisphere


Personal safety during earthquakes [Back to Top]

An earthquake is a sudden shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth's surface. Earthquakes can cause buildings and bridges to collapse, telephone and power lines to fall, and result in fires, explosions, and landslides.  It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year, 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage. Since earthquakes can happen anywhere, at any time, it's important to be aware of how to keep yourself safe should one strike.

During an Earthquake
• Stay inside until the shaking stops. Most injuries during earthquakes occur when people are hit by falling objects when entering or exiting buildings.
• Drop, cover, and hold on. Minimize your movements during an earthquake; move quickly to get to the nearest safe place, then stay there.
• If you are indoors, take cover under a sturdy desk, table or bench, or against an inside wall. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors or walls and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture. If you are in bed, stay there, and protect your head with a pillow; leave the bed if you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall.
• If you are not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. Do not seek shelter in a doorway unless you know that it is a strongly supported load-bearing doorway.
• If you are outdoors, stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
• If you are in a crowded indoor public location:
--Stay where you are. Do not rush for the doorways.
--Move away from tall objects that may fall.
--Take cover and grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.
--Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
--DO NOT use elevators. If you must go out after an earthquake, watch for fallen objects, downed electrical wires, and weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.
• If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly and safely as possible, and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, or utility wires. After the quake, proceed cautiously, watching for road and bridge damage.
• If you become trapped in debris:
--Do not light a match.
--Do not move about or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
--Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Shout only as a last resort, as shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

After an Earthquake
• Be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shock waves are usually less violent than the main quake, but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures.
• Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they're in immediate danger of death or further injury. If you must move an unconscious person, first stabilize the neck and back, then call for help immediately.
• If the electricity goes out, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns. Do not use candles, matches, or open flames indoors after the earthquake because of possible gas leaks.
• Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass.
• Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids. Evacuate the building if gasoline or other fumes are detected and the building is not well-ventilated. Ventilate by opening windows and doorways to the outside.
• Visually inspect utility lines and appliances for damage.
--If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Shut off the main gas valve if it is outside. Report the leak to the gas company from the nearest working phone or mobile phone. Stay out of the building. Always turn off the gas before you turn off the electricity.
--Switch off electrical power at the main fuse box or circuit breaker if electrical damage is suspected.
--Shut off the water supply at the main valve if interior water pipes are damaged. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
• Use the phone only to report life-threatening emergencies. Listen to news reports for the latest emergency information.
• Stay off the streets. If you must go out, watch for fallen objects, downed electrical wires, and weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks.
• Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations.


When a customs officer stops a traveler for a customs examination, it doesn't necessarily mean that the traveler is suspected of unlawful activity. Customs agents do look for—and search—certain prototypes of possible lawbreakers, but agents also select travelers at random for customs searches.  Agents also typically enforce hundreds of laws for other government agencies, covering narcotics, plant and animal trade rules, import/export duties and other taxes, and prohibited or restricted items.

Be aware of import and export restrictions before you appear in front of a customs agent. General customs information is most easily obtained by visiting the website for customs and immigration for the particular country the traveler intends to visit, and sometimes through the consulate or state department of that country as well.  For example, Japan prohibits the importation of certain over-the-counter medicines, such as Tylenol Cold, Sudafed, and Nyquil, even for personal use, because they exceed that country's legal limits of narcotic or stimulant ingredients. It is best for a traveler to visit one's doctor several months in advance to have the physician request permission on his/her letterhead from the country's health ministry to obtain permission for any necessary medications, whether generic or prescription, including psychiatric prescriptions.

Other than prohibited items, the biggest entry/exit issues most travelers face is import/export duties and other taxes, many of which may come as a complete surprise. For example, when you are returning to the US, a US customs officer may demand to see proof of purchase of an expensive camera, necklace, laptop, or other item that you bought before you left home. The officer may suspect you bought the item during travel. Lacking proof of purchase, you may end up paying to get the item back into the country. To minimize these kinds of issues, many countries require you to register these types of items before you leave home. Contact the consulate of each country you plan to visit for further details. A registration form for those returning to the US can be found at the US Customs and Border Protection's website

When you return to your country, you will typically be required to fill out a customs declaration form, on which you should list all major items purchased or obtained during your trip. These can include gifts or other items you did not pay for yourself. A certain portion of the purchases is exempt from duties; for example, the first $800 USD of value, or a certain number of bottles of alcoholic beverages. You will be required to pay duties (taxes) on items that exceed the duty-free limits.

Business Travelers - Traveling with Samples

Business travelers carrying commercial goods or samples may need to obtain permits for their goods, regardless of value. Documents known as carnets may be obtained for temporary duty-free entry of goods, such as commercial samples, jewelry, goods for international exhibitions, equipment for sporting events, professional television and film equipment, etc. Carnets are international customs documents that simplify customs procedures for the temporary importation of various types of goods. For application details, contact the International Chamber of Commerce (



Taking care of your eyes is especially important when traveling.  How do you protect your eyes from the elements?  How can you treat common eye conditions, and how can you recognize symptoms that require prompt medical attention?  Here is some important information to help keep your eyes healthy on the road.

Sun Exposure
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, exposure to sunlight may increase the risk of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eye growths such as cancer.  To protect your eyes when traveling, follow these simple hints:

• Be sure to buy 97% -100% UVA and UVB  sunglasses
• Know that color and darkness of the lens are not indicators of the degree of protection
• Choose wrap-around styles that block the sun from the side
• Wear a broad-brimmed hat
• Be aware of cloudy days when the sun's rays can deceptively pass through clouds
• Be especially careful between 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and when you are at higher altitudes
• Don't look directly at the sun
• Use eye protection all year

Dry Eyes
Even people who don't normally suffer from dry eyes can be affected by low humidity, both indoors and outside.  Indoors, consider airplanes and hotels, where heating and air circulation systems drain moisture from the air.  Visitors to arid and/or windy climates such as deserts and mountains can also suffer from dry eyes, as tears evaporate more rapidly in low-humidity environments.

To help combat irritation from dry eyes, follow these tips:

• For temporary relief and to replace natural tear production, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends using artificial tears or other over-the-counter remedies that are easily available. Avoid artificial tears with preservatives if you need to apply them more than four times a day and preparations with chemicals that cause blood vessels to constrict, advises NIH.
• Just as for sun damage, glasses or sunglasses that fit close to the face, such as wrap-arounds or glasses with side shields will help protect your eyes from dry air and wind.  
• If you're in a hotel, ask for a humidifier in your room to add moisture to the air.
• Turn off the air conditioning/heating system in your hotel room whenever possible, especially at bed time.

Conjunctivitis is a common condition that affects the inside lining of the eye.  Symptoms may be swollen or red/pink eyes.  Typically there are three types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial and allergic.  Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, but usually clears up on its own within two weeks of onset.  Bacterial conjunctivitis often affects children, and may last up to three weeks, while allergic conjunctivitis responds to treatment with allergy medications.

Itchy Eyes
Itchy eyes may be the result of conjunctivitis or allergy.  Allergic reactions occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen.  Even if you're not allergic at home, when you're traveling, you may be exposed to different types of foliage and other possible irritants that may cause an allergic reaction.

Many types of oral antihistamines and eye drops to relieve redness and itching are available over the counter.  Check with a pharmacist for recommendations about which medication may be best for you. For relief of more severe symptoms, see your doctor.

When To Seek Emergency Treatment
Eye emergencies requiring medical attention include cuts, scratches, objects in the eye, and blunt injuries to the eye or eyelid.  To avoid possible loss of vision, it's important to seek emergency treatment if any of the following symptoms appear:

• Eye pain accompanied by redness
• Nausea or headache with eye pain
• Change in vision such as blurring or double vision
• Bleeding or other discharge
• A scratch, cut, or penetration of the eyeball

Symptoms of a possible detached retina, requiring prompt medical treatment, include:

• Bright flashes of light, especially in peripheral vision
• Blurred vision
• Floaters in the eye
• Shadow or blindness in a part of the eye's visual field  


Car accident in Montana

Don was traveling from his home in Colorado to Montana for business.  The area had experienced a lot of rain in the previous days.  While driving at a high speed, Don hit a large slick spot on the road, causing his truck to skid and flip four times. Emergency responders arrived shortly after.  Due to the damage caused by the accident, Don had to be cut out of his truck.  Fortunately, Don's injuries were not life threatening—however, he had a fractured collar bone, fractured ribs and a dislocated neck. 

Don's employer called Assist America for help.  Assist America's medical team immediately consulted directly with the treating physicians at the hospital and reviewed Don's medical records.  They initiated medical monitoring and after a few days in the hospital, it was determined that Don would have to be transported to a rehabilitation facility.

Once Don was ready for discharge, Assist America arranged and paid for Don to be transported by air ambulance to a rehabilitation facility near his home.  Don was grateful he did not have to worry about how he would get home and could focus on his recovery.

*name changed for privacy

Member's comment:

"Thank you for all you did to ensure my comfort and safety home."


how to recover quicker from jet lag [Back to Top]

If you traveled to a different time zone recently, you may have noticed several signs that your internal clock needed to adjust to your new settings.  Insomnia, fatigue, lack of appetite or an overwhelming appetite at the wrong time may be signs that you are experiencing jet lag.

Here are some tips that will help your body settle in and reset its clock faster during travel:

1. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine as they can contribute to dehydration.  If you are dehydrated, you will feel fatigued and may not have the energy you need to stay awake and alert through the day so you can rest properly at night.

2. Prepare. If you are arriving at your destination in the early morning, sleep on the plane so that you are rested, awake and fresh upon arrival. Prepare a "sleep kit" to take on the plane and include ear plugs, eye shield, head phones (noise cancelling), and comfortable slippers or slip on shoes. Request a window seat and pillow, then recline and relax.  If you are arriving at your destination in the evening, stay awake on the plane so that your natural tendency to sleep at night will not be uninterrupted.  Take plenty of music, magazines, books and other materials to keep you occupied and awake during the flight.

3. Exercise. Exercise in the morning and expose yourself to sunlight, which will help reset your internal clock. Try a brisk walk or visit your hotel's fitness facility and walk on the treadmill.

4. Meals. Eat smaller meals throughout the day. If dinnertime falls in the middle of the night in your new time zone, keep a snack by your bedside.

5. Work/Activities. If your trip is fairly short in duration, schedule your meetings according to your home time zone. If the new time zone is 2 hours ahead of home, schedule late morning or afternoon meetings so that you'll be alert.


When preparing for a trip abroad, it's important to take a few minutes and find out what your cell phone's capabilities will be in the places you'll be traveling and what fees you may incur. A little preparation pre-trip can go a long way to making sure you are able to use your phone during your travels and that you won't run into some very unwanted and unexpected charges when you get back home. Here are some tips to consider:

Before you travel abroad, find out if your mobile phone will work. Mobile telephone networks differ from country to country, and your phone may be incompatible with the networks where you are visiting. Also, if your phone works for voice calls, some other functions - such as sending and receiving mobile data or text messaging - might not work. Check with your mobile service provider before you depart.

Check your roaming rates before traveling. For most U.S. customers, domestic service plans do not cover usage abroad. Rates may be much higher because of additional roaming fees on foreign mobile networks and may vary from country to country or network to network. Higher rates may apply to all of your phone's functions, including voice calls, voice mail, text messages, and Internet access. Ask your service provider about available options.

Roaming is complicated. Take time to understand all the rules and rates before you travel. Advance preparation can prevent disappointments such as lack of service or unexpectedly high charges on your next bill.

Research Other Options
• If you're a frequent international traveler, consider buying a "world phone" that will work anywhere. Check with your provider for more information.
• If your phone is capable, consider buying a "SIM" card (the removable card used by some mobile handsets containing subscriber data and the phone's number) with a local number in the country you're visiting, effectively turning the handset into a local phone.  You could also rent an inexpensive handset for the country you'll be visiting. You can rent it before you leave home or when you get to your destination.
• You may save money by purchasing a calling card overseas.
• You may be able to rely entirely on wireline phones and wireline Internet access, perhaps including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling. And by making mobile VoIP calls with your smartphone, you also may avoid voice roaming charges.
• If you have a smartphone, uploading/downloading data using a Wi-Fi hotspot rather than a foreign mobile network may avoid data roaming charges. Use free Wi-Fi hotspots whenever possible. Check with your provider about Internet applications using Wi-Fi that may save you money.

More Quick Tips for Mobile Phone Use Abroad
• Your provider may have a plan to cover mobile service outside of the U.S. Check before you travel.
• Turn off automatic downloads. Some phones and data services will automatically download data while the phone is on. Check with your provider or your phone's manufacturer to learn how to disable these automatic downloads.
• Do not call mobile to mobile within foreign hotels. Use the hotel phones.  Most hotels don't charge for incoming wireline calls, so pre-arrange a time to be in your hotel room for an incoming call from home.
• If you have an option of contacting someone in the country you're visiting at either a wireline or mobile number, call the wireline. It's likely to be cheaper.
• Be aware of the emergency calling number in the country you're visiting. If you rely on VoIP services, note they often lack some of the emergency calling features of a regular telephone, so be informed about these differences as well.

For the latest, up-to-date information regarding key regions, click on the links below:







Sources for this document include, but are not limited to:  iJet,,, and

For pre-trip information: Assist America members may directly access travel information via the Assist America website, Log in using your Assist America ID/Reference number.

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