Living Outside the U.S.

The following guidelines cannot guarantee your safety, but they will lower the risk that you or a member of your family will become a victim of either terrorists or criminals during your foreign assignment. Although spouses and children are seldom targeted by terrorists, they should follow the same procedures you do. Security is a family concern, not just your concern. Many of these procedures are intended for use in areas where the terrorist threat level is moderate to high, but they can be useful no matter where your duties take you. The goal is for you to be less visible to terrorists and criminals and less vulnerable to their attack.

The entire family should maintain a low profile by dressing and behaving in a manner that blends in with the local environment. Don't look like a "rich American." Avoid clothing or behavior that make you stand out as an American or that is offensive to the local culture. For example wearing shorts is offensive in some countries. In some cultures, a public display of affection is highly offensive.

Don't share personal information about yourself, your family, or your work with anyone you do not know well. Be careful of what local nationals can overhear as you talk in a restaurant, hotel, or airport. Do not assume that the local national sitting nearby can't understand English. 

The harder it is for a terrorist or criminal to predict your schedule, the more difficult it will be for a terrorist to take action against you. Vary the time of your departure and your route to and from work. If you have an exercise routine involving walking or jogging, change times and routes frequently to frustrate attempts to discover a predictable schedule. Write down license numbers of suspicious vehicles and note descriptions of occupants. 

Be aware of small but potentially significant changes in your surroundings. Study the normal pattern of activity near your home and office. Note and report anyone who does not appear to belong there or who acts suspiciously. Are any local national employees in your household or office suddenly acting differently toward you, or toward all Americans? Is an area of town that is normally busy suspiciously empty? It may be a clue that the local population knows, or senses, that something bad is going to happen there.

If you or any member of your family is evacuated from a building due to a bomb threat, remember this. After evacuating, stay out of the parking lot and at least 600 feet away from the building and parking lot. If the terrorist goal is to kill people, not just destroy the building, a second bomb may be placed outside in a parked vehicle, dumpster, or trash can. It may be intended to kill the people who evacuated the building.

The following standard operations security (OPSEC) procedures can make it harder for terrorists to obtain the information they need to plan an operation against you.

  • Never put your name on a mailbox or exterior walls of your residence.
  • Never answer your home telephone with name and rank.
  • Consider the use of an unlisted phone number.
  • Never give family information to strangers.
  • Be discrete in discussing travel or other plans that indicate when your residence will be vacant.
  • When you are away from your residence, use timers to turn lights on and off at varying times and locations.
  • Destroy all trash that could become a source of information about you.
  • Treat with suspicion any inquiries about the whereabouts or activities of other family members.

Family and Home Security Practices

You and all family members residing abroad should become familiar with the customs, culture, history, and geography of the area to which you are assigned. This should include learning at least a few phrases in the country's language for emergency use. Know how to ask for the police and for medical care. Anyone who can't speak the local language should considering carrying small cards with emergency phrases printed on them, such as "I need a policeman, or a doctor."

The entire family should practice these basic security precautions:

  • "Check in" with coworkers, friends, and family to let them know when and where you are and when to expect you back
  • Learn to use the local phone system and memorize emergency numbers for police, fire, doctor, and the nearest U.S. diplomatic or military installation.
  • Know the locations of police and fire stations, the U.S. embassy or any other safe public place where refuge or assistance may be found.
  • Develop and practice emergency procedures in the home (fire, bomb, evacuation, etc.)
  • Never admit strangers to the home without proper identification.
  • Restrict the possession of house keys. Change locks if keys are lost or stolen and when moving into a previously occupied residence.
  • Lock all entrances at night, including the garage. Keep the house locked even when you are at home.
  • Do not draw attention to yourself in the neighborhood. Be considerate of neighbors and develop friendly relations with them.
  • Children should use locally approved play areas where recreational activities are supervised by responsible adults and where police protection is readily available.
  • Teach children to be on guard against any approach or questioning by strangers.
  • Advise school officials that children cannot be released to strangers under any circumstance.

Domestic Employees

Whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so, domestic employees should be checked with local authorities to ensure they do not have criminal backgrounds or suspected associations with terrorist groups. Do not discuss travel plans or sensitive topics within hearing range of domestic employees, even if you do not think they understand English. Do discuss with employees what you expect them to do to protect the security of the residence and the safety of all family members. Tell them how to contact you, the installation where you work, the American Embassy, or local authorities in case of emergency.

If you treat your domestic employees fairly and give them presents or gratuities according to local customs, they will generally be loyal to you.




The Chroma Group, Ltd.