While trans students, gender non-conforming students, and cisgender students may face different challenges and uncertainties when deciding to study away or abroad, there are also many benefits and opportunities all students may enjoy. It is important to research the culture of the country you are headed to in order to better prepare and adjust to any cultural differences. Make sure you utilize the advice of people who have been to your country before, they are great resources to learn more about what to expect. Studying away or abroad can be a great time to learn about gender identity across the world and forge connections and alliances across cultural barriers.

Trans Identities and Gender Non-Conforming Identities While Away and Abroad 

UCSC Global Learning recognizes that concerns around safety particularly for trans communities often go unacknowledged. Airports can be particularly difficult for individuals whose presentations are perceived to not match the “M” or “F” on their passport. Immersion in a culture different from one’s upbringing can be difficult without the resources from home to make a validating and safer space. Many trans students and gender non-conforming students must think about questions such as:

  • Will I have access to gender-neutral bathrooms, and if not, which bathroom will I get least into trouble for using?
  • If I am currently transitioning with the aid of hormones, can I take the medical equipment that I need with me abroad? How should I go around getting proof of this and prepare for the airport departure?
  • Should I correct people when they get my pronouns wrong? How do I translate my pronouns into the host country’s local language?
  • What should I do if the gender on my passport and birth certificate are different?
  • Will there be local LGBT groups, and how encompassing are they of the “T”?
  • How likely is it that will I be perceived as who I am in my host community?
  • Can I request to be placed in a homestay that is welcoming of my identity, or can I find my own housing? Will I have assistance with this?
  • Will I experience discrimination in the country I study in? Who can I talk to about it if I do?
  • Are there additional funding sources that I can look into?

UCSC Global Learning can help answer some of these questions and offer support for students who are concerned about their safety and well-being prior to studying abroad/away. Inform yourself about your host country’s culture around gender beyond government-enforced policies. Although national laws can reflect a cultural attitude towards transgender communities, it is helpful to surround yourself with people who will not interrogate you about your gender identity. We can help you understand the resources and groups available to you in your host country. While you shouldn’t let these obstacles stop you from traveling the world, you don’t have to compromise your dignity and security if you feel a certain program doesn’t have the resources for you to thrive as a trans person or gender non-conforming person.

Health Insurance 

Per the Affordable Health Care Act, all people permanently residing in the U.S. must have domestic health insurance, even while they are out of the country. If you don’t have domestic health insurance, you may be charged a fee. You must continue receiving coverage either by UC Ship or a private health care provider during your time abroad.

International Health Insurance

While you will have a domestic health care coverage plan, you will also have an international health care plan. You will receive international health insurance coverage through UCSC Global Learning or your program provider (depending on the type of program you participate in), but you may also seek supplemental insurance by an international health insurance agency. Any health care needs not met by the international health care plan provided must be paid out of pocket. You should check to see what services may or may not be covered and from there make a decision about what other support you may need to cover your wellness. Do note that your international health care will only cover your health care needs while outside of the U.S.

Types of International Health Insurance Based by Program Provider

Tips on Air Travel offers tips for getting through TSA with resources like the “notification card,” which is a standardized card offered by TSA wherein one can discreetly disclose a health or medically related circumstance to an agent.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) reveals the specific obstacle that transgender people might face during air travel and how to get around them.


The Transgender Law Center and go over specific passport requirements for name change, gender marker change, two-year passports, and which forms to use.

The Department of State has information on two-year passports. “If a physician certifies that your transition is in process, you are eligible for a limited validity two-year passport.  The signed original statement from the attending medical physician must be on office letterhead and include:

  • Physician’s full name
  • Medical license or certificate number
  • Issuing state or other jurisdiction of medical license/certificate

A limited passport book can be extended to the full ten-year validity book with no additional fee by submitting Form DS-5504 within two-years of the passport issue date.”

Trans* Travel Testimonial

“When in the airport, I cannot stress enough the importance of having the name on the airline ticket and the gender on the airline ticket reservation match the traveler’s government photo ID (passport). Both domestically and in international travel, this is what’s most likely to trip up a trans traveler.

Domestically, when my presentation didn’t match my gender marker, I’ve had people stare at my ID for a long time or give me another pat-down because I didn’t fit the scanner’s “ideal” shape for a man or woman. I’ve never had trouble getting on the plane, but my ID always matched the ticket.”

If any time you are feeling unsafe or harassed, be sure to contact your on-site program coordinator immediately, they can offer resources that can offer you greater safety.  

Cisgender Women

Treatment and expectations of women vary greatly from culture to culture and you may encounter restrictions in dress, behavior, and activities. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places around the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel away or abroad. This is not to say that it is more dangerous to be a woman elsewhere in the world. In fact, the incidence of violent crime against women is higher in the U.S. than in many other countries. However, language and cultural differences might mean what you consider appropriate behavior for a woman in the U.S. will be interpreted differently by the people of your host country. This is further compounded by the fact that the people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American films and advertising. The very characteristics of U.S. women such as independence and strength may be perceived differently in other countries. Also, the way women interact with men in the United States may not be as socially acceptable in other countries. What’s considered “being friendly” in the United States could be considered flirting or a sexual invitation in other countries, so make sure to clearly establish behavior that shows you’re not interested.

People react differently to appearances and behaviors they are not accustomed to or that may appear unusual to them. A smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way you carry yourself can connote different things in different cultures. Read travel guides or articles and talk to local women you meet and your program’s administrators about what is considered “appropriate” behavior and dress in order to familiarize yourself with the customs and traditions of your host country. This will help you in understanding why certain traditions exist and the safer you will feel while abroad.

 Some safety suggestions include:

  1. Take a self-defense class before leaving the U.S., to increase your confidence and teach you important skills. UCSC offers a zero-credit pass/no pass self-defense course every term, titled Self Defense Basics so be sure to look for one when you’re registering for classes!
  2. Follow the example of women from your host country, in terms of culturally appropriate dress and demeanor.
  3. Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe in a situation or someone’s behavior is making you uncomfortable, get out.
  4. Travel in groups of at least two, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city or town.
  5. Lock hotel rooms when traveling. Do not stay in hotels without adequate locks. The money you would save is not worth putting yourself at risk.
  6. Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers.
  7. Firmly say “no” to any invitation you do not want and turn away. Ignore persistent overtures.
  8. Do not drink alcohol in excess.

If any time you are feeling unsafe or harassed, be sure to contact your on-site program coordinator immediately, they can offer resources that can offer you greater safety.  

Cisgender Men

While abroad, men might be expected to adopt a more “traditional,” macho attitude toward life and women. For instance, men in some cultures consider people-watching and “catcalling” to women an acceptable pastime. This may be offensive to a student and a difficult role to assume. On the other hand, men may find more discomfort with the open affection between men in many cultures. In some countries, it is not uncommon for heterosexual men to hold hands while walking down the street, or to greet each other with kisses on the cheek. Keep an open mind and do your best to respect the cultural differences, but also trust your instincts.  You should never feel forced to act in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. 

You may be asked by other participants, especially women, to accompany them when going out to crowded places or cultural events.  Be considerate of your fellow participants and help each other to feel safe and comfortable while away or abroad.

Study Abroad or Away Doesn’t Have to be International:
Programs in the U.S.

The U.S. is a country rich in diversity. Did you know that there are also study abroad or away programs in the U.S. to choose from? Such programs include those designed for all UC Students during the academic year: UCDC, UC Sacramento UC Ecology and Natural Reserves Program, and the UC Intercampus Visitor Program. There are also UC Summer Away options offered in the U.S. And lastly, there are some Independent Programs in the U.S., including Spanish Studies Abroad in Puerto Rico. You should definitely check them out! And, if you would like further convincing, feel free to read the article Don’t Study Abroad, Study America

Student Perspectives

Additional Resources

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The UCSC Women’s Center provides support and resources everything from childcare to domestic abuse to legal aid.

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Last modified: May 22, 2024