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Personal / Safety
Keeping yourself and your belongings safe in the UK
Safety (c) Hemera Technologies Inc
Personal attack
Prevent a theft
  After a theft
  Meeting a stranger
  Terrorist attack / war / natural disaster
  Further information


Household Guard (c)
A guard at Buckingham
Palace, London

Although Britain is usually a safe country, there are dangerous situations in daily life which you should try to avoid. Because you are a visitor you may be at greater risk than local people. You may know less about the dangers which local people avoid.

Thieves may target you, thinking that you may be carrying a lot of money and that you are less likely to report a crime quickly. Learn how to be careful so that the chance of this happening to you is reduced, and what to do if you do have this problem.

Attacks can occur sometimes. These could be verbal (unkind words), physical (for example, being hit) or sexual. This section also discusses some of these problems and suggests some ways to reduce the chance of being attacked.

Be on your guard ...

Authors: Fiona Bruce, Jacqui Hames
Publisher: Transworld Publishers
Date: June 2008
A Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do: A Complete Guide to Personal Safety for Women
Author: Kathleen Baty
Publisher: Rodale (US)
Date: August 2004

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How can I reduce the chance of being mugged, attacked or raped?

- Street awareness

When you are walking in the street, appear confident. Some thieves target tourists or strangers.
Do not look lost. Plan your journeys, and carry a map (but avoid studying it too obviously).
Try not to carry items which identify you as a foreign student (eg rucksacks (backpacks) with the name of a language school).
Walk on well-lit roads, especially late at night. Even if you are riding a bicycle, you should try to avoid quiet roads.
Be aware of the people around you (in cars or on bikes as well as other pedestrians). Do not use a personal stereo when by yourself.
Keep away from dangerous areas (ask local people if there are places to avoid).
Ignore rude people who shout abuse at you. Try to avoid gangs and groups of drunken people. Show respect to other people at all times.
Dress sensibly: women are more likely to attracted unwanted attention from men if they dress in a sexy way. It is easier to run away if you are not wearing a tight skirt or high-heeled shoes.

- Alarms

Carry a personal alarm (sometimes known as a rape alarm); keep this in your hand if you think there may be some danger. You can buy a personal alarm online from Locks Online. Alternatively, you can try to find one in a high street shop such as Robert Dyas (in south England only), in an out-of-town do-it-yourself store such as B&Q, or in a student union shop.

If you do not have an alarm, scream if you are scared: you may want to practice doing this. If necessary, run away. Note that it is illegal for you to carry most self defence sprays, or to carry knives or other weapons.

- Buses and trains

Try to sit near other passengers if you are travelling by yourself on public transport. Avoid empty train carriages with noone else or with just one person or one group of people. The lower part of a double-decker bus may be safer than upstairs. Sit close to exits.
Look for the location of passenger alarms when you get onto a train.

- Taxis

If you don't feel safe walking home, use a taxi.
The safest choice is to use a registered taxi (for example a black cab, which can be stopped in the street). If you use a mini-cab, make sure that it is working for a licensed company and that you order it from a booking office. Do not accept a ride from someone who asks you in the street if you need a taxi.
If you want, you can ask your taxi driver not to drive away until you have entered your house safely. Just ask: "Would you mind waiting here until I've gone in?"
For more details about using taxis in the UK, see: Travel/Transport/Taxi.

- Cars

Do not get into a stranger's car.
If someone offers to give you a lift home or to take you out somewhere in a car, don't worry about refusing if you have any doubt about your safety.
You can say something like: "Thank you, but I prefer to walk".

- Pubs and clubs

Do not leave your drink in a pub or club. Ask a friend to watch your drink if you want to dance or go to the bar or toilet.
Someone may try to add drugs or strong alcohol to your drink (this is known as spiking the drink). Sometimes date-rape drugs can be used to make it easier to rape someone (for information about this issue, see:
Avoid arguments or fights. Always show respect to other people, and be prepared to apologise if it will help to calm down a situation.

- Private property

Do not enter someone's private property (for example, their home) unless you feel that you can trust that person. Keep out of a stranger's bedroom.
Depending on the situation, you can say something like: "If you don't mind, I'll wait for you outside" or "I'm afraid that it's time for me to go home" or "Can we go to a pub instead?"
Do not write your first name on your letterbox, so that a stranger doesn't know if there is a man or woman living there.

- Take a photo / send a text

If you have a camera phone you can use this to take a picture, for example:
- a photo of a person you have met for the first time or of someone you are about to let into your home
- a photo of a car / number plate / taxi license number
You can send the photos (and any text you wish to add) to the service described in the following link:
If the person knows that you have done this it may deter that person from attacking you. If you are the victim of an attack, the information you sent can be supplied to the police, even if your phone is stolen.

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How can I reduce the chance of having my money or valuables stolen?

- Hold on to your bag

Women and foreigners are most commonly targeted by thieves (pickpockets). Keep your bag in front of you in crowded areas, with the fastening near your body. Be particularly careful with rucksacks (backpacks) - do not wear them on your back in busy areas. Close your bag securely. Sometimes thieves use knives to get in or to cut straps, but if you keep your bag open they can just use their hands. Pickpockets often hold things so that their hands cannot be seen.

Be careful if anyone push you or try to distract your attention. For example, someone may drop coins on the ground, spill a drink, knock your shoulder, ask you to take a photograph, or ask for directions. Another person may be stealing your things while this is happening. Never allow anyone to distract you while you are taking money out of a cash machine. Thieves often operate in small groups, and may use young children (they have small hands, can easily approach you without you noticing, and it is rare for them to be sent to prison). Thieves often wear caps or coats with hoods to try to avoid being identified on security cameras. If you think someone is acting suspiciously, hold onto your bag and move away quickly.

Be careful in crowded areas: for example, in stations during the rush hours (8-9am, 5-7pm), in busy shopping areas (such as Oxford Street), in tourist areas (such as Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square or Baker Street), in airports and in hotel lobbies. On the London Underground there are most crimes at Victoria, Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, King's Cross and Piccadilly Circus. Be careful in a café, internet café, cinema, pub or other place of entertainment where your attention may not be on your bag - do not leave your bag on the floor.

Do not leave your bag
unattended in a public place, even if you want to go to the toilet. It may be stolen, or if it is considered suspicious it may be destroyed by police.

Don't have your name and address visible on any luggage tags (or on your keys). A thief may read it and target your home while you are travelling.

- Money / jewellery

Try to keep your valuables out of sight.
Be careful if you are wearing jewellery or an expensive watch (someone may try to snatch these from your body).
Be careful after you have used your wallet or purse. Someone may be watching where you put it and may start to follow you.
Be careful after you have withdrawn cash from a bank or cash machine. If possible use a machine which is inside a bank (avoid busy places such as stations).
Do not to carry a lot of cash with you. If you have a bank account, you can use your debit card for most of your shopping.
Use travellers' cheques to carry money from abroad, or transfer money electronically if you have a UK bank account.

Be suspicious of anyone who offers to help you to use a ticket machine or a cash machine. Tell the person you don't want any help.
The safest way of keeping your money is to use a money-belt.
For more details about keeping your money safe, see: Life/Money.

Do not enter your credit card details in an e-mail.
Do not write your credit card details on an internet page which is not secure. If a page is secure, this lock mark should appear at the bottom of your screen: .

- Mobile phones / electronic goods

Keep your mobile phone with you, but be careful about using it in busy places. Thieves sometimes wait outside busy stations or places of entertainment and look for people using phones when they come out. Theft of mobile phones is quite common. Your phone could be taken from your bag, or snatched from your hand or a table.

Make sure that you hold your bag securely and that you are aware of people around you while you are talking on your phone.
If you notice a CCTV (closed circuit television) camera, stand in the view of the camera while you are using your phone.
Note down your mobile phone's 15-digit IMEI number. For details, see: Life/Telephone/Mobile.
Use the security lock on your phone. This will stop someone else from using your phone. This is especially important if you have a mobile phone contract (not a pay-as-you-go phone).
If your phone has been stolen, call 08701 123123 and you can stop it being used by the thief (even if the SIM card is changed). You should do this even if it is a pay-as-you-go phone. For details, see:

Put security marks on your mobile phone, laptop, electronic dictionaries, personal data assistant, camera or other expensive equipment which you carry with you. For details of how to do this, see: Life/Telephone/Mobile.
Avoid using a laptop on trains or in public places.
Make sure that your insurance will cover the cost of replacing any expensive electronic goods which you carry with you.

- PINs

When you use a cash machine, make sure that nobody can see you typing in your PIN (your personal identification number). Do not allow anyone to stand close behind you or to distract you when the card is released by the machine (for example, by dropping something or by tapping your shoulder).
Do not write down your PIN (if you really cannot remember it, write it in a secret way that only you can understand). When the bank sends you a letter telling you your PIN, tear up this piece of paper or store it safely somewhere (never keep this in the same place as your card). When you use a card for the first time, you are usually given the chance to change your number so that you can choose one which you can remember.
If you lose your PIN at the same time as your card, your insurance company may not pay for your losses.

- Locks

Lock your room each time that you leave it. Close all the windows and use window locks if you have them.
Use coin lockers or safety deposit facilities if they are available.
If you ride a bicycle, buy a strong bicycle lock and attach the frame and both wheels to an object which cannot be moved.

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What should I do if my things have been stolen?

- Police

London policeman

It is important to report the theft to the police as soon as possible:
- there is more chance that the thief can be caught (especially if the theft is reported immediately)
- your things can be returned to you if they are found and handed to the police
- your insurance company or bank will not pay you for your loss if you don't report the crime

If you (or someone else) saw your things being taken and the criminal is still there, contact a policeman immediately or phone 999. This number can be called from a public telephone without needing to enter any money.

Otherwise, you can report the crime either by going to your nearest police station. To find your nearest police station, see: Personal/Advice.
You will be given a crime form to complete. You will have to give your UK address and telephone number, the date and time of the theft, the place where it occurred, the type of things stolen, and a full description (mention any security markings or serial numbers, for example your mobile phone's 15-digit IMEI number).
The form will be stamped by the police station. There will be a crime number at the top of the form. You will be given the original copy of the form, and a copy will be kept at the police station.

- Insurance company / bank

If your purse or wallet is stolen and it contains debit cards or credit cards, contact your card providers as soon as possible and cancel your cards. This is easier if you have taken out a card protection service: you can just call one number to cancel your cards (ask your bank if they offer such a service). You should be sent replacement cards within a couple of weeks. Before these arrive, you will need to go to your bank personally to withdraw money. If your cards have been used by the thief, contact the card company to see if you can get this money back. The cards issued by UK banks are normally automatically insured, so you should receive a refund of all or most of the money stolen using the card, unless you have been careless with your PIN. Cards issued by non-UK banks often do not offer this protection.

Report the crime to your insurance company. Check your policy details first to make sure that you are covered. The insurance company may want you to send a copy of the crime form or may ask for the crime number. Do not send the original copy of the form to them: you may need this.

- Mobile phone company

If your mobile phone has been stolen, contact your network provider (see: Life/Telephone) as soon as possible and tell them the phone number and the IMEI number of your stolen phone (for details of IMEI numbers, see: Life/Telephone). The company may be able to block calls made from that phone.

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How can I reduce the chance of having an accident?

Every year some people die because they do not follow the simple advice below:

- Cars

Cross the road at the correct places: for example, at ordinary traffic lights, at a pelican crossing (where you can press a button to change the traffic lights), or at a zebra crossing (where cars are supposed to stop for you). Do not assume that a driver will stop - look at the driver to make sure he/she has seen you and wait for the car to slow down before you cross. If the road is busy, use the road bridge or subway if there is one (in British English a subway is a path under the road for pedestrians, known as an underpass in American English)
Look both ways when you cross the road, both before you cross and while you are crossing. As well as cars, watch out for bicycles, motor cycles, trams and buses. Do not cross if you can hear or see a police car or ambulance.
Wear a seatbelt whenever you are in a car, in a back seat or a front seat.

- Trains

Do not walk across or touch railway lines. Live railway lines will kill you.
Stay well back from the edge of the platform. Each year some people fall onto the track or are hit by a train coming into the platform.
Be careful if you are wearing loose clothing or a scarf or tie to make sure that this is not caught in the train doors.
Do not walk through an underground train while it is moving.

- Bicycles

Make sure that you use both front and rear lights if you ride a bicycle at night.
Don't ride on the pavement or side-by-side with other friends on the road.
Use your arms to signal clearly when you are turning.
For more details about bicycle safety, see: Travel/Transport/Bicycle.

- Gas

Make sure that any gas appliances in your home (for example: boilers, fires or cookers) are safe.
For details, see: Life/Accommodation/Guide.

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What can I do to improve safety when I meet someone?

If possible, tell someone when you are going out, where you are going, who you are meeting and when you expect to return. People may worry if you go away unexpectedly. Be especially careful when meeting someone for the first time. Arrange to meet in a public place, ideally in daylight. If possible, take a friend with you.

Be careful about who you give your personal details. Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address can be used to contact you. Only give these details to someone if you want to be contacted. If you dial 141 before you dial a telephone number, your number cannot be seen by the person receiving your call.

For more information on safety issues for women, see: Personal/Relationships/Women (this page includes a discussion of sexual matters).

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Avoid any involvement with drugs (taking them yourself, carrying them, or selling them to others). Many violent crimes are connected with drugs, and many drugs can damage your health or kill you.

Be careful about accepting a job advertised as massage, escort, model or dancing. Some of the jobs advertised in this way are an illegal part of the sex industry.
Avoid taking any jobs which pay cash illegally, without paying the proper taxes.

Report any crimes as soon as possible to your local police station. For details about how to contact the police, see: Personal/Advice.

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Britain has a mixed population: there are people of many different skin colours and religions living in the UK. About 7% of the population is non-white, and the percentage is higher in London and other big cities. British people are generally kind to foreigners who behave politely and respect the local culture. However, there are some people (racists) who do not like foreign people who live in the UK, either as immigrants (people who have come from another country to live permanently in Britain) or as visitors. Racist behaviour is more common in areas where there are many immigrants or in towns where there are many international students

Sometimes you may hear people calling you a rude name. These are some of the slang expressions which are sometimes used for foreigners (do not use these, as they usually sound offensive): Japanese: Nip, Jap; Chinese: Chink; Spanish/Italian: Dago; German: Kraut, Hun; French: Frog; Pakistani: Paki; Russian: Rusky. If people call you names, it is usually safer either to ignore them or to report them to the police or to someone nearby. Often the people calling these names cannot tell where you are from, so will probably confuse Japanese or Koreans for Chinese, for example, or Indians for Pakistanis. Note that in the UK the word Asian usually refers to people from the Indian sub-continent (eg India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). The term Far Eastern or Oriental is often used for people from East Asia (eg Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia).

The BNP (British National Party), the National Front and Combat 18 are examples of far-right groups which have racist policies. You are more likely to experience racial problems if you are living in an area where many people supporting these groups (probably where there are many immigrants or foreign visitors).

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As with many other countries, there is some risk of a possible terrorist attack within the UK.

Britain does not suffer from major earthquakes and does not have any volcanoes. Some low land in coastal areas or close to rivers is occasionally flooded. Higher land can experience heavy snow and temperatures can fall very low especially during the night. High winds occasionally cause power loss in remote areas in Scotland, but typhoons or hurricanes do not normally affect the UK. Tides can be very strong and the sea can come in quickly in some coastal areas. Storms can arrive suddenly and seas can sometimes become very rough.

For information about health dangers, see: Personal/Health.

Where can I find official advice about terrorism?

The Home Office (the part of the British government which is responsible for the safety of people living in the UK) has issued some advice about terrorism on the website: People living in London can find out more from:

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice about the risks of travelling from the UK to other countries in the world at: If you are wanting to travel to the UK from another country, check the advice of other countries' governments about whether that is safe: you can check this by clicking here.

What can I do to prepare myself for an attack or a natural disaster in the UK?

Below is some simple advice about sensible precautions that anyone can take:
- Keep up-to-date with the news.
- If you have a mobile phone, keep this fully charged and carry it with you. Keep in regular contact with friends or family, as they may be worried about you, but only make essential calls if there is a major emergency. If mobile phone networks are overloaded and you cannot make a call, try to use an ordinary fixed telephone line. Make sure that people who are responsible for you (for example: your embassy or school) know your contact details.
- Keep some spare food and bottled water, and some blankets to keep yourself warm.
- Carry a torch (in case the electricity supply is not available). A wind-up torch is best. If you have a battery-powered torch, make sure that you have a supply of these batteries. Do not use matches if there is a risk that gas is in the air (for example, if gas pipes may have been broken).

What should I do if I have information about a terrorist threat?

If you know of a possible terrorist threat, report it immediately. The police's anti-terrorist telephone number is: 0800 789 321. If there is an immediate danger, call the emergency number 999 and ask for the Police.

What should I do if there is an attack?

If there is a terrorist attack close to where you are, the best thing to do depends on the type of threat. If there is a conventional bomb, stay away from tall buildings, glass windows (after a bomb, falling glass from windows is a danger) and parked vehicles. For other types of threat, the best thing to do is often to return to your room, close the doors and windows, and listen to the news for further information. Do not panic. Follow the advice of the local emergency services. Do not try to leave the area if you are told to stay where you are.

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For a guide to safety for university students (produced by the Home Office), see:
UK Government's advice about how to prepare for an emergency:
Information about safety for language school students (produced by Sussex Police):

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Getting help: Personal/Advice
Safety issues for women: Personal/Relationships/Women (this page includes a discussion of sexual matters)
Looking after your health: Personal/Health
Mobile phones: Life/Telephone/Mobile

Home page: Home

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