Public transport abroad

Public transport can be a cheap and convenient way to get around when you’re abroad. Many countries have highly efficient and safe public transport systems but it’s still important to be on your guard and take precautions. Here are some tips to help.

Choose safe transport

  • Check out the latest travel advice on the Foreign & Commonwealth website before you travel. This will flag up any issues with public transport in a particular country and tell you what to watch out for and areas to avoid. It also has information on local customs and dress. For example, in some countries men and women may be segregated on buses, it may be inadvisable to sit next to someone who is a different gender to you or you may be expected to dress in a particular way if you are using public transport.
  • Find out from your hotel, the local tourist information centre or the local police which bus and taxi services are licensed and safe to use. Often the drivers will have an official vehicle, logo or permit to show they are legitimate.
  • If you’re taking a taxi find out in advance how much the fare is likely to be and be very wary of sharing with a stranger. Always sit in the back of a taxi and stay alert. Be polite to the driver but not overfriendly – this may be misinterpreted in some circumstances or you may end up telling them more about your plans than is wise.
  • Health and safety standards vary from country to country so don’t be surprised if there are no safety belts on the bus or taxi you’re travelling in. If you feel unsafe use alternative transport if possible.

Be aware

  • Stay awake and alert at all times on public transport and in taxis. If you’re going on a long journey and are travelling with a companion you can always take it in turns to sleep.
  • Keep a close eye on your luggage at all times and keep it locked. If you have to put it in a rack try and get one next to where you’re sitting or where you can see it at all times. Keep valuables on you.
  • Keep money and valuables (such as your passport) safe in an inside pocket or money belt and avoid using a back pocket. When carrying cash and credit cards it’s a good idea to divide these up so if your bag is snatched or your pocket is picked you at least have a spare card or some cash in a different place such as in another pocket or your sock.

Be prepared

  • Sort out any cash or tickets you’ll need in advance and have these to hand so that you don’t have to rummage through your purse or wallet in front of everyone to find these.
  • Know where you’re going so you know where to get off or change on public transport. If you’re taking a taxi it’s a good idea to have some idea of the route so you know if you’re being taken in the right direction and on the quickest route to your destination.
  • Check out the latest timetable for the bus or train you plan to travel on to make sure you don’t miss it or get stranded.

Take precautions

  • Avoid travelling in a train compartment on your own and where possible sit near the guard. If you’re travelling on a bus and feel unsafe try and sit near the driver and stay on the lower deck if possible.
  • Keep children with you at all times. Don’t let them wander off even to the toilet or buffet car. It’s easy to lose them or for them to become confused in crowded places where they may not speak the language.
  • Take extra care on crowded transport. Pickpockets love a crowd and female travellers in particular may feel uncomfortable pressed up against other people. If a bus or train is too crowded get off at the next safe stop and wait for a less crowded one.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, are getting unwanted attention or someone is sitting or standing too close to you it’s often best to move.
  • Avoid eye contact with anyone who looks suspicious.
  • Don’t be afraid to alert the authorities if you feel threatened in any way. In countries where public transport is unsafe, police are often assigned to ride on trains and buses along the more popular routes.
  • As well as watching your own bags if you spot any unattended luggage report it immediately just as you would at home.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid travelling on your own late at night or overnight. In some countries it’s best to never travel alone unless you really have to and to only travel on popular routes.
  • Avoid isolated bus and train stations.
  • Never accept food or drink from strangers – it may be drugged.
  • It’s often a good idea to avoid using public transport if you’ve been drinking, particularly if you are in a religious country or somewhere you need your wits about you.

For tips on airport safety see our guide.