Health and Safety

Proper rest and nutrition help to prevent illness and minimize stress, thus enabling a stimulating and rewarding cross-cultural experience.  Taking certain basic precautions will head off unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, situations. Finally, if you need medical (including psychiatric or psychological) help of any kind, please speak to the Assistant Director (Pepa) about identifying a specialist near your homestay.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse is a very serious problem on U.S. campuses, and unfortunately the problem exists on American programs abroad. One of the temptations of life in European cities for American students is the lower drinking age and the regular presence of alcohol in social situations of all kinds. Moderate drinking among young Spaniards is normal and acceptable, but drinking to excess is regarded as socially inept and immature (the botellón is practiced by 16-year olds as a rule rather than by college students). In addition, substance abuse of any type is your passport to tragedy, as it seriously interferes with students’ ability to handle the challenges of an unfamiliar environment.

Beyond the matter of health and safety, substance abuse may result in arrest, fines, and incarceration. It is also essential to keep in mind that, while in Spain, Spanish law applies. The student’s embassy and the program staff will assist anyone in making sure their family is contacted, but students in such circumstances are subject to Spanish law and are responsible for all corresponding expenses.

With regard to the VWM program, if substance abuse is disruptive to the program or homestay family or potentially harmful to the student’s own well-being, the Director is authorized to expel the student from the program. Useful related information is made available by the University of Minnessota study abroad office.

Medical Care and Health Insurance 

Students in urgent need of medical attention should call 112, the Spanish national hotline for emergencies.

Since students are not normally residents or citizens of Spain, they are not eligible for national health insurance coverage there. Therefore, VWM participants are required to have medical insurance coverage from the US while studying in Spain and should take all pertinent information and forms for reporting claims. Wesleyan provides study abroad health insurance to its own students for the duration of the program. For more information, contact Vassar’s Office of International Programs or Wesleyan´s Office Study Abroad

The program nevertheless provides local insurance through the Spanish company Adeslas. This policy covers basic medical care from every kind of specialist, including diagnostic tests and basic dental work, within Adeslas’s extensive national network. It does not include hospitalization, intensive care, catastrophic coverage, major emergencies or the return trip to the U.S. if the student’s condition requires it (these must be covered by students’ American medical insurance; see instructions about this below). It also does not cover major previous conditions. However, the Adeslas insurance will cover routine visits and medical needs in Spain without students’ having to pay upfront or depend on reimbursements from home. There are minimal co-pays, but the program pays them in order to encourage students to use medical services when needed. Students receive their member cards and have immediate access to care upon arrival in Spain.

A list of providers is available in the Madrid office. To identify the appropriate specialist, ask the assistant director. She will find the doctors closest to the student’s homestay in Madrid and will request an appointment.

If a student needs intensive care and/or to be hospitalized, we do one of the following:

1. Head for the Hospital de Madrid in Plaza Conde Valle Suchil (metro San Bernardo) and ask for Hospiquality, which has an office there. They explain how to obtain reimbursements from the student’s American medical insurer (they are mediators, not insurers or providers).

2. Wesleyan students should refer to their pre-departure materials for information on travel assistance through International SOS. The assistance number is +1 215 942 8478

Student Medications

It is not a good idea to change medications or stop taking them before going abroad, as this is a relatively stressful event (even simple things, at least at first, will seem complicated). Students should bring all the medication they will need for the entire semester. Since our local insurance does not include a pharmaceutical plan, we cannot guarantee that students’ medications would be less costly abroad. Wesleyan’s study abroad health insurance does not cover prescriptions obtained in the US. Students must contact their American insurance company well before departure and request the necessary supply. Insurance companies must normally seek authorization from the student’s doctor and enter an “override” to provide the student upfront with the medications needed for such a long period. Students should bring medications in the original container, in case they need to purchase them in Spain. Finally, if the student’s insurer will only allow the student to bring a partial supply of medication for the semester, the program recommends the student bring a clearly written prescription for the balance to be filled in Spain (but reimbursed by the student’s American insurer). This is preferable to having medications mailed from the U.S. by post, because they can be held up for a week or more at Customs and retrieval can sometimes be difficult (even impossible) and costly. 

Students with Special Medical Needs

Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is an organization dedicated to facilitating an international experience for students with special medical needs. Before leaving home, such students should consult this organization’s website at:

Behavioral Health Resources

(1) Counseling Service: Wendy Freedman, Director (, tel. 845-437-5700 8:30-5:00 EST,
 (2) Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Program: Charlotte Strauss Swanson, SAP Coordinator (, tel. 845-437-7863 8:30-5:00 EST, 845-437-7333 after hours,
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, The Director is Jennifer D’Andrea (  If students abroad need emergency support outside of the usual work hours (9am-5pm Monday-Friday), they should call Public Safety at (860) 685-2345 to reach a dean on call. Students are encouraged to seek on site support through Adeslas or International SOS.

Madrid is a very safe city. But as in any unfamiliar urban environment or tourist destination, travelers confront special risks. Major European cities are more liable to suffer from petty crime (such as pickpocketing) than violent crime. It is crucial that students understand the potential risks in Madrid or in any other major city they might visit.The following measures should help ensure your safety and minimize the likelihood of trouble. We strongly urge you to abide by them. Before you depart:

  • Make two photocopies of all of your personal documents (passport, visa, identification cards, insurance cards, credit and debit cards).
  • Keep the photocopies in a safe location, one set at home in the US and another at home in Spain, readily available for consultation (and reporting purposes) in case of theft or loss.

While in Madrid:

  • Register with the US Consulate by following this link.
  • Keep your family and the program staff apprised of your whereabouts. When you travel, be sure that someone knows where you are and how to reach you.
  • Be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas frequented by tourists (discos, subways, buses, small streets or plazas in downtown areas).
  • Carry only as much money and as many bank or credit cards as you absolutely need, in an inside coat or shirt or pants pocket rather than in an outside pocket or backpack; in a small purse zipped closed and well-controlled; or in a money belt (not in a large bag or purse that you carry on your back or to your side).
  • Leave unnecessary valuables, cash, and credit, bank, and ID cards at home (in Spain).
  • Carry a photocopy of your passport at all times while in Madrid. The actual passport is necessary for any official business (at border-crossings, in the event of a police check, in banks when you need to change currency or withdraw money, or, sometimes, when you want to use a credit card) and when traveling outside of Madrid.
  • Carry your student ID card
  • Carry your emergency contact numbers at all times and keep a hand-written copy of your name and cell phone in your wallet. A stolen purse or wallet with this information inside is often returned to the program office or turned into the police. If you include your cell-phone information in your wallet you may find yourself getting a call within days of a theft or loss explaining where you can pick up your wallet and all its precious contents (minus the cash).
  • Learn from locals what behavior might put you at risk. Be alert to your surroundings and the people with whom you have contact.
  • Be wary of people who seem overly friendly or interested in you. Be cautious with new acquaintances – do not give out your address or phone number and do not provide personal information regarding other students. Report unusual activity near your classes or home to the program staff.
  • Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Be discreet in your dress or conduct. Speak Spanish as much as possible and try to associate with Spaniards in small groups.
  • Avoid going to big clubs (like Capital and Barceló) on your own or separating from your group without notifying them about it. Do not receive any beverages from strangers and try to avoid alcoholic consumption in these spaces altogether. The Madrid Police has reported some instances of people using predator drugs to rob or attack others in these places. Always check-in on your friends and stick together.
  • Do not hitchhike, even if the locals do.
  • If your wallet is lost or stolen
    • cancel your credit cards immediately (that is why you make photocopies in advance and keep a list of toll-free numbers handy so you know whom to call and what your credit card number is)
    • file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was lost/stolen. This is a must in case of your passport—your embassy will require it to issue a new passport.
    • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. The numbers are:  Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742; Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
    • Call the Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
Identification While in Madrid

Everyone is required by law in Spain (and Europe) to carry official identification on them at all times: for Americans, the only legitimate i.d. is the passport.

In accord with recommendations of the U.S. Embassy, for security reasons the VWM program staff recommends that students carry a clear, color photocopy of their passport on them and that they leave the passport itself at home or, while traveling, in their hotel room. Keep in mind that the photocopy has no legal status, but it is better than carrying no passport at all or losing the passport. Most businesses (e.g., restaurants) will accept the photocopy for credit-card purchases and law-enforcement officers will look a little more benignly on it than carrying nothing at all. However, for any official business with the bank or with the police, students will be required to carry (or retrieve) their passport.

Students should always travel with their passport when leaving Madrid for longer than a day trip. And they should carry other forms of ID, such as their international student identification or the student card from the UC3M as well.