Gender Abroad

While cisgender and gender non-conforming students may face different challenges and uncertainties when deciding to study 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 or how to not stand out with the locals. Studying abroad can be a great time to learn about gender identity across the world and forge connections and alliances across cultural barriers.

Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Identity Abroad

The Division of Global Engagement recognizes that concerns around safety particular to transgender communities often go unacknowledged. Airports can be particularly difficult for individuals whose presentation are perceived to not match the “M” or “F” on their passport. Immersing in a culture different from one’s upbringing can be difficult without the resources from home to make a validating and safer space. Many transgender 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?
  • Should I correct people when they get my pronoun wrong?
  • What should I do if the gender on my passport and birth certificate are different?
  • Will there be local LGBT groups, and how are encompassing are they of the “T”?
  • How likely is it that will I be perceived as who I am in my host community?
  • 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 Study Abroad can help answer some of these questions and offer support for students who are concerned for their safety and well-being prior to studying abroad. 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 significant that you surround yourself with people who will not interrogate you about your gender identity. Our office 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 transgender or gender non-conforming person.

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 discretely disclose a health or medically related circumstance to an agent as well as requesting assistance from a specialist during check-in by calling the TSA hotline 72 hours before checking in.

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.

Calpernia Adam's blog provides further resources and advice for traveling transgender folks.


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.”

Cisgender Men

While abroad, men might be expected to adopt a more "traditional," machismo 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 may be 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 male friends 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 females, 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 abroad.

Back to top 

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 in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel 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 much differently by the men-- and women--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 can 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.
  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.

Back to top 

Additional Resources

Internal Links

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

External Links

Back to top

See Also