One of the more memorable and enjoyable experiences for Northwestern students who study abroad is the ability to discover a diverse and unique array of food. For students with dietary restrictions based on health, lifestyle, or religion, mindful planning and preparation can allow you to engage in these same experiences. (If you have an eating disorder or another eating concern, review the Eating Disorders Abroad page.)
You are strongly encouraged to inform your study abroad adviser early on in the process of your health-related, lifestyle, or religious dietary restrictions to ensure they are considered throughout the application and placement process. You can study abroad successfully and enjoy local food culture, but you will need to consider what locations are easier to navigate than others.
Study Abroad Preparations
Research Your Host Country
Research how common your dietary restriction is in the host country to determine how accommodating the food culture will be to your needs. Keep in mind that some food restrictions are unheard of in parts of the world; depending on your needs and your host country, you may receive curious looks.
Think about your accommodations. Whether you’re living in on-campus dorms, your own apartment, or with a host family, research what kinds of foods or accommodations will be available to you during your time abroad. Depending on your accommodations, who prepares most of your food will vary.
- If you live in on-campus dorms, you should get in contact with university housing to inform them of your dietary restriction and learn about food options available.
- If you live with a host family, they will be prepared to address your food needs in advance, but confirming the specifics of your condition in-person will also be helpful (e.g., if you are vegetarian, are you able to eat stocks made with fish or meat?; if you have celiac disease, what does cross-contamination mean, exactly, and how will it impact you?).
- If you live in an apartment and are expected to make your own meals while abroad, it will be helpful to research religious-based food markets or other grocery stores with specialty ingredients.
Gain a Basic Understanding of the Language
Develop a basic understanding of the language in order to communicate your needs with local hosts and avoid an emergency. You should be able to explain what you cannot eat and ask about the ingredients in a dish. Note that not all cultures have an understanding of food allergies, dietary restrictions, or vegetarianism/veganism; you are your own best advocate.
If you are unsure about ingredients, having a note in the local language to explain important information about your dietary restrictions can help. Create a card you can keep in your wallet that explains not only what you cannot eat but also the degree of severity if consumed to help food service employees know how to advise you.
Know the difference in the language between “I can’t eat X” and “I won’t eat X” to avoid miscommunication. Be sure to check translations for accuracy with someone who speaks the language locally. You may be met with confusion, so be ready to explain what you mean.
Medical Dietary Restrictions
If you have severe food allergies and/or medical dietary restrictions, you should also complete the following steps in your preparations to study abroad:
TALK TO A DOCTOR
A doctor who is familiar with the specifics of your dietary restrictions will be able to advise you if studying abroad in a specific location is a viable option based on your current health and susceptibility to local food concerns.
Share your research on the food culture of your host country with your medical practitioner, as they may not be versed in the accessibility of specific foods in your host location.
You may also wish to discuss whether dietary supplements would be necessary or helpful while abroad, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan.
PREPARE YOUR MEDICATION
Students with dietary restrictions should prepare all possible medications they could potentially need on their trip, if pertinent. When packing medication, be sure to bring the original prescription from your physician and packaging to avoid difficulty with security and customs.
Work with your study abroad adviser or on-site staff to locate a safe and secure space where you can store your medication while abroad.
Reference the Prescription Medication Considerations section of the Accessibility identity page for further information on how to manage your medication while abroad.
External Resources for Dietary Restrictions Abroad
Many third-party organizations offer additional support for students who have dietary restrictions studying abroad. We encourage you to explore these resources as you embark on your study abroad adventure.
Medical Dietary Restrictions
- WebMD (tips for traveling with diabetes)
- IES Abroad (tips from a woman with Type 1 diabetes and how she stays safe and healthy while studying abroad)
- CeliacTravel.com (travel tips to maintain a gluten-free diet while abroad)
Religious Dietary Restrictions
- Zabihah.com (the world’s largest guide to Halal restaurants and markets around the world)
- Kashrut.com (a kosher travel guide organized by country)
Vegetarian & Vegan Dietary Restrictions