The United States government often issues travel warnings and travel alerts that impact US citizens looking to travel abroad. As a traveler, it is prudent to know about these advisories, understand the difference between warnings and alerts, and be aware of when you should pay closer attention.
Where to Find Travel Advisories
The US Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs issues alerts and warnings that can affect travelers. You can locate these advisories directly on the Bureau's website under the Passports and International Travel Section. Scroll down through the list or enter a specific country name in the search box to go straight to information about the region.
Another way to find travel advisories is through the US Embassy websites. If you are living abroad in another country, the US Embassy (or Consulate) will share news information and travel advisories. For example, the US Embassy in Mexico has specific portions of the Mexico travel alert posted on their website.
While not issued by the US Department of State, other countries have similar travel advisories for their citizens. These can be a great resource, and may provide you with a clearer picture of what is going on in your planned destination. Their alerts may differ from those issued by the US government. For example, Australia's Smart Traveller alerts include one for Costa Rica that the US doesn't. It's good to see what information they include in their alerts so you stay more informed. They also have helpful information about travel tips, currency, entry and exit requirements, types of crime, scams, and alerts regarding public transport and road conditions.
Travel Alerts Versus Travel Warnings
The "travel alert" is indicated by a yellow triangle with an exclamation point inside. Alerts are often issued for short-term events that travelers should know about when planning a trip. Examples where the government may issue an alert include election periods that might result in strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like H1N1; or concerns regarding an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. Once the event is over, the alert is typically canceled.
A "travel warning" is indicated by a red-orange shield with an exclamation point inside. These are issued for places that the government wants you to think long and hard about whether you should travel to this destination or not. Reasons that a travel warning may be issued include long term events like an unstable government in power, a civil war, ongoing intense crime and violence, or repeated terrorist attacks. The government wants to advise all travelers of the ongoing issues and ask them to consider changing their travel plans. These warnings may be in effect for years at a time, depending on the situation.
Examples of Travel Alerts
There are several active travel alerts in effect at the time of publication that travelers should know about. A few of these include:
- Europe Travel Alert: Due to events in countries like France, Russia, Sweden, the UK, Spain, and Finland involving ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other affiliates who have the capability to plan and execute terrorist attacks, US citizens should be on alert that tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, malls, and government facilities are viable targets. This alert is set to expire on November 30, 2017.
- Hurricane and Typhoon Season: An alert went out in June that lasts through November for regions in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico that are prone to developing tropical cyclones and hurricanes during this time. The alert expires on December 1, 2017.
- Kenya Travel Alert: This current alert replaces an earlier one issued in April and now expires on November 30, 2017. The State Department alerts all US citizens who either live in Kenya or plan to travel there soon that new Presidential elections are scheduled for October 26, 2017. This could lead to rallies, demonstrations, or protests that occur with little notice.
Examples of Travel Warnings
Most of the advisories in effect are travel warnings, many of which have already been in place for years. These are typically issued due to some sort of violence or long-term political or civil unrest.
- Honduras Travel Warning: US Citizens are warned to carefully consider the risks of travel to the Department of Gracias a Dios in Honduras, along with the urban areas of San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and La Ceiba, due to high crime and violence rates. The US Embassy restricts US government staff from traveling to the Department of Gracias a Dios.
- North Korea Travel Warning: Although it's noted that US Citizens are warned not to travel to North Korea, the Secretary of State has restricted the use of US passports to travel into or through North Korea, effective September 1, 2017.
How to Interpret Travel Advisories
The question most people want to know is whether they should travel to a destination with an active travel warning.
The decision on whether to go or not is a personal one. In some cases, the warning may be for a country, but it's often limited to certain geographic regions within the country. CN Traveler has a great article about whether you should ignore travel warnings and just go. They point out that just because the government issues a travel warning, it shouldn't mean that you need to cancel your trip. You may need to take extra precautions, pay closer attention to your surroundings, or even consider a different destination within the same country if you feel it's necessary.
Unfortunately, as terrorism attacks and other bouts of civil unrest continue to happen around the world, there may come a point where everywhere is under some sort of travel warning. When you consider the attacks on US soil, some countries have issued travel alerts advising their citizens to be on high-alert when traveling to the United States. Currently, there are travel advisories for places like Florida and Texas that have been hit with horrific hurricanes. Canada has a current travel advisory in effect to avoid all non-essential travel to the Florida Keys and Naples.
If you have travel insurance for your trip, you will need to contact them and discuss possible scenarios if you choose to travel to a country with an advisory in effect. Some travel insurance companies have exclusions in plans that limit what coverage you have if you choose to travel to a destination that is currently under a travel warning. If something completely unrelated to the travel warning happens, you may still have some coverage.
Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive related security messages and to make it easier to locate you during an emergency. The Department uses these security messages in order to send updated information on terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters and more. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, you should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate, or you can call 1-202-501-444 from outside of the US.
Staying Safe While Abroad
No matter whether there is a travel advisory in effect for your intended destination or not, some careful planning and remaining on alert at all times can help keep you safe. Large demonstrations and protests are often targets for attacks and violence, while certain cities have a reputation for pickpockets and petty thieves. Preparing yourself with the knowledge beforehand of potential scams, sketchy areas of town, and other helpful tips can help ensure you have a great vacation and return safely.