Understanding U.S. State Department Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts

Understanding U.S. State Department Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts

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Posted November 1, 2023

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The ability to travel and enjoy the world is one of the most enriching experiences one can have.  However, world events like civil unrest, pandemics, war and crime threatens our health and safety.   As travelers it is imperative that we stay informed about a country’s social climate and any conflict that may arise before we travel and during our stay. 

The U.S. State Department provides  American citizens with regular notifications of events that  may affect their safety and security.  These notices come in the form of Travel Alerts or Travel Warnings.

What are Travel Warnings?

The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings to Americans to recommend they avoid travel to a particular country because it has been deemed unstable or dangerous. The State Department may also issue a travel warning when the U.S. government closes its consulate or embassy in that country. The travel warning may also get issued when the government building reduces its diplomatic staff, and there may not be able to assist the traveling Americans.

Travel Warning

The travel warnings may be issued for the ongoing conflict, such as civil war, severe spikes in crime, public health, or geopolitical risks.  Travel warnings are ranked on a scale from one to four:

  • 1: Exercise normal caution
  • 2: Exercise increased caution
  • 3: Reconsider travel
  • 4: Do not travel

What are Travel Alerts?

The U.S. State Department issues travel alerts as a cautionary notice for short-term conditions that can be a potential risk to the safety and security of U.S. citizens. Some of these conditions include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Political demonstrations
  • Terrorist attacks
  • International conferences or events

Travel alerts don’t tell people to cancel their plans, but they inform them of the potential risks in that region. Dangerous weather conditions are a common cause of travel alerts getting issued.

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Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

The U.S. State Department developed an app called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). When you register, you will receive up-to-date information on any emergency or developing situation in the country you’re traveling to. The STEP program is free to all traveling U.S. citizens and nationals to assist them in an emergency for their safety and security.

There are three benefits of enrolling in STEP:

  • Get vital information from the embassy about the current and potential safety conditions in the destination you are traveling to, so you can decide whether or not to travel.
  • The embassy can contact you if there is an emergency, whether it is a natural disaster, political climate, or civil unrest.
  • Family and friends can get in touch with you should there be an emergency.

When countries began closing their bounders in early 2020 due to COVID-19, the STEP program helped evacuate over 100,000 travelers and expats.

A responsible traveler is an informed traveler. Be a smart traveler and use the resources available to research the areas you’re going to and plan your trip accordingly. Have a plan of action should there be a safety issue, and ensure a loved one keeps track of your movements.

  • Travelers-texting-on-cell-phones
  • Traveler-in-Venice-on-cell-phone
 

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  • Tonya Fitzpatrick, Esq., is a co-founder of World Footprints, a social impact travel media company that she runs with her husband, Ian. She is an award-winning journalist, global public speaker, and three-time TEDx presenter who has written for several prominent publications including the Miami Herald, AAA World, The Lens and Island Soul. Recognized as Black Travel Journalists of the Year alongside Ian, Tonya serves on several travel industry boards, including SATW, The Explorers Club (DC chapter), NATJA, and JourneyWoman. She has also been appointed to the Maryland Tourism Development Board by Governor Wes Moore.