The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is responsible for communicating important information about travel destinations that is relevant to U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
They communicate this information in two key ways:
- Travel advisories
- Security messaging and STEP notifications
In January 2018, the DOS transitioned from a travel warning and alert-based system in which guidance was only provided for select countries or regions, to an all-encompassing advisory system in which each country is assigned a level based on a four-tier scale.
Level 1 cautions about universal risks. Levels 2 though 4 have additional risk indicators assigned which help travelers understand the nature of the risks they may face in a given location.
- C – Crime
- D - Wrongful Detention
- E – Time-limited Event
- H – Health
- K – Kidnapping
- N – Natural Disaster
- O - Other
- T – Terrorism
- U – Civil Unrest
Level 3: Reconsider Travel is the level at which the DOS begins to introduce strong language such as “avoid.” Level 4: Do Not Travel is the highest level advisory and contains very strong cautionary language. The DOS advises that U.S. citizens not travel to countries or regions with an active Level 4 designation or encourages those who are in a Level 4 area to leave as soon as it is safe to do so.
Travel guidance on the DOS advisory contains several standard sub-categories:
- Embassies and Consulates
- Destination Description
- Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements
- Safety and Security
- Local Laws & Special Circumstances
- Travel and Transportation
Travel advisories can change at any time. Additionally, specific regions within a country may possess a higher level advisory than the assigned country-wide level. It is important to read travel advisory information carefully, as context and details matter.
Security alerts and messages are posted by the local U.S. embassy or consulate and are shared through STEP.
Enrolling in STEP
All travelers are strongly encouraged to enroll in the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important security updates during their international travels. Oftentimes this advice relates to planned protests, union strikes or other events which can impact logistics and travel itineraries.
Communications with headings such as “Message for U.S. Citizens” typically relate to administrative updates.
Communications with headings such as “Security Message for U.S. Citizens” alerts travelers to security situations to which they should be aware and provides specific guidance on areas to avoid.
Communications with headings such as “Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens” warns of imminent threats to safety or security and contains instructions and specific actions travelers should take to remain safe.