I’ve served in many different places overseas, from London to Jordan, Mexico to Laos, and the one thing every posting has had in common: the opportunity to serve my fellow Americans in some of the hardest moments of their lives.
Our consular officers are your eyes and ears on the ground in countries around the world. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of our fellow citizens, and one of the primary ways we fulfill that responsibility is by informing U.S. citizens of not only travel information such as entry and exit requirements, but also potential health, transportation, and security risks in every country overseas.
The world is constantly changing. Think about what you need to know before planning a trip to an international destination. What risks might be present? Is there widespread or violent crime? Have terrorist attacks occurred or are there specific terrorist threats? Could a natural disaster pose a danger? Knowing this information ahead of time allows you to make better-informed decisions about your safety and security overseas.
We want U.S. citizens to be aware of the risks so they can make informed decisions.
One way we communicate this information to U.S. citizens is through our country-specific Travel Advisories. Each embassy and consulate’s website also publishes country-specific alerts, as needed, to notify U.S. citizens of specific events and changes happening locally, in real time.
We want U.S. citizens to read the Travel Advisories as they plan their travel and to sign up through our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive updates to the Travel Advisories and Alerts as they travel. Sign up at step.state.gov.
Travel Advisories include a level for each country, ranging from Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions to Level 4: Do Not Travel. Each Travel Advisory also includes specific risk indicators to provide additional context for the advice level. Risk indicators include C for crime, T for terrorism, and U for civil unrest, among others. We recently added a new risk indicator – D for wrongful detention – to highlight the elevated risk of a foreign government detaining individuals arbitrarily or targeting their U.S. citizenship, among other actions. Again, we want U.S. citizens to be aware of the risks so they can make informed decisions.
As you plan for your next trip abroad, please read the Travel Advisory for your destination country and stay connected with us during your travels by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at step.state.gov so that we can ensure you receive the latest information regarding your destination. We also urge U.S. citizens considering international travel to check their passport expiration date early and if renewal is needed, to submit applications as far ahead of their travel dates as possible.
About the Author: Rena Bitter serves as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.