State department modernizes travel advisories

In case you missed it, the U.S. Department of State kicked off 2018 by modernizing what had become an arcane and sometimes barely decipherable system of telling travelers the locations where travel was all right and where it would have been ill-advised.

The improvements launched on Jan. 10 are intended to provide U.S. citizens with clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. The first major change in more than a decade comes in response to ongoing confusion over the old system.

Under the old system, State would issue either a "travel alert" or a "travel warning" and generally included a brief statement about the reason for the alert or warning. However, the difference between the two types of advisory was not always clear.

Alerts were generally shorter-term or related to specific events, while warnings were intended to convey a more serious situation. The new system is designed to provide additional clarity and guidance.

Under the new system, every country will be assigned a Travel Advisory ranking from 1 to 4 and will reflect the following assessments from State.

  • Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
  • Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 3 - Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 4 - Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.

Additionally, State will assess specific areas within each country and issue local advisories as needed.

“For instance, we may advise U.S. citizens to ‘Exercise Increased Caution’ (Level 2) in a country, but to ‘Reconsider Travel’ (Level 3) to a particular area within the country,” the agency says on its web page about the new advisories.

For example, as of this writing, Mexico overall is rated Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution, but states that are home to several popular tourist destinations within that country are rated Level 3 – Reconsider Travel and Level 4 – Do Not Travel. Jalisco state, in which Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta are located, is rated Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Guerrero state, in which Acapulco is located, and Sinaloa state where Mazatl├ín is located are both rated Level 4: Do Not Travel.

The new Travel Advisories will also will provide clear reasons for the level assigned, using established risk indicators, and offer specific advice to U.S. citizens who choose to travel there. Those include the following:

  • C - Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
  • T - Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.
  • U - Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.
  • H - Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may be a factor.
  • N - Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
  • E - Time-limited Event: A short-term event, such as an election, sporting event, or other incident that may pose a safety risk.
  • O - Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

The department pledges to review each Travel Advisory as needed, based on changes to security and safety information.

In addition to the new Advisory system, U.S. embassies and consulates will begin issuing Alerts to replace the current Emergency Messages and Security Messages. Alerts will inform U.S. citizens of specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events.

More about the department’s newly-redesigned hub for traveler information is available at travel.state.gov.

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