As spring break and summer vacations approach, thousands of Americans will be traveling overseas. With the travel warning to Mexico fresh in everyone’s minds, many international travelers have questions regarding the safety of their destination country as well as how to travel safely. To address these travel concerns, the State Department releases information about destinations that pose "imminent risks to the security of US citizens." Approximately every six months, the warnings are revisited and removed or prolonged if necessary. The website differentiates the level of threat from the most serious travel warnings, to travel alerts, and the least-harmful, country specific information.
Travel warnings, which are issued to countries that the US government has declared to be unsafe for American travelers, are currently in place for 28 countries. These countries are known to have long-term conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable, or those countries where the US Embassy is closed or understaffed. Not surprisingly, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia are among those countries with travel warnings, but one might be surprised to learn that popular American destinations such as the Philippines, Nepal, and Haiti, also make the list. Just because a travel warning is issued to a particular country doesn’t mean there is an all-out ban on travel to the entire country. Instead, there may be a particular zone that is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs..
On the other hand, travel alerts are issued to warn American citizens about short-term conditions in certain countries that can pose serious threats. There are various triggering conditions for a country to be included on this list, such as terrorist threats/anniversaries of terrorist threats, natural disasters, coups, high profile athletic events or international conferences, and political-related violence. Currently, there are 7 travel alerts from the past 7 months, including the most recent and notable travel alert on Mexico. The French West Indies, Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, Madagascar, Mali, South Pacific Cyclone Season, and Comoros make up the other 6.
Lastly, the State Department also issues "country specific information" for every country in the world. I found this link to be the most useful and practical as most travelers stay away from the alerted or warned countries but want safety information about their destination country. The information provided is invaluable because it details the locale of the US embassy, health conditions and location of health facilities, traffic conditions and safety, known civil or political disturbances, currency information, crime and security information, along with other general information. Also, conditions that are not quite serious enough to require a travel warning are listed under a section titled "safety/security."
Although the decision to travel to an "alerted" or "warned" country is completely at the discretion of the traveler, it is important to take the government’s warnings seriously. The State Department provides a list of detailed travel tips and include: Register travel plans with the State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/
- Sign and completely fill out your passport
- Leave detailed itineraries with family members or friends
- Check with your insurance company about international health care coverage
- Research local customs and laws
- Avoid extravagant clothing and jewelry to avoid being the victim of a crime
- Keep the US Embassy and Consulates number with you at all times, 1-888-407-4747 if from US or Canada, or 202-501-4444 if overseas
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.