Updated: Jul 12
A Quick Primer for understanding and following the US State Department's Travel Advisories
Making the decision to travel internationally to serve others is a multi-faceted process. Having a discernible call or invitation usually precedes the decision. Weighing personal, professional and family obligations factors in, as well as financial responsibilities. Another part of the process that should not be overlooked is knowing the most current State Department travel status of your destination country.
According to the US Department of State, "A first step in planning any trip abroad, check the Travel Advisories for your intended destination. You can see the world at a glance on our color-coded map." (1) Needless to say, conditions can change quickly, so the State Department has developed options to get most current updates here for travel advisories and alerts. While knowing the travel status of your destination country may or may not influence your final decision, it will definitely help you and your team with contingency planning.
Let's look at what the State Department Advisory levels actually mean and how you can use this information.
What are the Four Standard Levels of Advice?
Level 1, means 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, means 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, means 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, means 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 to 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.(2)
Remember, although a Travel Advisory may be issued for a specific country, there may be certain regions, cities, or areas that have varying levels of advice. This means that it is important to look at your particular area within the country for the most current status from the State Department. (3)
So what Risks are being monitored by the State Department?
Travel safety is a priority for the State Department- and for your team. Let's consider what the State Department finds unsafe- what we call "risk indicators". Here is the list:
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 also be a factor.
N - Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
E - Time-limited Event: Short-term event, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents that may pose safety risks.
K – Kidnapping or Hostage Taking: Criminal or terrorist individuals or groups have threatened to and/or have seized or detained and threatened to kill, injure or continue to detain individuals in order to compel a third party (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing something as a condition of release.
D – Wrongful Detention: The risk of wrongful detention of U.S. nationals by a foreign government exists.
O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details. (4)
The good news is that you do not have to do this travel safety research by yourself. The State Department has a few mechanisms to help keep current. One way is by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You do this by enrolling at this website where you can create an account, provide the details of your specific trip, including dates of arrival and departure for the countries you choose. Another way to stay abreast of travel safety is through the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). OSAC is described as a partnership between American private/non-profit companies and the U.S. government on security issues. OSAC posts travel advisories and updates based on world region and security categories. Find more information here.
Now that you have several resources for determining the safety of your travel, let's look at some specific examples.
Ten Safe Countries to visit in Spring 2023
According the US State Department (6)
These Countries have been given Level 1 Travel Advisories:
Sao Tome and Principe
19 Most Dangerous Countries to visit in Spring 2023 + two "others"
According the US State Department (6)
The following countries have been given Level 4 Travel Advisories:
Sudan, Belarus, Burma (Myanmar), Russia, Iran, Mali, Venezuela, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, North Korea, Libya, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso
Two Countries that Fall into "other " Safety Levels: Israel and Mexico
Israel- the Gaza strip is given a Level 4 due to terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict.
Mexico -contains six Level 4 areas:
Colima state due to crime and kidnapping.
Guerrero state due to crime.
Michoacan state due to crime and kidnapping.
Sinaloa state due to crime and kidnapping
Tamaulipas state due to crime and kidnapping.
Zacatecas state due to crime and kidnapping.
International Travel can be exciting and memorable!
So make sure to take all the suggested steps we have described here.
For convenience, here is a Traveler's Checklist to download for your next trip abroad here. Use this checklist or develop one of your own. It will be worth it!