In today’s world, however, certain high-risk safety concerns must be considered before you choose to travel abroad. Advanced preparation and arming yourself with knowledge can go a long way toward reducing potential life-threatening risks. Knowing the facts about travel alerts and travel warnings is a good place to start.
What’s the difference?
The job of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is to protect lives and serve the interests of U.S. citizens abroad.
According to them, the main difference between a travel alert and a travel advisory (warning) are the timeframe of the risk and level of risk:
- Travel alerts are short-term risks
- Travel warnings or advisories are a higher-risk, longer term warning
What is a travel alert?
With this system, a travel alert is issued to identify a short-term danger posed by an event, such as a health concern, weather event, or mass protest.
A travel alert is information U.S. embassies and consulates abroad regularly issue to inform U.S. citizens about specific safety and security concerns in certain countries.
This “heads-up” information is released for short-term events or temporary situations that could, in time, potentially lead to a travel advisory (warning).
It is wise to pay attention to travel alerts that may impact a country you are thinking about visiting. Watch to see if an alert turns into a longer-term concern — a travel advisory.
There are a variety of ways to receive regular travel alerts. The U.S. State Department’s Staying Connected website outlines all of your options.
What is a travel advisory (or travel warning)?
Travel advisories give more specific, longer-term, high-risk safety and security information about every country in the world and uses plain language to help U.S. citizens plan and prepare.
Those planning for international travel can easily view a four-level ranking system created by the U.S Department of State that is updated daily and outlines why the country was given a particular ranking.
In addition, this system explains why the advisory was issued, using one-letter codes:
- C is for crime
- T is for terrorism
- U is for civil unrest
- H is for health risks
- N is for natural disasters
- E is for special events such as an election
- O is for some other reason
Travelers may also wish to utilize the U.S. State Department’s color-coded travel advisory map. Updated daily, areas of increased security risk are shaded differently than those with less risk. The legend provides U.S. Embassy locations, consulates and more.
Simply click on the area you want to visit and you’ll get more specific information.
Travelers should note, however, that conditions can change quickly in any given country. Be prepared and plan ahead.
Before you travel, it is wise to receive updated travel advisories and alerts in a variety of ways, including via the:
- Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP); and
- Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) daily newsletters and advisories, social media, and RSS feeds.
When enrolling in the free STEP service, you’ll register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. With this, you receive important information about safety in your chosen country, enable the embassy to contact you in case of emergency, and provide family and friends with the ability to get in touch with you.
What is a Worldwide Caution?
An additional advisory to be aware of is the U.S. State Department Worldwide Caution. U.S. government facilities worldwide are always in a heightened state of alert. These cautions give you general information and specific recommendations on how to prepare.
Terrorist attacks, political violence (including demonstrations), criminal activities, and other security incidents often take place without any warning. U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of watchfulness and practice situational awareness when traveling abroad.
It is vital that you enroll in the STEP program and keep important embassy contact information with you if traveling to high-level countries of risk. You’ll also need this information if your passport is lost or stolen, which will have to be replaced before returning to the United States.
It is wise to note there are certain things the Department of State can and can’t do in a crisis. For instance, anyone evacuated on a U.S. government coordinated transport must sign an Evacuee Manifest and Promissory Note prior to departure.
As you can see, knowing the difference between a travel alert and a travel advisory (warning) is only the beginning. Know all the facts before you choose to visit a high-risk country and how to get help in case of an emergency abroad.
Travel.State.Gov is a helpful starting point and provides everything from international travel checklists to advice for U.S. volunteers abroad. When you diligently plan and prepare, you can travel with confidence anywhere you go.