Traveling in a Country with a Travel Alert
What do you do if the U.S. State Department issues a travel alert for a planned travel destination, or a country in which you are already traveling? You will ultimately have to decide whether to cancel your trip, cut it short, or continue it. Here is some information that will help you to make your decision and decrease your risk.
A travel alert is an announcement made when short-term events such as terrorism, political overthrows, or political unrest pose “significant risks to the security of American travelers”. For example, the State Department issued a travel alert in March 2011 for Tunisia regarding unrest related to the Libyan conflict. The alert advised awareness of the situation and deferring non-essential travel to the most heavily affected regions.
If you are traveling in a country with a travel alert, or choose to travel there anyway, you should pay particular attention to safety. Avoid large public gatherings due to their potential for sudden outbreaks of violence if you can, and stay away from areas in which unrest is concentrated. Be aware that everyone in the country, but foreigners in particular, may be vulnerable to increased crime and harassment.
You can find current travel alerts and their details on Travel.state.gov. Alternatively, you can call 1-888-407-4747 within the U.S. and 001-202-501-4444 from abroad. You can always call the latter number from abroad if you experience an emergency while traveling. It’s also a great idea in general to sign up for the State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Whatever your destination, you’ll receive the latest updates and information on travel and any security concerns. It also helps you get in touch with the State Department more easily in emergencies.
If you are in a country under alert and unable to access a phone or the internet, check local radio and television for U.S. State Department messages. It’s good to know how to reach the nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy for information and assistance. You can also consult with fellow U.S. citizens, who may have access to additional information.
A travel alert is less serious than a travel warning. A travel warning recommends that Americans avoid a country entirely because of long-term, unstable conditions. If you find yourself in a country under a travel warning, or you choose to travel there, you could be in serious danger. Your safest option is to avoid the country or leave, but it’s ultimately up to you. Be aware of the risk, and know that if the U.S. government directly assists in your evacuation, such as by providing a flight out of the country when there are no commercial options, you may owe them a substantial bill later.
If you choose to travel in a country with a travel alert, it’s wise to keep aware of heightened risks and ongoing developments. Think very carefully before traveling or remaining in countries under travel warnings as some benefits of your international medical insurance policy could be affected. Staying in touch with the State Department is helpful in general and highly recommended in emergency situations.