US revamps travel warning system, ranks countries

International Travel

The State Department’s travel warning system for Americans has gotten a makeover.

The changes are an effort to make the system easier to understand, and come after more than 80 million Americans traveled abroad in 2016 and as the total number of travelers for 2017 is expected to be a record, ABC News reports.

As part of the makeover, the department is replacing its travel warnings and alerts with a travel advisory for every country. Each country’s advisory falls within four color-coded levels and can be seen on country-specific webpages, which also listinformation including visa requirements, embassy locations and contact information, and local laws travelers should know about

“And for each country that has a Level 2 or above, we will specify what we think those risks or threats are, why is it that we’re telling people to reconsider travel or to exercise caution or not to travel at all,” State Department official Michelle Bernier-Toth said during a briefing on the changes Wednesday.

Additionally available via the new pages is an interactive map showing the locations of embassies and consulates. The map is color-coded in coordination with the level of travel advisory assigned to each country.

The four advisory levels, from low to high regarding safety and security risk, are:

  • Level 1 — Blue – Exercise Normal Precautions
  • Level 2 — Yellow – Exercise Increased Caution
  • Level 3 — Orange – Reconsider Travel
  • Level 4 — Red – Do Not Travel

As of Thursday, there were 11 countries with Level 4 travel advisories, according to ABC News: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Five states in Mexico – which overall is tagged with a Level 2 advisory – also received Level 4 designations due to crime, while 11 Mexican states bore Level 3 designations.

Bernier-Toth explained the specificity as related “to the restrictions that our mission in Mexico imposes upon U.S. government personnel in the country.”

“We wanted to make sure that the U.S. traveling public was aware of all those restrictions and rules that we impose upon ourself in Mexico,” she said.

The pages also allow travelers to enroll in STEP, or the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Enrolling in the free service allows citizens to receive safety and security updates about their destination country, and helps the U.S. Embassy in the country, as well as friends and family, contact travelers in case of an emergency.

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