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6 Things to Know About Travel Alerts and Warnings

When the government issues a travel alert or warning for a destination you’ve got your eye on, you’ll want to pay attention—but don’t go cancelling your plane tickets just yet.

Travel advisories aren’t always a be all end all. If there is one in place that could affect your travel plans, your next step should be to attempt to find out more. If you’re reading this post, you’re off to a good start. Here are 6 things to know about travel alerts and warnings that will help you make an informed decision.

Who’s In Charge?
The United States Department of State is the authority on issuing travel alerts and warnings. Anyone traveling abroad should bookmark the official website on U.S. passports and international travel, which tackles everything from travel advisories to dealing with emergencies while abroad.

Travel Alerts, Defined
Generally speaking, travel alerts are the more temporary type of advisory—but they are still important to note. Travel alerts are issued for short-term events that could have impact a country, potentially making it risky or unsafe. Causes for travel alerts range from health outbreaks to political events, like elections, to natural disasters. Once the event causing the alert has passed, the travel alert is cancelled.

Travel Warnings, Defined
Pay close attention to travel warnings: they’re the US Department of State’s way of telling you that you should seriously the risks associated with heading to the country in question. Travel warnings are usually issued for major, longer-term problems, like a civil far, frequent terrorist attacks, or an unstable government. Some travel warnings are temporary, while others have been in place for years.

Doing the Research
If a travel alert or warning is issued, you can always find out details pertaining to the advisory on the Department of State’s website. There, you’ll find the date the advisory was issued and a detailed account of the issues at stake. Understanding the risks of entering the country will help you weigh the pros and cons of continuing on with your travel plans.

Be sure to read the details, as the severity of the advisory can vary significantly. At the moment, a travel warning is in place for El Salvador for general crime and violence problems throughout the country—though tens of thousands of Americans visit this country every year with no issues. However, a travel warning in place for North Korea appears to be far more serious, with the Department of State recommending “against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea” for reasons like the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of Americans.

Your Choice
Travel alerts and warnings do not legally forbid you from embarking on travels to the countries in question. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make. If you have concerns, continue your investigation. Talk to hotels, airlines, tourism boards, embassies, and other people who have recently visited the country to determine what you can expect to encounter.

If You Do Go
If you decide to accept the risks of traveling to a country with a travel advisory in place, take some extra precautions to keep yourself safe. Register yourself with the U.S. Department of State’s STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). Be sure to inform your friends and family back home about your plans, and keep the updated throughout your travels. Before you head off, develop a plan of action for what you might do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. Prepare all necessary documents and acquire any contact information you might need, should the worst-case scenario arise.

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