US State Department's New Travel Warning System
The discovery of eight bodies on the streets of the city of Cancun, Mexico on August 23 not only raised the idea of safety in Mexico yet again but cast a fresh light on the US State Department’s new travel warning system, which was rolled out in January.
The State Department replaced its traditional travel warnings and travel alerts with a travel advisory for every country. Each country’s advisory is ranked at one of four color-coded levels. Specifics are spelled out on each country’s webpage, which also has visa requirements, embassy locations and contact information, not to mention local laws travelers should know about.
There are now four advisory levels, ranked from low to high:
Level 1 – Blue – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risks and at the moment, it includes countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Norway, Finland and Japan.
Level 2 – Yellow- Exercise Increased Caution: The State Department says that travelers to these countries should “Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security.” This is a very wide category indeed and includes countries such as Italy, Belgium and Denmark, all of them singled out for possible occurrences of terrorism. South Africa and Brazil make this list for crime, as does Mexico.
Level 3 – Orange – Reconsider Travel:
“Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security,” says the State Department, of this list that currently includes Turkey, Chad, Haiti and Russia.
Level 4 – Red – Do Not Travel:
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.” This list singles out Afghanistan, Central African Republic, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
But the levels are not the entire story. It’s necessary to read deeper in order to discover particulars.
The State of Quintana Roo is where Cancun lies and currently has a Level 2 status. Of the murders there, the US State Department has said that “While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Bystanders have been injured or killed in shooting incidents.”
It also pays to read the full reports on each country. For example, other states in Mexico have different levels of caution. There are currently five states that have Level 4 designations: Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas. Eleven other states are ranked at Level 3.
Crime and terrorism are not the only cautions of these country alerts. Climate change is another. Fires in Greece this summer merited a Security Alert, as did wildfires in British Columbia, Canada and severe rainstorms in Szechuan Province, China.
There’s more detailed information at the US State Department’s website. But savvy travelers should also check out the government websites for the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. These countries each offer their own citizens country-by-country advice on security. Compare and contrast their recommendations and you’ll get a clearer picture of where you’re going – or not going — next.