It’s barely a week old, but the new, four-level travel advisory system unveiled by the U.S. Department of State is already causing confusion and taking a beating on some social media outlets.
The concept behind the new travel advisories is pretty basic: Each country is now classified into one of four levels:
1. Exercise normal precaution
2. Exercise increased precaution
3. Reconsider travel
4. Do not travel.
The four-tier categories were designed to replace a system that consisted of Travel Alerts (generally issued for short-term or temporary events) and Travel Warnings (stronger-worded messages encouraging visitors to reconsider travel due to scenarios such as crime or terrorism.)
But the old system was confusing to travelers, who either didn’t know the difference between an alert or warning (or just assumed that they were one and the same thing).
While many countries in the old system had neither an alert nor a warning, now the State Department is forced to wrench each one into one of four categories, leaving little room for nuance. For many, the new system is as confusing as the one it replaces.
People aren’t exactly clear on what the actionable difference is between “exercise normal precautions” and “exercise increased precautions.”
In an appearance on CBS This Morning, Peter Greenberg, CBS News Travel Editor also questioned these definitions and likened “exercise regular precaution” to “don’t trip” and “exercise increased precaution” to “don’t trip and fall.”
Further adding to the confusion, many major nations are categorized at a certain level but have sub-regions that are categorized into “less safe” levels than that of the nationwide average.
Antigua & Barbuda, for example, is classified at the “safest” level. But within the advisory, the Island of Barbuda has been classified at the least-safe “do not travel” level due to “the aftermath of a natural disaster.”
A similar scenario is in effect for countries like Brazil, Jamaica and Mexico.
“Putting Mazatlan in the same department as Syria and Yemen is not really helping people,” noted Greenberg.
Nation vs. Nation
Numerous countries around the world are also questioning their categorizations, especially as to how they compare with other nations in the same classification.
In the United Kingdom, The Independent questions equating the United Kingdom (Level 2) with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which earned a #13 ranking on the Global Terrorism Index last year.
In Russia, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that Russia’s Level 3 rank was a “scare tactic” according to The Moscow Times.
Leonid Ragozin, a Lonely Planet author, further denounced Russia’s travel advisory as “paranoid,” and said, “it misleads US citizens by giving a grossly inaccurate picture of a country that is generally safe to travel.”
“Do Not Travel”
Also adding to the confusion, a Level 4 “do not travel” classification does not actually prohibit Americans from visiting nations in that category.
“[We] cannot prevent people from traveling to a country,” said Michelle Bernier-Toth, Bureau of Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services in a press teleconference. “The ‘do not travel’ is our recommendation.”
In the case of North Korea—also a Level 4 nation—Americans are, however, legally prohibited from traveling there unless they apply for a special validation, which is “granted only in very limited circumstances.”
Yet there is no differentiation between North Korea and other Level 4 nations and regions.
In its travel advisory for North Korea, the State Department uses some of its sternest language, recommending visitors, “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney,” before traveling there.
The language is not surprising, especially in light of the tragedy that befell University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, but it hardly seems on par with travelers who would like to visit Barbuda to help with recovery efforts.
Global Travel Remains Relatively Safe
When looking at a side-by-side classification of nations around the world, one thing becomes readily evident: Despite the State Department’s Worldwide Caution advisory, Planet Earth is a surprisingly safe place to visit.
For years, the fear of terrorism and crime abroad has affected American travelers.
But according to the State Department’s own assessment, just a dozen countries have been categorized as “Do Not Travel” nations. Less than 20 are listed among the “Reconsider Travel” group, a number that will likely decrease as some of the Caribbean nations hardest-hit by hurricanes Irma and Mariacontinue their recovery efforts.
As for the rest of the world? It’s pretty much a case of “don’t trip” or “don’t trip and fall.”
A category-by-category guide of every nation in the State Department database is listed below.
Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions
Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, Botswana, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Comoros, Croatia, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Greece, Grenada, Guinea, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, The Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal Qatar, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Sint Maarten, Slovakia, Solomon Island, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Zambia.
Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions (Some Areas Have Increased Risk)
Angola, Antigua & Barbuda, Armenia, Benin, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French West Indies, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Kuwait, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Moldova, Mozambique, Oman, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Thailand, Turkmenistan.
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
Antarctica, The Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, France, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Maldives, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Togo, Turks & Caicos, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe.
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution (Some Areas Have Increased Risk)
Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Israel/The West Bank/Gaza, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of the Congo, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Ukraine.
Level 3: Reconsider Travel
Anguilla (aftermath of a natural disaster); British Virgin Islands (aftermath of a natural disaster); Burundi (crime and armed conflict); Chad (crime, terrorism, and minefields); Cuba (health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees); Dominica (aftermath of a natural disaster); El Salvador (crime); Guatemala (crime); Haiti (crime and civil unrest); Lebanon (crime, terrorism, and armed conflict); Mauritania (crime and terrorism); Niger (crime and terrorism); Nigeria (crime, terrorism, and piracy); Pakistan (terrorism); Russia(terrorism and harassment); Sudan (terrorism and civil unrest); Turkey(terrorism and arbitrary detentions); Venezuela (crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.)
Level 4: Do Not Travel
Afghanistan (crime, terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict); Central African Republic (crime and civil unrest); Iran (risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens); Iraq (terrorism and armed conflict); Libya (crime, terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict): Mali (crime and terrorism); North Korea (risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals); Somalia (crime, terrorism and piracy); South Sudan (crime and armed conflict); Syria (terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict); Yemen (terrorism, civil unrest, health and armed conflict.)
Of course, geopolitics change quickly, so be sure to confirm any State Department advisories and language before planning travel abroad.
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