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Travel the Globe with Peace of Mind Part 2: Understanding the New DOS Travel Warning System

The U.S. Department of State’s website has long been a valuable source of information for American travelers. Its system of “travel alerts” and “travel warnings” relayed information about how safe it was for U.S. citizens to travel to foreign countries.

For many, this former travel warning system was often unclear. To make important safety information easier to understand, the DOS has replaced its old system with a tiered four-level system. In this article, I’m going to break down the new system and take a closer look at how you as an employer can best use the information available to make smart travel decisions for your organization.

Flag and Passport

Understanding the Basics

Every country on the globe is assigned a travel advisory level 1 through 4, with 1 being the lowest level of risk. For advisory levels 2 or higher, the DOS also assigns a risk indicator, which describes why the level has been assigned:

C=Crime   T=Terrorism   U=Civil Unrest   H=Health   N=Natural Disaster   E=Time-Limited Event   O=Other

medium-dos-travel-warningsThe website even offers a color-coded world map, which shows the security levels of countries around the world at a glance, as well as the locations of U.S. embassies, consulates, and more.

It’s also worthwhile to note that regions within a country may be assigned a travel advisory level that is different from that of the rest of the country. For example, Mexico currently has a Level 2 travel advisory, while 16 of its 31 states have been elevated to a Level 3 or 4 due to crime. This is exactly why it is so important to consult the DOS website before traveling internationally to learn of any conditions that could make certain destinations unsafe for U.S. travelers.

Making Informed Travel Decisions

While the new travel warning system is definitely an improvement upon the old system, it is impossible for the DOS to paint a perfectly accurate picture of the safety conditions in every area of every country.

So what’s the takeaway for business leaders who are making decisions regarding international travel for their employees?

There are a couple of different ways to look at this. First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that international travel is inherently risky for your employees. Even in countries with a Level 1 travel advisory, U.S. travelers will still be staying in an unfamiliar area where languages and customs can become barriers to communication. Additionally, they will be far away from their healthcare providers and American government.

Moreover, as the DOS reiterates often in its travel warnings, “Conditions in any country may change at any time.” So no matter how safe another country typically is for U.S. travelers, it is still essential for businesses to sufficiently prepare their employees for international travel and any of the risks that they might encounter. (To learn more about this, check out our article all about the steps travelers can take to reduce their risk when traveling abroad.)

On the flipside, countries with a Level 2 or 3 travel advisory need not be unilaterally avoided. Especially when taking steps to reduce risk when traveling, it is possible to visit some of these places safely. To help shed some light on this, I spoke with John Makowski, President of Makowski Global Security Solutions, LLC.

“A country could be assigned Level 2, increased caution, due to a health concern that is confined to an area that you will not be visiting,” Makowski explains. “You certainly need to be aware of it, but it perhaps wouldn’t stop you.”

This same concept could be applied to a country with a Level 3 travel advisory due to civil unrest, for example. According to Makowski, even the DOS website does not always explain exactly where a particular risk is taking place. He says, “They may issue an advisory because there’s a major demonstration in the city, but if you’re not going to that area or city, it won’t necessarily apply to you.”

Of course he underscores the importance of coupling the DOS information with further research about the area to which your organization will be traveling. This is an area where working with an expert in global security—who would have access to additional government and even local resources—could be a huge asset to your business.

Whether you’re planning travel to a Level 1 country or a Level 4, the bottom line is that it is a business’s responsibility to prepare its employees for international travel by providing them with education and comprehensive travel insurance (with medical assistance coverage) to reduce their exposure to risk.

To learn more about how business leaders can develop an infrastructure that supports safe international travel, stay tuned for the third and final installment of our series on international travel.


Disclaimer:  Makowski Global Security Solutions, LLC (MGSS), offers reports, services, training, evaluations and opinions of various types without liability for the content, decisions, or actions taken based on the information provided.  All work and information is provided in good faith and based on current information, industry practices and various sources.