This New Update From the U.S. State Department Could Impact Your Travel Plans

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Earlier this summer, the U.S. State Department updated its official travel warning for Mexico -- namely adding stricter advisories for Quintana Roo, a region that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, as well as Baja California, including Cabo San Lucas. Around the same time, a travel alert throughout Europe was also issued, and in November, the U.S. once again released a holiday alert for the region.

For those who are puzzled by the differences between a travel alert and travel warning, the Bureau of Consular Affairs, a division of the U.S. State Department, announced its plans to introduce a new four-tiered system for alerting Americans about potential security threats abroad. Having undergone a year-long review process, the new system is slated to go into effect in January.

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Travel advisories will be issued for every country in the world, offering “advice to U.S. citizens by following a four-level classification system and providing clear actions to take,” said Carl Risch, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, at a public briefing on Friday.

For countries set at level one, travelers are encouraged to “exercise normal precautions.” Level two translates to “exercise increased caution,” while level three indicates Americans should “reconsider travel.” Finally, level four means “do not travel.” 

It’s worth nothing that citizens will not be barred from traveling to countries deemed a level four (like they are with North Korea). Risch also stated that the levels will be “strictly based on safety and security conditions, and not on political considerations.” The specific factors the State Department will focus on include crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health, natural disaster, and time-limited events such as elections. In addition, warning levels could vary within a single country, depending on the region.

Overall, the State Department hopes to improve “communications with U.S. citizen travelers to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” said Risch. “We wanted it to be an easier to understand system.” 

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