Travel Safety Tips

A U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Explainer for Every Traveler

A U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Explainer for Every Traveler

So, you’re ready to go on vacation. You’ve got your passport and other travel docs in order, you plotted your itinerary, booked your tickets, bought trip insurance and packed your bags. A week before you’re set to take off, you discover that your ideal vacation spot has a Level 3 Travel Advisory. Your heart sinks and visions of lying on the beach and soaking up the sun fade. But does a Level 3 advisory really mean you have to cancel your trip? What do the State Department travel advisories really mean?   

What is a Travel Advisory?

Let’s start with the basics. What does a travel advisory mean? Travel advisories are official warnings usually issued by a government agency or health authority about the comparative safety of a specific country or destination. These notifications allow travelers to make informed decisions about their travel safety and help them prepare for whatever situation they may encounter if they decide to visit a locale with a travel advisory. The U.S. State Department issues travel advisories for countries all over the world. It’s important to know that the Department of State will issue advisories not just for countries but for states and regions within the countries. So say for example there’s a Mexico travel advisory. Yucatan State may be a Level 1, which means the travel risks of visiting are low. However, Zacatecas state may be a Level 4, meaning it’s not safe to travel.    

The Difference between a Travel Advisory and a Travel Alert 

There are two main differences between a U.S. travel advisory and a travel alert. For starters, advisories are issued by the State Department whereas U.S. embassies and consulates issue travel alerts for the countries in which they are located. The other key difference is time. State Department travel advisories are generally issued for ongoing threats while travel alerts usually pertain to sudden, shorter term ones. For more information from the State Department click here.

Types of Travel Advisories

Travel advisories are based on the perceived security threat within a country. This means that the reasons for and the types of travel advisories are numerous. Among the most common security threats a country can face are: 

  • Crime
  • Violence
  • Kidnapping
  • Civil Unrest 
  • Disease/Health Risks
  • Landmine Activity
  • War

These and other conditions make it potentially unsafe for non-essential travel. Many of these threats are common in every country, but the difference is prevalence and severity. For example, no country on Earth is immune to crime, but not all crime is not always rampant, and it’s not always violent. The Department of State’s advisory levels are there to indicate how dangerous the security threats are. 

Understanding State Department Travel Advisory Levels

Under the DOS Travel Advisory System, every country is assigned a color-coded risk level ranging from Level 1 to Level 4, with Level 1 countries presenting the lowest travel risk and Level 4 countries, the highest. But what exactly do each of these levels mean? Here’s a quick explainer. 

What does a Level 1 travel advisory mean?

If a Level 1 travel advisory is assigned to your destination country it means that traveling there presents a comparatively low risk. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to plan, prepare and think about your travel safety. If your destination country is assigned a Level 1 travel advisory, you should be able to travel there with confidence and peace of mind. However, you don’t want to travel there with a false sense of security. Be sure to do your research; pack and prepare for the possibility that not everything will go your way.  

What does a Level 2 travel advisory mean?  

Level 2 travel advisories generally indicate a moderate level of safety risks to tourists. You’ll want to exercise caution. What exactly does this mean? Simply put, you want to be knowledgeable about the types of security threats you might encounter and plan, pack and prepare for your travels with vigilance. While Level 1 travel advisories won’t likely deter tourists from visiting a country, Level 2 advisories might give them something more to think about. Still, based on the DOS travel advisory standards, Level 2 countries need not be avoided. Just take a bit more care if you venture across their borders. 

What does a Level 3 travel advisory mean? 

At this level, things start to get a little thorny. If your destination country is assigned a Level 3, the U.S. Department of State is advising you to reconsider traveling there. While you can still technically travel to these countries, it would be wise to avoid it.       

What does a Level 4 travel advisory mean?

A Level 4 travel advisory means that you should avoid all travel to the country. When a country is assigned a Level 4, the risks are deemed too high to travel safely within its borders.  

Travel Advisory & Trip Insurance

Now that you know a bit more about travel advisories, you might be wondering if there’s any correlation between advisory levels and trip insurance. If you’re traveling to a country that has a Level 4 travel advisory, you may not be eligible for certain benefits, like Accident & Sickness coverage. If the government deems the country unsafe for tourism, your insurance company will too, and consequently it will likely not cover the cost of care for injuries and illnesses sustained during the high-risk visit.  

Trip Insurance with Cancel For Any Reason

If you buy trip insurance and soon discover that the state department’s travel advisory level for your destination is at a level 3 or 4, you might start rethinking your travel plans. Trip insurance with Cancel For Any Reason coverage lets you cancel your trip for literally any reason and still recoup prepaid travel expenses like hotel and rental deposits. Without trip insurance with Cancel For Any Reason, you’d lose your trip investment.                  

Got Trip Insurance Questions? VisitorsCoverage Can Help

If you have questions about trip insurance our team of licensed travel insurance experts is happy to help.