WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday unveiled four tiered categories to warn travelers of potential dangers overseas, using common-sense language ranging from “Exercise normal precautions” to “Do not travel.”
The new rankings replace the vague and often confusing system of issuing “travel alerts” for short-term dangers posed by events such as epidemics or mass protests, and “travel warnings” for long-standing concerns such as armed conflict or political instability. The new rankings, found on travel.state.gov, are applied to every country, even Antarctica.
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Michelle Bernier-Toth, head of Overseas Citizens Services, said the changes were made because so few people understood the distinctions in the previous, broad rankings. “I personally was tired of explaining the difference between a travel warning and a travel alert, even to some of my colleagues,” she said. “We needed to make it more accessible to people, to make sure the information was more easily understood using plain language.”
Under the new rankings, level 1, the lowest advisory, signals a need to “exercise normal precautions” in places where there is no more than the usual risk involved in international travel. Canada and Australia are among the countries ranked level one.
Level 2 means “exercise increased caution” for nations where there is a heightened risk to safety. Many countries in Western Europe, where there have been terrorist attacks in recent years, are listed as level 2. Antarctica is also a level 2, for “environmental hazards posed by extreme and unpredictable weather,” according to the State Department.
Level 3 translates bluntly as “reconsider travel,” with the recommendation to avoid going to countries with serious risks. Turkey, Russia and Venezuela are considered level 3.
Level 4 is for do-not-travel countries, those with a “greater likelihood of life-threatening risks” in which the U.S. government may be limited in its ability to help. Travelers already in those countries are advised to leave as soon as it is safe.
Eleven countries come with the do-not-travel recommendation, most in Africa and the Middle East: Mali, Central African Republic, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.
In addition, the new system will explain why the advisory was made, with one-letter logos: C for crime, T for terrorism, U for civil unrest, H for health risks, N for natural disasters, E for special events like an election and O for some other reason.
U.S. citizens are not banned from traveling to level 4 countries. The one exception is North Korea, where the State Department has prohibited citizens from using their U.S. passports to visit without first obtaining a waiver.
Cuba, which last year came with the travel advisory to not travel there, is now listed as level 3.
In Mexico, a level 2, the State Department grades each of the nation’s 31 states on the same scale. It urges travelers to stay away from the states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas (all level 4).