The U.S. Department of State regularly updates their travel warnings and travel alerts section of their website. Sign up for alerts and updates or check in prior to your trip. Make sure you enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (Step).
The U.S. Department of State will issue a Travel Warning when they want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. Travel Warnings remain in place until the situation changes, and some have even been in effect for years. They will issue a Travel Alert for short-term events you should know about when planning travel to a country. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Alert might include an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.
Traveling to high-risk places is dangerous and puts your life, and possibly the lives of others, in jeopardy. Traveling to high-risk areas puts you at risk for kidnapping and hostage-taking. Remember that you are subject to the laws and the justice system of the country you are visiting.
In many countries where the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations, the U.S. government has no means to provide consular services to U.S. citizens. In the limited number of countries where the United States has an official Protecting Power arrangement with another country, very limited assistance may be available.
Additional Recommendations for traveling in high-risk areas:
- Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
- Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.
- Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs.
- Establish your own personal security plan in coordination with your employer or host organization, or consider consulting with a professional security organization.
- Develop a communication plan with family and/or your employer or host organization so that they can monitor your safety and location as you travel through high-risk areas. This plan should specify who you would contact first, and how they should share the information.
- Identify key sources of possible assistance for you and your family in case of emergency, such as the local U.S. embassy or consulate, FBI, the State Department, your employer (if traveling on business), and local friends/family in the high-risk area.
- Be sure to appoint one family member to serve as the point of contact with hostage-takers, media, U.S. and host country government agencies, and Members of Congress, if you are taken hostage or detained.
- Establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones, so that if you are taken hostage, your loved ones can know specific questions (and answers) to ask the hostage-takers to be sure that you are alive (and to rule out a hoax)
- Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.
- Erase any sensitive photos, comments, or other materials from your social media pages, cameras, laptops, and other electronic devices that could be considered controversial or provocative by local groups.
- Leave your expensive/sentimental belongings behind