In place of the previous system of alerts and advisories, the new ratings establish advisory levels (reminiscent of the now-defunct Homeland Security Advisory System) which correspond to escalating levels of insecurity.

  • Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
  • Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.

In addition, the State Department will now issue coded indicators explaining the reasons for an assigned level:

  • C – Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
  • T – Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.
  • U – Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.
  • H – Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may be a factor.
  • N – Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
  • E – Time-limited Event: A short-term event, such as an election, sporting event, or other incident that may pose a safety risk.
  • O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

The new travel advisory system includes an interactive, color-coded map that shows which countries carry what level. As examples, Sweden is a one, Germany is a two, Guatemala is a three, and Afghanistan is a four. Here’s a complete list of every country’s rating.

At first glance, this system does seem more useful than the previous one: The designations are fairly clear and easy to understand, and they’re written from the traveler’s point of view. This could also solve some confusion travelers often had about the meaning of a travel warning or alert versus an advisory.

That said, there seems (to me, anyway) to be a muddy distinction between levels one and  two. Most of Europe is rated a two, including France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, the U.K., Belgium, and Spain. Presumably, this is due to recent isolated incidents in each of those countries, but in many cases those incidents were several years ago. Is Holland, which is Level 1, objectively that much safer than Germany or France? Will Americans now hesitate to visit Denmark, a Level 2?

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual traveler’s perception of the specific risk to decide what is truly safe. Some people would have no second thoughts of traveling to Iran, for example, which is rated Level 4. These advisory levels are simply a tool for you to use, and could impact world travel in some pretty meaningful ways.

Readers, do you think this new system is an improvement? Did you pay much attention to the old system?

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