If you are thinking about becoming an expat, or are planning an extended trip across the globe in a variety of places, you might be aware of some travel warnings or advisories that are issued by the U.S. government. But what are U.S. travel advisories, and what do they mean? Which countries have U.S. travel advisories?
A U.S. travel advisory does not mean that Americans are forbidden from traveling to a certain country, but they usually imply that if people can avoid them they should, because conditions have changed over the long-term, and travel might carry specific risks. U.S. travel warnings are generally issued when the government considers it “dangerous” for Americans to travel in certain countries or regions. Typically, and advisory means that the U.S. is limited in its ability to help if a problem comes up in one of these countries. However, there are come instances when the U.S. will issue an advisory that requires that U.S. travelers exercise emergency plans to leave the country, as the risks to the health and safety of American have become too great.
What kinds of conditions can cause the U.S. to issue a travel advisory? An example is the U.S. travel advisory for the Ivory Coast, which was issued in response to the ongoing political unrest and demonstrations stemming from the recent presidential election. A harsher warning has been issued for Nigeria, where threats of kidnapping and robbery have caused the U.S. to ask citizens to cease all “non-essential” travel in certain regions of the country. In Yemen, a country that has seen numerous terrorist attacks in recent months, travelers are encouraged to leave the country when possible. This is the most extreme of the current U.S. travel advisories.
It is important to pay attention to U.S. travel advisories – many travelers who are taking on seasonal employment may not have constant access to news reports, and may not realize some of the political or environmental changes that can cause a country to become more dangerous. The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs issues travel warnings, and they are available at the Bureau of Consular Services website.
You should always be careful while traveling, but while traveling in a country with a U.S. advisory, you should be extremely aware of what is going on around you. Below is a list of tips for being safe while working and traveling abroad:
- Know the norms: There are certain things that we do every day (hand gestures, facial expression, even wearing certain accessories) that may send different signals to people in other countries than they do to people back home. To avoid any misunderstandings that could lead to an altercation, ask someone who is familiar with the cultural norms of your host country as many questions as possible. Your best bet is to find another expat who may have a better of idea of issues that might get confused in cultural translation.
- Look the part: This doesn’t mean just dressing like a local (because let’s face it, some of us are never going to fit in everywhere), but is more about appearing confident and sure of yourself in your surroundings. When you leave your home or hotel or hostel, make sure that you know where you are going so that you don’t have to check a map or stop too many people for directions. If you do get lost, find a shop to stop into and ask the person behind the counter, rather than approaching a person on the street for directions. Looking confident will make you appear less vulnerable.
- Avoid traveling alone: A single person is more of a target than a group. Even if you are a loner, and prefer to be on your own while traveling, it doesn’t hurt to be friendly with groups of people that you meet on the road. This is particularly true when you are arriving somewhere for the first time: getting off of a bus, plane or train is one of the most likely times that you will be victim of a petty crime like robbery. Instead, make some casual friends and be part of the group, just until you get to your final destination. You’ll find that most travelers are happy to have new people to exchange tips and stories with.
- Talk to the bus driver: Bus drivers, and other people who work in public transportation, know just about everything about the communities they serve, and they have even more specific knowledge of the tourist experience since they spend much of their time in vehicles with out-of-towners. While it’s always polite to try to strike up a pleasant conversation with someone you are in a car with, talking to taxi and bus drivers in a foreign land can help you get some more detailed, insider information about how safe a place really is, or isn’t.
Advice for Women Travelers
There are also some specific tips for women who are traveling abroad, specifically those who are traveling alone in countries that may have different gender roles from those in the United States.
- Be aware of stereotypes: This piece of advice is probably going to be somewhat unpopular, since no one wants to be culturally insensitive, or to change her behavior dramatically in order to fit in, but the truth of it is, American women are viewed differently from other women in many cultures. Exposure to sexualized TV shows and movies have put forth the impression that all American women act a certain way, and people may have certain expectations of women that could be dangerous.
- Avoid familiarity: Similar to point number one, some preconceived notions about American women can lead to awkward situations. This can come into play when it comes to friendships between men and women – in many cultures, it is normal to hug, walk arm-in-arm, even hold hands with someone who is simply a friends. In other cultures however, this might be seen as some sort of advance. While it might go against your nature, you should make it a point to avoid being overly familiar with people before you have a handle on the way in which people interact physically as friends.
Stay Safe Abroad
U.S. Travel Advisories are for your safety, not to limit your ability to travel and explore. The advisories are constantly being updated by the U.S. State Department in order to give people a complete picture of how conditions in a region might affect a foreigner. Like so many elements of world travel, your best ally is information – reading the news, checking the U.S. Bureau of Consular Services website and talking to locals can give you a wealth of information to help you navigate and travel safely.