“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.”
The above is an actual warning from the State Department on the high risk of traveling to certain countries.
But how do you know which countries are generally safe to travel to and which to avoid?
The State Department has an entire section on their website specifically dedicated to travel advisories, complete with color-coded maps and varying degrees of safety levels.
And as you can see, they don’t mince words on warning Americans on the legit dangers in certain countries.
Each country on their website is analyzed and ranked – and they provide continuous updates for American travelers.
Even better, it is a totally free resource and their travel advisories are generally spot on—unlike China, who just issued a bogus warning to their citizens telling them not to come to the United States due to “gun violence” and “frequent” shootings in America (don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of this warning).
The State Department will rank each country with a level of 1 through 4, with “Level 4” being the most dangerous.
So before you book your next trip – here’s the meaning behind the numbers – and what you need to look for.
Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions
All travel has some degree of risk – and your risk increases with international travel.
But countries listed as a “Level 1” are generally pretty safe to travel to.
Level 1 countries include places like Bermuda, Botswana, Portugal, Switzerland, Thailand, and Vietnam.
If you’re skiing in Switzerland or taking an African safari in Botswana, you’re probably not going to get shot at or kidnapped by terrorists.
Sure, anything can happen, but these countries are usually a safe bet.
Level 2 – Exercise Increased Cautions
When visiting a Level 2 country, you need to be a bit more vigilant, but generally these are still a safe pick for most travelers.
Level 2 countries include places like Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, and the Bahamas.
However, the posed risks for these Level 2 countries vary greatly by location – for example, the Bahamas is ranked a Level 2 due to crime, but Mexico rings in at a Level 2 due to crime and kidnapping.
And clearly the risk of traveling to Germany is different from Mexico – which is why it’s crucial to click on each country to read the specific warnings for each area.
The State Department will tell you why the country is a risk and may even tell you to avoid certain cities altogether.
Level 3 – Reconsider Travel
Alright, now things are starting to get real.
I don’t recommend traveling to a Level 3 country if it’s your first time traveling overseas.
The stakes are higher and the dangers are legit.
And if you do decide to travel to a Level 3 country, you’ll need to seriously step up your game.
Level 3 countries include places like El Salvador, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey.
The State Department classifies these countries as “high-risk areas” and has an entire page on their website that basically tries to talk you out of traveling to these countries – even going so far as to tell you to leave a DNA sample with your medical provider so your family can access it should something go horribly wrong.
Alright, so with all that being said, I did just return from yet another trip to El Salvador (my third trip this year) – but I was there for a specific purpose.
And where I was in San Salvador, it was common for me to see masked soldiers riding around in the back of trucks with aimed guns.
They don’t mess around in El Sal.
In fact, for El Salvador, part of its travel warning reads:
“Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents”.
If you are a rookie traveler who has never left the country – absolutely not. But if you’ve traveled a bit and have some street smarts, I do recommend booking a trip to El Salvador which is truly beautiful and the food is delicious.
But listen… the whole “do not display signs of wealth” and “avoid walking or driving at night” are not optional in Level 3 countries. Your safety depends on observing these precautions.
Level 4 – Do Not Travel
Honestly – I would avoid these countries unless you have a serious reason to be there.
They really are not safe for Americans and you’re not only putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting other people at risk who will have to figure out how to get you out of the country should you become detained.
Level 4 countries include war zones like Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.
I mean come on, do you really have a reason to be in Syria?
The State Department warns that all of Syria is dangerous – there isn’t one area deemed as a “safe zone.”
In fact, the U.S. Embassy suspended its operation in Syria nearly 7 years ago – and especially warns private U.S. citizens they could literally die if they enter Syria.
You’re not special – skip the Level 4 countries.
Fluid – Not Static
Note, travel warnings can and do often change.
A country can suddenly jump from a Level 3 to a Level 4 depending on the political climate and situations on the ground.
Venezuela was rated a Level 3 just last year – but now is ranked a Level 4 and the State Department warns if U.S. citizens become detained, Venezuelan authorities may not even notify the U.S.
No thanks, I’ll pass.
So before you book your next trip overseas – check out the State Department Travel advisories – and pay attention to the specific threats in the country and cities you want to visit.
You may read the advisory on a certain country and still choose to go – but at least you’ll know what situation you’re walking into.
Do you ever read the travel warnings before you travel overseas?
Have you ever traveled to a Level 3 or Level 4 country before?
Tell us in the comments below!