The World Tourism Organization forecasts that international travel could rebound to 80% to 95% of its pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Yet, as travelers consider their options, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that some destinations require more careful consideration than others.
For global travelers, a reliable resource in this decision-making process is the U.S. State Department, which regularly issues travel advisories for over 200 countries around the world. These advisories are dynamic, adjusting based on a range of risk factors such as health concerns, civil unrest, and potential terrorism threats. These advisories span from Level 1, indicating normal precautions, to Level 4, signaling a “Do Not Travel” advisory due to heightened risks.
At present, approximately 10% of all countries, totaling 20 in number, are designated with a Level 4 advisory as of August 4th. In these countries, the U.S. government’s capacity to provide assistance to travelers in times of jeopardy is notably limited, as indicated by the State Department. Factors such as crime rates, civil disturbances, kidnapping incidents, and terrorist activities contribute to the classification of these countries at Level 4.
The landscape of travel advisories has experienced shifts since July 1st. Notably, 16 countries have seen their Level 4 advisories updated or renewed during this time frame. Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Haiti are among these countries, each reflecting unique challenges. The situation in Ukraine stems from the ongoing Russian invasion, which has led to increased risks. Meanwhile, Niger has transitioned from a Level 3 to a Level 4 advisory due to escalating conflict in the region. As a response, the U.S. Embassy in Niger has temporarily suspended routine services to ensure the safety of its personnel and visitors.
As the world cautiously reopens its doors to travelers, the evolving web of travel advisories underscores the importance of thorough research and informed decision-making. Each destination carries its own set of circumstances, and staying up to date with official advisories can make all the difference in ensuring safe and rewarding journeys.
Countries with Level 4 Travel Advisories
As travel slowly resumes after the pandemic hiatus, it’s essential for travelers to be well-informed about the safety levels of their intended destinations. The U.S. government, through the State Department, issues travel advisories for over 200 countries, offering valuable insights into potential risks faced by travelers. Level 4, characterized by a “Do Not Travel” advisory, is assigned to places where extreme caution is necessary due to heightened risks. Here are some of the areas currently marked at Level 4, shedding light on the reasons behind these advisories:
Afghanistan: Ongoing armed conflict, civil unrest, crime, terrorism, and kidnapping make Afghanistan a perilous destination. The deterioration of women’s rights under Taliban rule and the government’s reintroduction of public punishments further contribute to its Level 4 status. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations in 2021.
Belarus: With its proximity to conflict areas and arbitrary enforcement of laws, Belarus poses risks tied to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and the potential for civil unrest. The U.S. Embassy in Minsk halted operations in 2022 due to these challenges.
Burkina Faso: Terrorism, crime, and kidnapping are pervasive threats in this West African nation, particularly in its East and Sahel regions. Hotels, restaurants, and schools could be targets of sudden attacks.
Central African Republic: While U.S. citizens haven’t been specifically targeted, violent crime and disruptions in travel routes are common. Limited support from the U.S. Embassy in Bangui due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping contribute to the advisory.
Myanmar: Armed conflict, civil unrest, inadequate healthcare, wrongful detentions, and the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance create risks for travelers in this Southeast Asian nation, following a military coup.
Gaza: Controlled by Hamas, the Gaza Strip experiences terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict, particularly with neighboring Israel. Recent hostilities have escalated the risks in the region.
Haiti: With a surge in kidnapping, violent crime, and gang conflicts, the security situation in Haiti is volatile. The U.S. Embassy’s partial closure in response to these threats underscores the severity of the situation.
Iran: Travelers, including U.S. citizens, face risks of kidnapping, wrongful detentions, and arbitrary arrests. Dual nationals, such as students and journalists, have been targeted for espionage allegations.
Iraq: Despite hosting international events, terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, and civil unrest persist in Iraq, especially along its northern borders and the border with Syria.
Libya: Internal conflicts among armed groups pose severe risks, including terrorism, civil unrest, crime, and kidnapping. Westerners have been targeted for ransom.
Mali: Military coup aftermath has left Mali vulnerable to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping, prompting the evacuation of U.S. government employees and families.
Mexico: Different regions within Mexico carry varying levels of risk. States like Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas have Level 4 advisories due to crime and kidnapping concerns.
As travelers gear up for new adventures, these Level 4 advisories serve as a reminder that cautious planning and careful consideration are paramount for ensuring safe and fulfilling journeys.
Niger: A recent attempted coup prompted a swift change in Niger’s travel advisory status. The U.S. government elevated its advisory from Level 3 to Level 4 after soldiers led by General Abdourahmane Tiani detained the country’s President and announced their control over Niger. This situation triggered various repercussions, including the evacuation of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey. International responses have been strong, with the World Bank pausing payments and aid being cut off by the U.S. and the European Union. The Economic Community of West African States has even threatened military intervention and imposed its sanctions.
North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea): The travel advisory for North Korea conveys an unusual caution—U.S. passports are not recognized for travel “to, in, or through” the country. North Korea’s Level 4 status originates from the ongoing risk of arrest and prolonged detention of U.S. nationals. Notably, in July, a U.S. soldier fled across the border into North Korea, marking the first American detained there in almost five years.
Russia: The Level 4 travel advisory for Russia casts a spotlight on its invasion of Ukraine and concerns like harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government officials and unpredictable law enforcement. This advisory encompasses specific regions as well, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus. Among the listed risks are terrorism, civil unrest, health concerns, kidnapping, and wrongful detention.
Somalia: A grave drought following five consecutive failed rainy seasons led to a devastating toll, claiming 43,000 lives last year and causing an ongoing famine. The situation is further exacerbated by conflicts with Islamist insurgents. Throughout Somalia, violent crime is rampant, and its coastline near the Horn of Africa is frequented by pirates. Medical facilities are limited and often strained. The advisory highlights a range of risks, including crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health concerns, and kidnapping.
South Sudan: In South Sudan, the risk factors are diverse and concerning. Detentions of journalists and a backdrop of political instability point to issues surrounding freedom of expression. Crime, kidnapping, and armed conflict present significant threats. Violent crime is pervasive, with weapons easily accessible, leading to incidents of sexual assault and armed robbery.
Sudan: Sudan has been grappling with a complex web of challenges, marked by escalated fighting and political upheaval. The U.S. embassy closure and airspace restrictions underscore the gravity of the situation. Civil unrest takes center stage, alongside risks such as crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict. Investigations into alleged war crimes and violence against ethnic groups are also ongoing.
Syria: The advisory paints a grim picture of Syria, stating that no part of the country is safe from violence. Terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and unjust detention are all prevalent risks. U.S. citizens are often targets for kidnappings and detention. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus halted operations in 2012.
Ukraine: Despite positive shifts brought on by Russian setbacks in the invasion, Ukraine remains at Level 4 due to the continued presence of Russian forces. Crime and civil unrest are additional risk factors. The country declared a state of emergency in February 2022.
Venezuela: Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis, human rights concerns, and deficient healthcare system raise alarms. Threats such as crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, wrongful detention, and poor healthcare infrastructure further contribute to its Level 4 advisory.
Yemen: A multitude of serious risk factors encompass Yemen, including terrorism, civil unrest, health risks, kidnapping, armed conflict, and landmines. Despite private companies offering tourist visits to Socotra Island, the U.S. government warns against such trips due to the inherent dangers. Civil war and cholera outbreaks compound the challenges.
The U.S. State Department’s travel advisories provide crucial information for travelers to make informed decisions about their destinations. These advisories are categorized into different levels, each reflecting the potential risks and precautions needed.
Here’s a breakdown of the advisory levels and some notable countries within each category:
Level 3: Reconsider Travel
Around 30 countries fall into this category, including China. China’s Level 3 status was initiated in late 2020 due to factors like COVID-19 concerns, arbitrary law enforcement, and related restrictions. While the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region recently moved to Level 2, caution remains due to arbitrary law enforcement.
Countries designated as Level 3 include some of the worst offenders in terms of human trafficking, such as Papua New Guinea, Guinea Bissau, China, and Chad. Nine Level 4 countries, which are at the highest risk level, are also on this list for human trafficking: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, Syria, South Sudan, and Venezuela.
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
Over 70 countries have received this designation, indicating a moderate level of caution. Notable examples include:
- Sweden: Terrorism is noted as the primary risk factor.
- France: Civil unrest and terrorism are listed as risk factors, reflecting nationwide protests.
- Israel and the West Bank: Ongoing regional conflicts contribute to the Level 2 advisory.
- Peru: Transitioned from Level 3 to Level 2, reflecting a more stable situation after a period of political unrest.
In an ever-changing world, the State Department emphasizes the importance of staying informed. Travelers are advised to pay attention to advisory levels and alerts, explore country information pages, and read country security reports before embarking on their journeys. Staying up-to-date with these resources can empower travelers to make well-informed decisions that prioritize their safety and well-being.