Improved Consular Safety and Security Messaging

January 11, 2018


In late November 2017, the U.S. Department of State announced upcoming changes to consular safety and security messaging, most notably, the elimination of Travel Warning and Travel Alert terminology. The new safety and security messaging is intended to be clear, timely, and reliable without consular “jargon”. As of January 10, 2018, every country in the world is assigned a Travel Advisory level, ranging from ‘Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions’ to ‘Level 4 – Do Not Travel.’ has also been optimized for use on mobile devices making it easier to access information while travelling or abroad.

Read State Department Page on Improved Consular Safety and Security Information


An overall Travel Advisory level has been assigned to each country along the following scale:

  • Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions
  • Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution
  • Level 3 - Reconsider Travel
  • Level 4 - Do Not Travel

Travel Advisory levels 2-4 will also contain risk indicators and offer specific advice for those choosing to travel to those countries. The risk indicators and definitions are:

  • 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: Short-term event, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents that may pose safety risks.
  • O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

U.S. Embassies and consulates abroad will also change their current “emergency” and “security” messages to “Travel Alerts”. Travel Alerts will follow a simplified format that allows the State Department to get safety messages out to the public more quickly. Recent alerts for a country will also appear below the Travel Advisory if an alert exists.

Considerations for Education Abroad

International safety and security for students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad is a top priority for all international educators; many institutions base their programming and travel policies on safety information issued by the U.S. Department of State. As you review your institutional or organizational travel policies in light of the new Travel Advisory levels, here are a few considerations for education abroad professionals:

  • Determine the acceptable level of risk tolerance for your institution or organization. Each institution has its unique context for this determination.
  • Remember that each country has an overall advisory level, but may have specific areas or regions with a different level of safety and security.
  • Revisit insurance policies for appropriate coverage of various locations.
  • Convene campus stakeholders deemed necessary by your institution or organization in your travel policy review: risk managers, legal counsel, deans, and others.
  • Consider travel advisories and warnings issued by other countries (ex. Canada, Australia, etc.)
  • Conduct benchmarking amongst similar sized/resourced institutions and organizations. The discussion forum on Network.NAFSA is a great venue for this.