Everyone wants a safe trip. If your trip leaves you in a dangerous situation, ill or missing documents, it can change your trip for the worse. The US State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) is there to care for Americans, especially while traveling. Knowing how to use the information they offer online can help you if a threatening situation arises while you are abroad.
With the recent protests in Libya where Americans were evacuated and the earthquake in Japan that will certainly affect Americans traveling there, taking advantage of the alerts and warnings put of by ACS can save your trip (or even save your life!).
- Country Specific Information
When you know what countries you want to visit, you can find country specific information to get general visa requirements, security information and health issues. Familiarizing yourself with this website can help you better prepare for your trip and know what to expect.
- Travel Alerts and Warnings
If you are traveling to an area of unrest, you can check to see if the ACS has listed it with a travel alert or travel warning. Travel alerts are short-term situations, like Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami, and might not be an issue by the time you travel. Travel warnings are long-term issues, like Iran, and might affect your trip more.
While these alerts and warnings should definitely be taken into account, they shouldn’t be the final decision on your trip. My friend, Fernando recently passed through Iran and he really enjoyed it. Rick Steves has also traveled to Iran specifically to show that it is not a war-torn country. You can find his stories about Iran on his website.
Keep in mind that most violence is not aimed specifically at tourists. While tourists do die in situations abroad, so do locals, and the violence was not always directed at the tourists. Don’t be afraid to travel just because you saw one event on the news and one tourists happened to be caught in the middle of a bad situation. Keep it in perspective and think about all the people that travel with no problem every day.
- Tips for Traveling Abroad from ACS
Through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), you can register with embassies and receive travel alerts and warnings related to your trip. This is a great way to hear about issues that might affect your trip, but may also be unnecessary.
Honestly, I’ve never registered with embassies in my travels. Any issues that might have affect me, I’ve heard about through local news. The ACS warns you of any event, no matter how localized or how unrelated. Of course, for major events like in Libya where Americans were evacuated or Japan where traveling Americans needed to be accounted for, it can be a very good thing to register with the embassies and be in contact with them in emergencies.
The ACS notifications might make you more worried that you need to be. If you are in the north of Germany in Berlin, you won’t be affected by terrorist threats in Munich, in the south. You don’t need to get emails about this from ACS, but you will probably be aware of it by watching local news if it’s really an issue. When I was in Greece, friends from home were asking me about the riots in Athens, but my week there wasn’t affected by it at all besides transportation protests. In my experience, I have traveled safely without these advisories and I find them unnecessary.
- Health Abroad
Staying healthy while traveling can save a lot of misery, hospital bills and wasted travel days. About 4-6 weeks before your trip, you need to get vaccines if they are recommended or required. This will prevent your from contracting diseases or illnesses in that country that can put a huge damper on your trip. On the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, you can find out what vaccines are recommended and which are required.
Depending on the illnesses prone to the country you’ll be in, you may not want to bring medicine from home ‘just in case’. When I was in Egypt, I didn’t bring any medicine with me (aside from Motrin and motion sickness pills). In my first few days, I had stomach problems from bad water in some sugar cane juice that I had. After suffering for a few days, I didn’t know what to do. I asked one of my friends who lived in Egypt and he gave me some pills that worked like magic. I was able to buy it at the pharmacy in Egypt for less than $2 for a pack of 12 (I stocked up!). If I would have brought something from home, it might not have been the right thing for the Egyptian bug I had. Buying meds in the country you get sick in can prove to be better made for your problem. Of course, there are fake medications on the market in some developing countries, so buy carefully.
Hopefully, you won’t have to use them, but it’s wise to write down a list of embassies and keep it with you. If you lose your passport or luggage, have health or legal problems or need to get visa advice, the embassy information will come in handy.
I always feel better when I know where the local embassies are. I’ve only gone to an embassy once on my travels. When I was in Thessaloníki, Greece, I went to the embassy to ask for their safety, visa and health recommendations for Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania. If you have questions like these, the embassies can be useful, even just to put your mind at ease.
- Living Abroad
If you are planning on residing abroad, you can get advice, information on how to vote while abroad and tips on discounts for students and teachers. While most of the planning you’ll do will likely involve the embassy or consulate of the country you’ll be moving to, ACS’s website is available to give you some tips for living abroad.
Most likely, there will be no problems on your trip. Hopefully, you will remain safe, healthy and out of jail! But, in the case of an emergency, the ACS is there to help you. Being aware of what they can off and take advantage of their free help and information. I hope there are no protests, earthquakes or tsunamis affecting your trip, but if there are, you’ll be prepaid!