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International travelers will find the U.S. State Department’s new online travel advisory system a lot more user-friendly. It now evaluates every country and labels each with a level of advice from 1 to 4. Level 1 indicates that a country is relatively safe and you should “exercise normal precautions” (Canada); level 4 means “do not travel” (Afghanistan). The reason for caution or avoidance — such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health risks or natural disaster — is clearly stated in bold print.
The new advisory method debuted Jan. 10, after a year-long assessment of the old system, which gave only broad advisories or warnings for the world’s 30 or so most dangerous countries. The revamp “allows us to be much more specific and clear about what to do and why,” says Ashley Garrigus, spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. It includes an interactive map of the world (which can take a while to load) that is color-coded to indicate different threat levels.
The site also provides information on the different safety levels within a country. While Mexico overall is Level 2 (“exercise increased caution” due to crime), for example, five Mexican states where crime is a greater threat are Level 4. France is currently at Level 2, due to terrorism: “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in France,” it says at the top of the country’s page, which offers more detailed advice if you scroll down and click on “Safety and Security.”
All travelers should still consider registering with the State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You’ll receive travel alertsabout your destination country, and embassy officials will be able to contact you and your loved ones with information and assistance if there’s an emergency.