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State Department Changes Overseas Travel Advisory

Outbreak is controlled in many countries, but where are U.S. travelers welcome?

US passport with map

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En español | The U.S. Department of State has lifted its global advisory against all international travel, but the recent change doesn't mean American tourists will be roaming the world anytime soon. Many countries remain on the department's “do not travel” list because of the pandemic or other reasons having to do with crime or social unrest. And some nations that have their own outbreaks under control are banning Americans, as the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S.

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a country that currently offers both safe travels, as determined by the State Department, and a welcoming, restriction-free policy toward American visitors.

There are about a dozen countries in the Caribbean, desperate for tourism dollars while cruise ships remain out of commission, that are now allowing U.S. visitors — but many that have seen their COVID-19 caseloads rise with the arrivals are requiring American travelers to provide negative COVID-19 tests and/or quarantine. “A lot of these countries’ GDP depends on tourism,” says Jan L. Jones, professor of hospitality and tourism at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. “But [COVID-19's] cost to their health system is just so high."

The State Department's recent change, made in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reverts to its previous detailed, country-specific recommendation system, using numbered 1 through 4 advisories. Level 1 indicates that a country is relatively safe and tourists should “exercise normal precautions.” It now includes only Greenland, Macau and Taiwan.

The highest level, 4, means “do not travel.” The State Department website has a user-friendly color-coded world map, offering a startling look at how much of the globe remains at Level 4 — including nearly all of South America, Asia and the Middle East; many parts of Africa; and Mexico. In some cases the travel warning is due not only to high levels of COVID-19, but to terrorism, crime or other threats.

And much of the rest of the State Department map is colored orange for Level 3, the advisory that suggests Americans “reconsider travel.”

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Regardless, many of those Level 3 countries — including the ones most popular with travelers from the U.S., such as Australia, Canada, Italy, France and others throughout Europe — still prohibit Americans from visiting or have serious restrictions on them once they arrive. Americans can visit Great Britain and Ireland, for example, but they need to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival. In Ireland they need to fill out a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form indicating where they will be quarantining, with high penalties for noncompliance.

Meanwhile, the CDC says staying home remains the best way to avoid getting sick because no form of travel is completely safe: “We don't know if one type of travel is safer than others; however, airports, bus stations, train stations and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance [keep 6 feet apart from other people].”

Its recommendations for U.S. travel include wearing a mask in all public areas and, when possible, using remote check-in at hotels and contactless payment methods.

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