What travelers need to know about the State Department’s travel alert


Here’s what the government’s alert means for travelers




The State Department issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens overseas. Here’s a rundown of what that means for travelers.


Q: How common are warnings like this?


A: State Department travel alerts to specific countries aren’t uncommon, sometimes tied to events like the protests in Egypt. The alert on Friday, though, warns travelers of a heightened risk during the entire month of August is unusual in that it specifically warns of a terrorist attack, cites such a large area—the Middle East and Africa—and mentions al Qaeda.


The State Department has six active travel alerts. The other five are related to political unrest in specific countries, hurricane season and a kidnapping in Cameroon.


The State Department also issues what it calls travel “warnings.” Those are about specific countries when there are long-term conditions that could make traveling there unsafe. There are currently travel warnings for 35 countries.


Q: Should I cancel or reschedule my trip?


A: The State Department’s travel alert doesn’t say people should cancel trips.


William Daly, who heads the New York office of Control Risks Group LLC, a global consultancy specializing in political and security risk, said his firm was telling its business clients as of Friday not to cancel trips—but suggested it would be prudent to postpone discretionary travel.


Travelers with tour groups should make sure their tour organizers were keeping abreast of the situation and had contingency plans.


Q: What are appropriate safety measures for travelers?


A: The State Department alert recommends U.S. citizens register their plans through its travel registration website, and it “strongly recommend[s]” that U.S. citizens traveling abroad enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which sends security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact travelers.


It also suggests travelers regularly monitor the department’s website and follow it on Twitter, and follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook. The department also has a free Smart Traveler app.


Travelers should have contingency plans: a haven and a way to evacuate quickly, Mr. Daly said. Moreover, they should maintain a low profile; tourists should take pains to blend in, he said.


Q: Will airlines allow travelers to change their flights because of this without charging fees?


A: Airlines didn’t appear to be offering waivers on Friday, but could if the situation changes.

—Jack Nicas contributed to this article


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