State Department overhauls travel advisory method

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An interactive map color-codes the country by its ranking: red for 4, orange for 3 and yellow for 2.
An interactive map color-codes the country by its ranking: red for 4, orange for 3 and yellow for 2.

Recognizing that most people don't know the difference between a "travel warning" and a "travel alert," the State Department has overhauled its country-specific travel advisory system.

Every nation in the world now has a travel advisory ranking from 1 to 4, with level 4 meaning "do not travel" and level 1 "exercise normal precautions."

Popular destinations for U.S. travelers such as Mexico, France and the United Kingdom register a 2, "exercise increased caution," while countries including Cuba, Turkey, and Russia have been given level 3, "reconsider travel."

An interactive map color-codes the country by its ranking: red for 4 (Iran, Yemen, North Korea), orange for 3 (Cuba, Turkey, Russia), and yellow for 2 (Spain, India, Brazil). Countries with a level 1 ranking (Canada, Sweden, Mongolia) are not color-coded.

For countries deemed level 2 and above, the risks and threats of traveling there are further specified. For example, terrorism in Western European countries and crime in Central and South American nations.

"It's laid out in a format that is much more readily accessible, much more easily understandable, and I think far more actionable than our other travel warnings and travel alerts," said Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services. 

The State Department has not changed its methods for determining the country-specific threats. 

"We already recommend people not to go to these countries," Bernier-Toth said of the level 4 nations. "How we assess the threat level in a country hasn't changed. … It's how we describe those conditions and set those levels that has changed."

Bernier-Toth said this was the first major overhaul of its travel advisory system "in a very long time."

"I think people will find it easier to understand than the old travel warnings," she said. "People often didn't understand the difference between a travel alert and a travel warning. And we shouldn't need to spend more time explaining the difference than we do explaining what the threat actually is."

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