Passports and Travel Warnings

If you have ever traveled abroad, you know that your passport is the most important document on your packing list.  You must protect this document because a lost or stolen passport can turn a trip into a disaster.  There are some things that you can do to protect your passport and some things you need to know if it is lost or stolen.

Before you leave for your trip, make sure you have several copies of your passport identification page.  You should leave one copy at home with relatives or friends.  Pack the other copies into each bag of luggage that you check, along with a copy in your carry-on bag.  Never put your original passport into checked luggage; it should always stay with you.  You should also take other forms of ID on your trip.  Be sure you have your driver’s license or another type of photo ID, and a  copy of your birth certificate.  Having these items makes getting a replacement passport a whole lot easier.

Many are not aware that U.S. passports are a big target for theft.  Try to be inconspicuous about your passport.  Don’t flash it around or make it obvious that it is in your possession.  Take it out only when necessary.  Consider one of the many travel accessories that makes carrying your passport easier.  During your trip, keep your passport in a hotel safe if possible.  Never leave it lying around your hotel room, ask someone to hold it for you, or lend it to anyone.  If you ever find your passport stolen or missing, contact the local authorities or the U.S. embassy.  You could also contact the National Passport Information Center for 24 hour support at 877-487-2778.

Whenever you are planning a trip out of the country, be cautious about checking the latest government warnings.  Within the past few years, the U.S. has issued warnings for several popular tourist destinations, such as China, India, Thailand, and Mexico.  Before you cancel plans to avoid these countries, it would be smart to find out exactly why the destination was placed on the warning list.  These warnings are issued by the State Department to let U.S. citizens know about safety concerns.  These warnings could be for a variety of reasons, such as terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, and health emergencies.  There is usually a distinction made between long term and short term advisories.  A travel warning is usually used for long term conditions that are making a country dangerous, while travel alerts usually cover temporary problems, such as natural disasters and political demonstrations.  These warnings do not legally stop you from traveling to a particular country; it is up to you to decide whether to risk the trip.

There are a few questions that you can ask yourself when making a decision to heed a travel warning.

  • Is the entire country affected or is only a small area affected?
  • What is the exact danger you will be facing?  If problems are occurring away from tourist areas, there may be less risk.
  • How long has it been since the warning was issued?  If it is several months old, you might want to do some research to see if conditions still exist.
  • Is there a U.S. embassy or consulate in the area to help with emergency evacuation or to help you contact your family or friends at home?

If you consider all of the above and decide to travel anyway, certain precautions should be taken during your visit:

1.  Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the U.S. State Department.  You will find the information at https://travelregistration.state.gov.   If the government knows that you are traveling, they can better help you in case of an emergency.  As soon as you arrive, find the embassy and carry their contact information with you at all times.

2.  Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that they know where you are always supposed to be.  If possible, check in with them a few times during your trip just to make contact.

3.  Purchase travel insurance whenever you travel to a country under a travel warning.  Make sure you research the policy carefully so that you know what is covered.

Be a well-informed traveler and take the proper steps to keep yourself safe.  Happy traveling!

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