What Travelers Need to Know about the U.S. “Europe Travel Alert”

You may have seen that the U.S. State Department issued a Europe Travel Alert this week in the wake of the attacks in Brussels. What does this mean for travelers to Belgium and the rest of Europe?

See updates on the situation in Brussels, Belgium.

What the Alert Says

Here is the text of the alert:

“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe following several terrorist attacks, including the March 22 attacks in Brussels claimed by ISIL.  Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.  This Travel Alert expires on June 20, 2016.” –posted March 22, 2016 on Travel.State.Gov

Travel Alerts vs. Travel Warnings

While serious, a travel alert is actually a somewhat lesser caution than a travel warning – and again, the guidance on Europe for the current situation is an alert. Here are the differences, as explained on the State Department website:

  • Travel Alert: “We issue a Travel Alert for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country.”
  • Travel Warning: “We issue a Travel Warning when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.

In other words, the government does not appear to be saying, do not go to Europe at this time (nor are they saying, go). What it is saying is be extra vigilant and it offers specific ways to do that.

What Visitors to Europe Should Know and Do

These general precautions are advised (and should be followed wherever you go). Bottom line: Pay attention to your surroundings; if you see something that doesn’t look right, get out and contact the authorities.

  • Be vigilant: U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.
  • Avoid crowds: Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places.
  • Extra caution at big events: Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events.

More guidance for visitors and tourists from the State Department includes these specific cautions followed by our tips.

  • Read the Country Specific Information on your destination (just type in the name of the country at Travel.State.Gov) and this information will also direct you to specific Fact Sheets for the country.  Tip: Both documents are filled with useful information about local laws, communications, transportation, health care and more that could come in handy.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency. Tip: This is just good old common sense that should be followed anywhere you go.
  • Monitor media/local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities. Tip: Basically, if you know there’s a problem at a certain location, don’t go there.
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions. Tip: This can occur in airports or at subway, bus, train stations and even at entrances to popular attractions. Be patient.
  • Stay in touch with family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency. Tip: Keep phones charged and be sure loved ones know hotel phone numbers.
  • Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Tip: Again, this is a good idea for anyone traveling outside the U.S. at any time.

What is Smart Traveler Enrollment Program?

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is also known as STEP and here’s what you get:

  • Receive information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
  • Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

It’s easy and it’s free. Simply fill out an online form that includes your itinerary, contact information and those you’d like contacted in an emergency and that’s it.

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Updated: March 25, 2016