The State Department lifted its blanket advisory warning American citizens against traveling abroad on Thursday, nearly five months after the department had issued the Level 4 “do not travel” warning — its highest advisory — against all international travel as the coronavirus spread.
The advisory was lifted in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department said in a statement posted to its website on Thursday, adding that it would continue to follow guidance from the C.D.C.
Here’s what travelers need to know about the decision.
Why did the State Department make this decision?
Before the pandemic, the State Department issued advisories ranking the safety of every country in the world from Level 1 to Level 4. In March, the department issued a blanket Level 4 “do not travel” advisory that warned Americans against all international travel. That advisory also urged Americans abroad to “arrange for immediate return to the United States” unless they were willing to stay abroad indefinitely.
On Thursday, the department said that current health and safety conditions varied so much among countries that it would return to its previous ranking system “in order to give travelers detailed and actionable information to make informed travel decisions.”
Carl Risch, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said in a call with reporters after the announcement was posted that the move would allow officials to better guide people about conditions in specific countries, taking into account other potential hazards, such as civil unrest, natural disasters or terrorism, in addition to health concerns.
“We continue to recommend U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling abroad due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic,” the department’s statement said.
What are the advisory levels?
The State Department’s advisories, based on its assessment of crime rates, terrorist activity, civil unrest, health conditions, weather and current events, are meant to help travelers gauge the risk of traveling to another country.
There are four advisory levels, ranked from 1 to 4. The least risky countries are ranked at Level 1, and the department suggests that travelers “exercise normal precautions” while visiting those countries. Level 1 countries currently include Taiwan, where there are few coronavirus cases. In Level 2 countries, such as Mauritius or Thailand, travelers are urged to “exercise increased caution.” In countries with Level 3 advisories, such as Jamaica, Indonesia or Kenya, travelers are encouraged to “reconsider travel.”
Some of the top destinations for American travelers before the pandemic, including Italy, Britain and France, have Level 3 warnings.
Officials did not offer specific guidance on what Americans traveling abroad should or should not do. If cases of the coronavirus begin to rise again in a country whose advisory was lowered, a Level 4 warning could be restored.
What countries still have Level 4 advisories?
Americans are still advised against travel to more than 50 countries, including Mexico, India, the Bahamas and Russia. Those countries retain the Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory because of coronavirus cases.
The department also recommends that American citizens reconsider traveling to countries with Level 3 warnings.
Does this mean Americans are free to travel to other countries?
International travel for Americans remains very complicated and on a country-by-country basis: Many countries still have rules barring travelers from the United States from entering.
Restrictions on travel to Mexico and Canada for U.S. citizens are in place until at least the end of the month. Americans are still barred from entering the European Union, and those who travel to the United Kingdom are required to enter quarantine for 14 days.
State Department officials recommend that people wishing to travel abroad consult the department’s travel advisory list for their destinations.
[Here is a list of countries, in alphabetical order, that are open to U.S. citizens.]
Mr. Risch also said that the department had made “tremendous progress” on catching up on its passport backlog. The 1.8 million pending applications in mid-June have been reduced to one million. The Department said it hoped to return to normal passport operations in the next six to eight weeks.
Pranshu Verma contributed reporting.
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