Global conflicts and climate-related crises have significantly impacted international travel patterns in recent months. Despite these challenges, the World Tourism Organization anticipates that international tourist arrivals could recover to 80% to 95% of pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
However, certain destinations require extra caution. In response to escalating tensions in various parts of the world, including the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Gaza, the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide caution advisory. This advisory serves as a reminder of the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.
The U.S. State Department regularly updates travel advisory levels for over 200 countries, considering various risk indicators like health concerns, terrorism threats, and civil unrest. These levels range from Level 1, indicating normal precautions, to Level 4, signifying a “Do Not Travel” warning.
Currently, around 10% of countries (21 in total) carry a Level 4 advisory. In these countries, the U.S. government’s ability to provide assistance in the event of safety or security risks is very limited. Common risks associated with Level 4 countries include crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and terrorism. Travellers are urged to exercise extreme caution when visiting these regions.
The U.S. State Department has issued Level 4 travel advisories for several countries, indicating the highest level of caution due to significant risks like armed conflict, civil unrest, terrorism, and other potential dangers. Here is an in-depth overview of some of these regions:
Afghanistan: Afghanistan grapples with a myriad of challenges, including armed conflict, civil unrest, terrorism, and kidnappings. The reinstatement of public floggings and executions, along with diminishing women’s rights under Taliban control, further exacerbates the situation.
Belarus: The situation in Belarus is precarious, marked by its facilitation of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, increased Russian military presence, arbitrary law enforcement, and potential civil unrest. The U.S. Embassy in Minsk suspended operations in February 2022.
Burkina Faso: Terrorism, crime, and kidnappings are rampant in Burkina Faso, particularly in the East and Sahel regions. Terrorist attacks targeting public places like hotels and schools pose significant risks.
Central African Republic: Although specific incidents targeting U.S. citizens are rare, violent crimes, sudden road closures, and limited capacity of the U.S. Embassy in Bangui contribute to its Level 4 advisory.
Myanmar: Myanmar faces armed conflict, civil unrest, and political upheaval following a military coup in early 2021. Limited healthcare resources, wrongful detentions, and areas with unexploded ordnance heighten the risks.
Gaza: Controlled by Hamas, the Gaza Strip is marred by tensions with Israel and Egypt, leading to periodic outbreaks of violence. Recent attacks have resulted in significant civilian casualties and displacement.
Haiti: Haiti grapples with heightened risks of kidnapping and violent crime, prompting the U.S. State Department to order non-emergency personnel to leave. Kidnappings often involve ransom negotiations, posing severe threats to U.S. citizens.
Iran: Kidnappings and wrongful detentions are prevalent risks for travelers to Iran. U.S.-Iranian nationals, including students and journalists, have been arrested on various charges, including espionage.
Iraq: Despite hosting international events like the Arabian Gulf Cup, Iraq remains on the Level 4 advisory due to ongoing risks of terrorism, kidnappings, armed conflict, and civil unrest, particularly along its northern and Syrian borders.
Lebanon: Recent escalations in rocket, missile, and artillery exchanges between Israel and militant groups have prompted the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to operate with limited capacity. The situation in Lebanon is unpredictable and poses significant security risks.
Libya: Over a decade after the fall of its dictatorship, Libya remains mired in internal conflict between armed factions in the Eastern and Western regions. Armed confrontations, civil unrest, criminal activities, kidnappings, and acts of terrorism are all prevalent. U.S. citizens have been specifically targeted for ransom kidnappings, often occurring in hotels and airports frequented by Westerners. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli ceased operations in 2014. In mid-September, devastating floods, potentially exacerbated by climate change, claimed thousands of lives in eastern Libya. Clashes between armed groups have escalated nationwide in recent months, particularly in the capital city of Tripoli and Benghazi, where a communications blackout, attributed to a damaged cable, persisted into mid-October.
Mali: Since a military coup in 2020, Mali has grappled with high levels of crime, terrorism, and kidnappings. In July 2022, non-essential U.S. government personnel and their families were instructed to leave the country due to an elevated risk of terrorist activity. A United Nations report in August highlighted that various military factions in Mali, including the national security forces and potentially Russian Wagner mercenaries, have employed violence against women and committed human rights abuses, spreading terror. Originally scheduled for February 2024, democratic elections in Mali were indefinitely postponed by the military junta. As of October 3rd, Reuters reported that the country is teetering on the brink of a civil war, with significant internal tensions.
Mexico: Mexico’s travel advisory status is assessed on a state-by-state basis. Notably, six out of its 32 states, namely Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas, are designated as Level 4. Widespread criminal activities and kidnapping are identified as the primary risks nationwide. The alarming figure of nearly 112,000 missing individuals in Mexico, as stated by the U.N., underscores the gravity of the situation. This pervasive issue poses a significant concern for residents and travelers alike, warranting heightened caution and awareness.
Niger: In early August, Niger’s travel advisory status was escalated from Level 3 to Level 4 following an attempted coup. The U.S. Department of State mandated the evacuation of non-essential U.S. government personnel and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey. This drastic move came after General Abdourahmane Tiani, the former head of President Mohamed Bazoum’s national guard, orchestrated the detention of President Bazoum in the presidential residence in Niamey, announcing their seizure of power. This incident prompted widespread repercussions including the World Bank suspending payments to Niger, the U.S. and the European Union ceasing aid, and neighboring Nigeria cutting off power supply to the country. The Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc comprising 15 countries in West Africa, threatened military action and imposed stringent sanctions. In mid-September, a military junta held France’s ambassador hostage in the French embassy; although he has since returned to Paris, France swiftly withdrew its troops from Niger. While the U.S. has not announced troop withdrawals, in October, it suspended counterterrorism assistance, military training, and foreign assistance programs, in response to officially declaring the recent events in the country as a coup d’etat.
North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea): U.S. passports are not recognized for travel “to, in, or through” North Korea, a country governed by one of the world’s longest-standing dynastic dictatorships. The Level 4 designation in the travel advisory arises from the persistent and serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals. In a rare occurrence, a U.S. soldier defected across the border into North Korea in July, where he is believed to be held in North Korean custody, marking the first instance of an American being detained in the North in nearly five years.
Russia: The travel advisory for Russia emphasizes its invasion of Ukraine, harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government officials, and arbitrary law enforcement as key factors contributing to the Level 4 designation. Notably, Chechnya and Mount Elbrus are explicitly highlighted as Level 4 regions. The advisory also identifies terrorism, civil unrest, health concerns, kidnapping, and wrongful detention as significant risks associated with travel in Russia.
Somalia: A severe drought, stemming from five consecutive failed rainy seasons, led to the loss of 43,000 lives last year and triggered an ongoing famine, compounded by conflict with Islamist insurgents. Somalia experiences prevalent violent crime, while pirates operate along its coast in the Horn of Africa. Medical facilities, where available, have limited capacities. The travel advisory underscores crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health-related risks, and kidnapping as considerable threats. In September, the European Union announced the cessation of aid meant to alleviate widespread famine in the country, following a U.N. investigation that uncovered theft and misuse within the aid system.
South Sudan: In January, several journalists employed by the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation were apprehended for releasing footage featuring President Salva Kiir. Crime, kidnapping, and armed conflict constitute the primary risks in this nation, where violent crime is prevalent throughout. Firearms are readily accessible, and travelers have fallen victim to sexual assault and armed robbery.
Sudan: The U.S. evacuated its embassy in Khartoum in April 2023. The country shut its airspace due to the ongoing conflict, allowing only humanitarian aid and evacuation operations. Conflict has escalated in the region as two warring generals vie for control following a military coup in 2021 that ousted the country’s prime minister. Civil unrest remains the paramount risk factor for Africa’s third-largest country in terms of area. The advisory highlights crime, terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, and challenges to health infrastructure as significant concerns. The International Criminal Court is conducting investigations into alleged war crimes and violence targeting African ethnic groups. Millions have been displaced due to conflict, and the U.N. cites a lack of support, safety, and resources as impediments to their aid efforts.
Syria: The advisory underscores that “No part of Syria is safe from violence,” outlining terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and the potential for unjust detention as significant risks. U.S. citizens are frequently targeted for abductions and detainment. Operations at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus ceased in 2012 due to the perilous conditions.
Ukraine: While Russian setbacks in their invasion of Ukraine have instilled hope for a more positive outlook in 2023, Ukraine remains classified as a Level 4 country due to the gravity of “Russia’s full-scale invasion.” Additionally, crime and civil unrest are identified as contributing risk factors. The Ukrainian government instituted a state of emergency in February 2022 in response to the ongoing crisis.
Venezuela: This South American nation grapples with widespread human rights violations and a dearth of accessible healthcare, a situation exacerbated by a political crisis that began in 2014. In 2019, diplomatic personnel were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Threats in the country encompass crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, wrongful detention, and a deficient health infrastructure.
Yemen: Yemen confronts six out of the nine risk factors outlined by the State Department: terrorism, civil unrest, health hazards, kidnapping, armed conflict, and landmines. Despite private companies offering tourist visits to Yemen’s Socotra island, the U.S. government contends that those coordinating such visits are putting tourists in jeopardy. The country is entrenched in a protracted civil war and grapples with a cholera epidemic. Operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa were terminated in 2015. Although there has been a relative reduction in combat activity, peace negotiations have faced intermittent setbacks, imperiling progress.
These countries, among others on the Level 4 advisory list, require travelers to exercise extreme caution and, in some cases, reconsider their plans altogether. It’s crucial for individuals to stay informed about the evolving situations in these regions and adhere to any travel restrictions or safety recommendations issued by the U.S. State Department.