While most travel agents and travelers look to the U.S. State Department for travel alerts, travel warnings and emergency passports, the State Department provides a number of services both parties can use.
The American Society of Travel Agents recently held an informational webinar reminding agents of some less well-known services they can share with customers.
1. The STEP program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Travelers then receive important information about safety conditions in the destination country, and helps the U.S. Embassy, as well as their family and friends, contact them in an emergency.
First-time users should create a bio online. After that, travelers simply only need to load their travel information, or their travel agent can enroll them.
2. Travel alerts and travel warnings
Most people are generally aware that the U.S. government issues alerts and warnings, but it’s helpful to know the difference. Travel Warnings are issued when the U.S. government wants travelers to strongly consider whether they should be traveling to a country at all. They are issued for reasons like an unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.
Travel Alerts are issued when there are short-term events individuals should know about when planning travel to a country, including strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of zika; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.
3. Security and emergency messages
U.S. embassies frequently issue messages via the State Department’s blog regarding events like demonstrations that might impact travel to a given city. Advise travelers to save the URL on their smartphones.
4. Aid in case of arrest or detention
The state department will contact family, friends, and/or employers of a detained U.S. citizen with their written permission. It will visit the detained citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate; ensure prison officials are providing appropriate medical care; and provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process.
The Dept. of State also can establish an “OCS Trust” so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens, when permissible under prison regulations
5. Aid to victims of crime
Consular officers, agents, and staff can help crime victims deal with local police and medical systems, as well as stay in touch with family members.
6. Country-specific information
The State Department website offers a profile of every country in the world, including information about safety and security, local health issues, vaccination requirements, currency restrictions and aviation safety. It includes any current travel alerts or warnings issued about that country.