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.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 6, 2020
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
- Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers. It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
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.