The Safe and Savvy Traveler’s Guide to the State Dept. Site

The U.S. State Department believes that a safe traveler is an informed traveler. A vast website maintained by the Bureau of Consular Affairs contains information designed to aid U.S. citizens traveling abroad. The following pages may be especially useful to first-time or seasoned travelers who need information or assistance.

Passport Information

  • Passport Applications: While you have to apply for U.S. passports in person, information, instructions and a form you can complete online make the process easier. Links to passport acceptance facilities are also provided.
  • Passport Processing Time and Status: Current processing times for routine and expedited service are displayed. Online application tracking is also available 5-7 days after your application has been received.
  • Expedited Passports: Everything you need to know to get expedited passport service before you leave, including information on travel for family emergencies. Expedited passport service is available to any U.S. citizen for an extra fee.
  • Lost or Stolen Passports: U.S. law requires all U.S. citizens to present a passport upon entering the country. If your passport is lost or stolen while you are abroad, this site contains FAQs with specific information, websites and contact information for speedy resolution.

Safe Travel Assistance

  • Travel Warnings: The U.S. government deems some destinations as too risky to attempt, due to civil war, political unrest or frequent violence. This list of travel warnings is kept up to date and contains information and links about each country that is listed.
  • Travel Alerts: Short-term risks to the safety of U.S. citizens such as natural disasters, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events or politically-related violence are listed as Travel Alerts. Other events that might generate a travel alert include international sports events or conferences.
  • Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): The STEP online service was put in place to allow the State Department to assist you when you travel. Sign up for free and enjoy the peace of mind that if there is a family emergency in your absence, the U.S. will contact you. If you experience an emergency abroad, the Department is better able to reach out to help you.
  • Tips for Safe Travel: This page, part of the STEP program, offers numerous travel tips for international travelers. How to travel with pets, where to receive mail, planning tips for students and seniors, and tips for packing are just a few of the resources listed on this comprehensive site.
  • International Driving Permit (IDP): Most foreign countries do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses. The IDP is a useful tool for driving permission as well as an additional form of identification. This permit is translated into 10 languages and is valid in over 150 countries.
  • OSAC: The Overseas Security Advisory Council provides up-to-date information to U.S. citizens about situations of political unrest that are potentially dangerous to Americans. Travel warnings, travel alerts and bulletins directed to citizens abroad are posted regularly.

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Medical Information

  • Medical Brochure: This resource lists out detailed medical information for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. If you are injured or become seriously ill during your travels, a U.S. consular officer can help you locate treatment, inform your family and assist in the transfer of emergency funds.
  • CDC Travel Topics: The U.S. Center for Disease Control sponsors this resource for travelers abroad. Information about disease conditions in specific destinations, vaccination requirements and areas of the world where it is medically unadvisable to travel are provided.
  • WHO Disease Outbreak News: Updated daily, the World Health Organization’s website reports on disease outbreaks all over the world, including in the U.S.
  • Fact Sheets: The State Department has compiled informational websites on relevant medical events for international travelers. Detailed information on the influenza pandemic, foot and mouth disease, and incidents of a chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological nature are listed, among others.
  • Prescriptions Abroad:  If you need to refill a prescription while abroad, or you become ill and need treatment, this resource offers detailed information and links to contacts. Specific documentation that must accompany any medications is also listed.

Emergency Situations

  • If You Are Arrested: The State Department will assist you if you are arrested abroad. Operating within the limits of the law, the U.S. government will ensure that you receive fair and humane treatment. Learn more about your protection if you are detained or arrested.
  • If You Need Emergency Funds: If you find yourself stranded or in need of emergency funding from the States, the State Department can help. Read how to establish an account that friends and relatives can use to help you via Western Union or mail.
  • If You Are the Victim of a Crime: U.S. citizens are sometimes victims of crime abroad. If this happens to you, this site details how overseas consular officers collaborate with local law enforcement and medical systems. The State Department staff will also act as a liaison to your family in the States.
  • In the Event of International Crisis: If American travelers abroad find themselves in crisis situations where the U.S. government needs to intervene, this FAQ page details exactly what the State Department can and cannot do. Detailed information on all facets of evacuation and military support are provided.

Destination-Specific Information

  • Mecca: The State Department understands that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the largest religious gathering in the world. U.S. citizens who plan to travel to Mecca can read about specific travel requirements, photography rules, health and safety and other concerns specific to this journey.
  • Spring Break in Mexico: So many U.S. college students travel to Mexico for Spring Break that the State Department has developed a website specific to their travel concerns. Entry and exit requirements and a reminder about Mexican law are included at this resource.
  • U.S. Embassies: Searchable by country name, this useful resource offers direct links to every U.S. Embassy, Consulate and Diplomatic Mission in the world.
  • Airport and Border Wait Times: This handy link is offered by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection service. Up-to-date wait times for all southern and northern border crossings and international entry at all U.S. airports is available here.
  • Country-specific Data: Searchable by country name, this resource links to information about every country in the world. International travelers can research specifics about visa requirements, crime rates, U.S. embassy locations, health and medical information, driving regulations and customs rules.

Customs

  • Know Before You Go: Developed as a resource for all international travelers, this guide to customs regulations offers links to information on what to expect when you return to the U.S. Information on inspection at entry is provided so you are able to re-enter the States smoothly and without delay.
  • Declaration: Specific information on what kinds of items you must declare to U.S. Customs agents is listed here.
  • Prohibited Items List: The U.S. Border Patrol has collaborated with numerous other government agencies to present this list of prohibited items in the States. Items on the list may seem harmless, but the detailed information about each one explains why they must not be allowed to pass through Customs.

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