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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where to Get Information on International Travel Conditions

The spread of swine flu is the latest crisis to put travelers into panic mode. SARS, avian flu, terrorism, war, and tsunamis are among the events that have made the list in the past. If you are planning an international trip, there are several online resources that can help you determine if threats are serious enough to consider postponing your travel.

Your first stop for travel advice should be http://travel.state.gov (skip the www). Operated by the United States Department of State, this site contains a full list of Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings on a country-by-country basis. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations, and high-profile events such as international financial conferences are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert. Swine flu is another such condition.

Travel Warnings are issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate. Among the countries currently on the list are Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan, which are not exactly tourism hotspots.

Some have suggested that State's advice can be politically motivated. The criticism is that State sometimes cuts some slack when it comes to America's allies.

So, for a more complete picture, particularly when it comes to alerts that have political circumstances attached to them, you might want to check out a few "competing" sites. Canada's view of the world can be found at www.voyages.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng-asp. The Australian government’s travel advisory service can be found at www.smarttraveller.gov.au. For more English language travel advice, the United Kingdom has www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas.

However, do remember that at times there may be threats that apply specifically to Americans. Such potential perils may only be listed at http://travel.state.gov. So do the appropriate homework.

Specifically for international health information, both The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are fine resources. At www.cdc.gov/travel, there is health information for more than 200 countries, including current outbreaks, necessary vaccines, suggested medications to bring along, and other health and safety tips. The World Health Organization also provides solid information for travelers at www.who.int/ith/en/.

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