Travel Alert vs. Travel Warning: What's the Difference?

The U.S. State Department frequently issues advisories for travel to countries around the world. When an alert or warning includes a destination you were planning to visit, you likely have questions and concerns. But before you imagine the worst case scenario and cancel a trip, here's what you need to know.

First of all, a travel alert is different from a travel warning, and the biggest difference between the two is time. According to the State Department, an alert is issued when the government recognizes “short-term events” they think you need to be aware of when visiting a country. Temporary situations, such as a disease outbreak or a public demonstration, are among the things that could lead to a travel alert.

For example, a South Pacific's tropical cyclone can get an alert, while Venezuela's ongoing issues with crime and shortages in food and medicine get a warning.

Although this information should never be taken lightly, understanding the events behind both alerts and warnings will give travelers context for planning their own itinerary. One thing to remember is that not every part of a continent or country with a travel advisory is dangerous.

So, to recap:

Travel warnings are in place for a longer period of time, like months, or even years, and usually, apply to an entire country or region. They’re often triggered by unstable government situations or violence in that region that makes it unsafe to travel there.

If you see a travel warning for a country you want to visit, consider an alternative destination or know that you could be putting yourself in danger. You can check the State Department’s website for places that currently have travel warnings.

Travel alerts last for a shorter period of time (weeks) and happen around specific events such as a disease outbreak, protests, and civil unrest, or incredibly popular sporting events (like the Tour de France or the Olympics.) You may use travel alerts to help around an event, but you may also decide you’re willing to deal with it to see what you want to see.

Travel alerts can also be helpful to get during your trip so you can adjust your plans on the fly. You can sign up for travel alerts through the State Department’s Smart Traveler program.

No matter where travelers go, they should always prioritize their safety and exercise caution. When in a foreign country, keep in mind the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and the long list of U.S. embassies worldwide, which are there to help and inform citizens of how to handle themselves when visiting other countries.