I had a few hours layover on my last trip around the holidays, so I conducted a quick and very informal poll of fellow travelers at the airport…….here’s the results:
0 of the nearly 100 persons I asked had ever heard of STEP, the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” offered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs at our very own U.S. Department of State (the folks who also issue all of our U.S. Passports).
And only 2 people (a lovely older couple traveling to celebrate their 60th anniversary) out of the group knew that our U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world do much more than just foreign diplomatic relations, they can also help American travelers in times of need.
Protecting the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad is a core mission of U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
To be honest, although I’ve always known that I can call on the local U.S. Embassy wherever I am if I need help, I had never heard of STEP until recently, when I renewed my Passport. I figured it was a fair bet that others hadn’t heard of it either, do I wanted to help spread the word.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service offered to U.S. citizens traveling abroad, letting them enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate at their destination, which which allows them to:
Receive important local safety information and travel alerts
Once you’ve enrolled your trip, the local Embassy at your destination can email you important updates about local conditions at your destination (including alerts about severe weather patterns, natural disasters, or civil unrest) that could effect your safety while traveling.
What is the difference between a Travel Alert and a Travel Warning?
The State Department issues Travel Warnings to recommend postponing travel to a country because of ongoing civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity or, in some cases, because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country and may have great difficulty assisting U.S. citizens in distress. We issue Travel Alerts for short-term, fast-breaking events that could pose significant risks to you or affect your travel plans. Examples might include an election season that is likely to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. Source: State Department website
Sure you could just check their website for warnings and alerts, but knowing about potential problems sooner can help you make better-informed decisions about your trip and how best to stay safe.
Help the U.S. Embassy contact you faster in an emergency
In a crisis situation — such as a natural disaster or severe political instability — the Department of State, through it’s Embassies and Consulates, often takes an active role in providing information and assistance to U.S. citizens in the affected area.
By enrolling in STEP the U.S. Embassy can proactively contact you much faster, and provide assistance if needed. Sometimes as little as even a few hours notice can mean the difference between evacuating safely…..or not.
Help family & friends get in touch with you
Occasionally an emergency occurs not at your destination, but back at home. How many of us think to leave a local number where we can be reached at our destination with family or friends before we leave?
For those who don’t have cellular service when traveling out of the country, and/or who choose to leave the laptop at home (hey, it is vacation after all, right?), having another communication channel in an emergency can be especially important.
Creating an account with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a very simple process, allows you to modify your travel information later if needed, and lets you enroll future trips more quickly, since you won’t have to re-enter your name and contact information.
And it’s just, well……smart.
Did you know? Some Travel Insurance policies include medical evacuation and other emergency assistance – talk to your travel agent about travel insurance EVERY time you plan a trip!
Have you ever interacted with an Embassy while traveling? Share your experience in our comments!