Traveling Abroad? What If …?

Printed from:

News of terror attacks is terrifying, most especially when we’re tucking those headlines into our carry-ons determined to carry on with summer travel plans. Before those adventures begin, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs offers a precautionary layer of security to citizens registered in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. 

Kevin Brosnahan, press officer at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, explains STEP as a pre-travel option designed to keep American international travelers and their families informed, safe, and inter-connected prior to and in-the-event-of a terror attack.  The travel-aid is also deployed as an alert for natural disasters and personal emergencies.  Requiring only an investment of time to outline specifics of each traveler’s itinerary, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service available to individuals and groups at Travel.State.Gov

Making advance notation of destination, arrival and departure timelines, medical information, and family contacts makes it easier for an embassy to reach out to traveling Americans and assist when necessary.

“How each Embassy uses pre-enrollment information varies with each crisis,” said Brosnahan. “Having access to travelers’ itineraries has helped [us] cope successfully with past emergencies.”

After the suicide-bomber attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England in late May enrollment in the STEP program jumped by 50 percent, he said.

In addition to communications, there are several other things to think about. The Bureau of Consular Affairs counsels travelers to keep in mind that standards of medical care vary greatly. The U.S. government is not a provider of emergency medical or evacuation services. Private insurance policies aren’t typically recognized outside the United States and Medicare is not accepted. When traveling abroad, providers of medical and evacuation services expect payment up front. These out-of-pocket fees may run as high as $50,000 to $100,000.  Brosnahan said before heading to the airport it’s wise to invest in supplemental medical, dental, and evacuation coverage through your insurance provider. By comparison, those fees are nominal and may save your life. 

Additional safety travel tips propose all travelers keep a list of medications and contact numbers in triplicate, leaving one with someone in the United States, one at your lodging site, and one on each person, with a personal I.D..  Expect the unexpected; carry a charger with you and keep your phone maximally charged.  As a reassuring courtesy to loved ones, manage expectations about how often you plan to check in. Notify banks of upcoming credit card activity.

And, if you find yourself in a disaster zone, the Bureau advocates making use of social media to update your status immediately on Facebook, Twitter, and on the STEP page to explain your circumstances.

According to Brosnahan, roots of this program originate in the Warden Program of World War II. Established as a civil defense organization to evaluate risk, develop evacuation routes, and create emergency broadcasting systems for the American Homeland, the program recruited all citizens to be vigilant and proactive.  Today, the threat of terror is universal. We’ve seen it on familiar streets in London, Paris, Brussels, and at home.  

No matter where we are carrying on with our lives, “See something~Say something” remains the mantra of our times.  Sadly, when it fails to protect us, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs believes American travelers are a STEP closer to safety when we plan ahead. 


To enroll in STEP visit : Travel.State.Gov

24 Hour Consular Emergency Contact Line:


In the United States : 1- 888-407-4747


Outside the United States : 1-202-501-4444