If you ever want to feel like an international big shot while doing the utterly responsible thing at the same time, you should register your trip with the State Department.
I was not many years younger than I am now when I learned about this important step for international trips. And I took a number of trips without registering and without incident.
But before a trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras — at the time one of the places with the most murders per capita in the world — I was cautioned by a friend, who cited the warnings on the US Department of State’s website about the dangers of traveling to that region.
While I was on that page I saw a link where I could file my itinerary with the State Department, and it gave me a small measure of confidence. I’ve uploaded my plans for many trips since and discovered a wealth of information to help me prepare.
There is now an app you can download to access all of the great information provided by the State Department for all countries, and you can even register your trip right in the app! The app is called the Smart Traveler app.
When You Register Your Trip with the U.S. Department of State
Your starting point is the US Department of State’s travel site at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. Click on the giant red button on the left that says “US Citizen Travelers.” By taking this step, you’re less likely to need the giant red button on the right that says “US Citizens in an Emergency.”
On the next page you’ll see the official — and very valid — reasons why you should register your trip with the State Department:
- To receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- To help the US Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.
- To help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
These are especially important when you’re traveling to a destination where medical or technological services are haphazard or where crime or terrorism is an issue, or if you’re engaging in adventure travel.
But there are a few other reasons why taking the time to register your trip with the U.S. Department of State is wise, all stemming from the fact that in unfamiliar places, we sometimes do stupid things.
- You might lose your passport, or it might be stolen. Ideally you’ve made a photocopy and stored it securely in your lodging, and you’ve given a friend or family member at home a copy as well. (See also our blog on solo travel safety.) But if you’re in desperate need of help from the Embassy in replacing your ID, you’re miles ahead if you’ve already decided to register your trip.
- You might unknowingly break a law in your destination and need some help from the Embassy getting out of a sticky situation. Do your research before you go so that you’re not that “dumb American” making enemies and spoiling vacations.
- You might be that “dumb American” and break a law in your destination even though you knew better. Then you’ll really need the help of the Embassy, and maybe the State Department, and possibly even Liam Neeson.
There’s a great deal of other valuable travel information for your destination on the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Remember when we wrote about What You Need to Know About Getting Vaccinated Before Traveling? Within the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program on the State Department website, click on the blue button that says “Traveling? Enroll a Trip and Get Alerts.”
Have your itinerary handy to upload details when you register your trip with the State Department. This is the part that makes it easier for your family or U.S. officials to track you down in an emergency. When you add your email address, you’ll begin to get helpful updates on health and crime in your destination. Don’t let this scare you; use it to be smart.
Then scroll down the page called “[Destination] Travel Advisory” and look for the link that says “Read the country information page.” Here you’ll find super helpful information about
- passport requirements
- currency restrictions
- contact information for embassies and consulates at your destination
- links for details on the political situation between the U.S. and your destination
- safety and security precautions
- local laws and customs
- health precautions
- information on driving and using public transportation
and many more facts that can make you a better guest and allow you to have a safer, healthier, happier trip.
Keep these numbers for the State Department handy when you travel as well: 1-888-407-4747 toll-free from within the United States and Canada, or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
These are all excellent reasons why you should register your trip with the State Department. But most importantly, Liam Neeson might be filming another movie and unable to come to your rescue.
The views expressed on this website represent the opinions of the authors; we encourage you to form your own opinions and confirm any facts.