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State Department Aligns with CDC on COVID-19 Travel Advisories

An illustration of a world map with COVID virus particles and red "no" signs with airplanes in them on a white background.

Anatolii Frolov/Getty 

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Department of State is advising against foreign travel to about 80% of the countries in the world, bringing its COVID-19 travel advisories in line with travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • A country’s travel status with the State Department will be based on the CDC’s epidemiology assessments of that country.
  • Almost all of North America, South America, and Europe are in level 4—the highest level with the warning “Do Not Travel.” 

The U.S. Department of State recently issued travel advisories for nearly 80% of the countries in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. The State Department says that the move is meant to get its official guidance in line with the “science-based” travel guidance that was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The change significantly increases the number of countries with the highest level of travel advisory. Before the change, only 34 countries were in the State Department’s highest advisory level, while the CDC was urging travelers to reconsider plans for visiting all countries.

Verywell spoke with a State Department official on background who said that "the Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We are committed to providing U.S. citizens with the most up-to-date information to keep U.S. citizens informed when they are abroad."

The official also said that "the changes in advisory status also take into account logistical factors, such as the availability of COVID-19 testing and treatment in the destination country."

Four Risk Levels

Both the State Department and the CDC use a four-level system for assigning risk to travel destinations. The official that spoke to Verywell explained that the State Department's advisory levels "are based on established risk indicators such as health, crime, terrorism, kidnapping or hostage-taking, civil unrest, natural disasters, and other potential risks." A four-level tiered system is also used to evaluate COVID-19 risk, specifically.

Exception

The State Department has a geographical travel restriction on the use of U.S. passports to travel in or to North Korea, with only rare exceptions.

Each country’s level is based on the State Department’s current assessment of the conditions in that country, and how those conditions affect the welfare or safety of U.S. citizens traveling to or within it.

According to the official, the State Department's “destination-specific advisories take into account the latest data and public health and safety analysis on COVID-19 related risks."

With regard to COVID-19, the official said that the department relies on the CDC to inform its decision-making process and that many of its "travel advisory levels have changed as a result of CDC’s Travel Health Notice levels."

The CDC’s Travel Guidance


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC is using a four-level system to categorize travel destinations (including international destinations and U.S. Territories). It also provides guidance for each level.

  • Level 4—Very high level of COVID-19. Travelers should avoid all travel to these destinations.
  • Level 3—High level of COVID-19. Travelers should avoid all nonessential travel to these destinations.
  • Level 2—Moderate level of COVID-19. Travelers at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid all nonessential travel to these destinations.
  • Level 1—Low level of COVID-19. All travelers should wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from people who are not in their travel group, avoid crowds, wash their hands often or use hand sanitizer, and monitor themselves for signs of illness.

What Does “Do Not Travel” Mean?

Travel advisories are not an outright ban—but rather, a serious warning.

"If a U.S. citizen decides to travel there anyway, we strongly urge them to read our information on high-risk travel and heed our advice on how to prepare," the official said.

The CDC currently requires that all air passengers coming into the U.S.—including U.S. citizens and legal residents—present a negative COVID-19 test result that was taken within three calendar days of their reentry or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. The airlines must then confirm the negative COVID test result or proof of recovery for all passengers two years of age and older before they board the plane. ​

For the past year, the European Union has banned all but essential travel from the U.S. However, according to a report in the New York Times, that policy may soon change—in which case, American tourists would need a negative test for COVID-19 or a certificate of vaccination. Still, individual countries in the EU may choose to keep stricter limits in place.

The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group for the travel industry, published a blog post in April calling for a science-based approach to travel restrictions.

In the post, the association stated that it "has long advocated for a risk-based, science-driven, layered approach to health and safety. This was the driving force behind the creation of our Travel in the New Normal guidance, in which the travel industry collaborated with medical experts to promote the health and safety of all travelers and travel workers and to allow for the safe reopening of all segments of travel."

Where Can You Go?

The CDC’s travel recommendations put almost all of Europe and South America into the highest Level 4 category. Iceland, Israel, and Japan are among the countries at Level 3. Singapore, Thailand, and Belize are among the countries at Level 2 (where nonessential travel should be avoided).

There are 31 countries or localities in the CDC’s Level 1 category, including Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. In these locations, the CDC recommends masking, avoiding crowds, staying 6 feet apart from anyone not in your group, and practicing frequent, proper handwashing.

If you need to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, check the State Department’s travel advisories and searchable list of all advisories, as well as the map of the CDC’s travel advisories.

What This Means For You


The U.S. State Department has increased the number of countries included in its top-level travel advisory to ensure its advisories are in line with the CDC’s travel advice during COVID-19

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Department of State. Travel advisory updates. Updated April 19, 2021.

  2. United States Department of State. Travel advisories. Updated April 21, 2021.

  3. United States Department of State. North Korea travel advisory. Updated April 20, 2021.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination. Updated April 26, 2021.