The World is No Longer at “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” ..So What?

If you’ve been living under a rock the last 24 hours or have officially given up on the news cycle (both are great options in 2020, by the way), you may have missed the sudden news that the U.S. Department of State has lowered its Travel Warning from Level 4: Do Not Travel.

So…What did Level 4 mean in the first place? What does it all mean? Are we free to go wherever we please now? And is it just me, but does this news not exactly dovetail with the ever-ominous news about how the U.S. has failed our pandemic exam?

What did Level 4 mean in the first place?

On March 19, the State Dept placed a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning for the entire world – this was an unprecedented move (previously, anything Level 3 or above was designated for terrorist-ridden countries or, back in the good ole days when COVID was just an epidemic, for China and Italy).

The State Department Level 4 warning was never a ban on international travel – you wouldn’t get arrested for trying to leave the States. However, it was a loud and clear response that, if the going got tough and you traveled against this warning, don’t expect the State Department to bail you out. You know, like if a country out of the blue decided to give all travelers 24 hours to get out before the border closed entirely, you’d be on your own (looking at you, Peru!).

We also had our own little issues to deal with, like schools and hotels closing worldwide, and a general hard stop of the world economy. For awhile, it wasn’t that big of a deal – and as travel professionals, we certainly did not recommend leaving the country.

What does this change mean?

Short of a Level 4 global “Do Not Travel”, this system historically has operated by doling out travel warnings on a per country basis. With the drop of the Level 4, the State Department has gone back to this system, ranking specific countries as Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”) Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”), Level 2 (“Exercise Increased Caution”), and Level 1 (“Exercise Normal Precautions”).

Remember that this list is from the perspective of the U.S. (if every other country had a similar system, you’d bet your bottom dollar we would currently be at Level 3 or 4, due to our current COVID levels). Likewise, the few countries listed as “Level 1” and “Level 2” are among the countries that, for the most part, wouldn’t dare welcome U.S. passengers, even with COVID tests.

Level 1 countries, as of today (8.7.2020) are Taiwan and Macau, while Level 2 countries are New Zealand, Thailand, French Polynesia, Mauritius, Brunei, Antarctica (duh) and a few others.

It’s complex: if a country does allow Americans, it will likely require a COVID test (and negative results returned) within 72 hours of getting on the plane, a possible quarantine on arrival, and a whole host of additional issues (such as Sharia Law, if you’re itching to go to Brunei, or the lack of any tours currently going to Antarctica). Would now be an apt time to remind you that the world is…complicated?

Everyone else is Level 3 or 4 right now. Level 4 includes the usual suspects (Libya, Syria, Yemen), but also some of our beloved spots (Mexico, Bahamas). Plus, even if some of our favorite are Level 3 (France, for e.g.), that doesn’t mean they’ll let U.S. citizens in (they won’t, along with the rest of the E.U. and many, many other countries).

Are we free to go wherever we please now?

Not really, yet. Because:

a) Borders may still be closed to U.S., even if we’d love to go to a lovely, COVID-free country right now (hi, New Zealand!)

b) If we’ve learned anything the past four months, it’s that change is the only definite. You may book a trip to a Level 2 country that happens to let in Americans now, but it could very well change (and change back, and back again) before you actually travel. If you choose to travel internationally, be ready to be flexible!

Is it just me, but does this news not exactly dovetail with the ever-ominous news about how the U.S. has failed our pandemic exam?

It’s not just you. Be Responsible. Remember that going to the remote country where COVID cases are low sounds good to an American, but consider the impact upon locals of coming in from the hardest hit country in the world. Some countries, like the Maldives, do not require tests whatsoever and are open to Americans. Do you part in making this world a better place, and take a test before and after if you choose to travel there.

But there’s hope!

We’re rule followers, so having the Level 4 go down to a variety of levels across globe is a HUGE relief, and a baby step in the right direction. We have a long way to go, but this is a small sliver of hope….and an acknowledgement by the State Department that some people are starting to travel internationally regardless of the situation.

In the meantime, to keep up to date with all of these shifting rules and regs, check out this great page, which our friends over at Brownell are constantly updating. It’s a fantastic one-stop shop to stay in the know!