The United States has lifted its Level 4 warning not to travel outside the country for the first time since March. The number of coronavirus cases in some countries has fallen significantly and American citizens are no longer being urged to avoid traveling to many of them.

Although the travel advisory is not legally binding, this shift in stance from the US State Department could come as a boon for the travel industry as Americans may once again be more willing to take a trip outside the country.

Is travel back to normal?

Caution is still advised for traveling to most destinations, with some countries, such as India still having a Level 4 warning due to the high number of cases. Others, such as China, have been reduced to a Level 3 (reconsider traveling), while certain countries are now down to Level 2 or even Level 1.

However, the fact that US citizens can leave America does not necessarily mean that they can enter other sovereign states, with many having COVID-19 travel restrictions in place.

Likewise, the US has its own travel restrictions for foreign nationals, which mean that many non-American travelers cannot enter, regardless of whether they hold a US visa or EVUS enrollment.

What are the State Department travel advisory levels?

There are 4 different travel advisory levels that the US State Department can assign to a country or region. Each level indicates the perceived risk for American nationals in that destination and advises them on whether or not they should make the journey.

The 4 levels are:

-       Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions (blue)

-       Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution (yellow)

-       Level 3: Reconsider Travel (orange)

-       Level 4: Do Not Travel (red)

Level 4 is the highest level, which indicates that during an emergency, the US government may not be able to provide assistance to its citizens. Between March and August 2020, all countries were assigned a Level 4 warning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Besides COVID-19, factors that can result in a higher advisory level include crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters.

Certain countries have different warning levels assigned to specific regions where there is a greater risk of danger for travelers.

How COVID-19 has affected travel advisories

The US State Department had previously issued travel advice for each country around the world, with different advisory levels ranging from 1 to 4. The level assigned depended on the risk factors involved in visiting each sovereign state or territory.

On March 19, due to the sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases on a global scale, the US government decided to issue Level 4 travel warnings for every country in the world. Americans were advised not to travel anywhere outside the US.

US citizens abroad were urged to return to the United States immediately if commercial flights were available unless they were willing to stay indefinitely in another country.

The US State Department also undertook a large-scale repatriation operation to bring citizens home from other countries where international travel options had been halted. Over 101,000 American nationals were returned to the States from 136 different countries and territories from January 27 to June 10, 2020. More than 1,100 flights had to be arranged to achieve this.

After several months, the blanket Level 4 warning for the whole world has now been reversed. The State Department has reverted to issuing warning levels and travel advisories on a country-by-country basis, taking into account other factors in addition to coronavirus.

Which countries can Americans travel to?

US citizens still do not have a wealth of options when it comes to countries they can visit. Although the blanket Level 4 travel advisory has been lifted for the entire world, a number of countries, including the Bahamas, India, Namibia, Peru, and Russia are still at Level 4.

Many others are currently at Level 3-reconsider travel. These include popular destinations such as Barbados, Mexico, Morocco, and the Philippines.

However, just because the US State Department says that it is safe for Americans to visit a country does not mean that the country itself will let US citizens in. Each sovereign state has the right to introduce its own COVID-19 travel regulations.

For example, Thailand is currently given a Level 2 advisory, but Americans (and most other travelers for that matter) are currently prohibited from entering.

A number of Caribbean countries and territories have opened their borders to American visitors, including Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Turks and Caicos. Various other countries around the world are also open to US passport holders.

However, some of these carry high warning levels from the State Department, so the choice of whether to run the risk lies with each individual traveler.