Travel advice explained

Australians take over eight million trips overseas each year, and many live abroad. Travelling or living overseas can be an exciting and rewarding, but can also carry potential risks. Each year, approximately 20,000 Australians need consular assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or through our network of overseas missions.

To help Australians avoid difficulties overseas, we maintain travel advisories for more than 160 destinations.

What are travel advisories and what is their purpose?

Travel advisories offer advice. They contain information about safety and security issues, and other useful, practical tips on health, local laws, local customs as well as entry and exit requirements.

We do not and cannot make decisions for you about whether, when or where you should travel. The decision to travel is a personal responsibility and Australians are responsible for their own safety. Our travel advisories aim to help you make well-informed travel decisions.

What information is used to prepare travel advisories?

We use a range of information sources, including:

  • Assessments from Australian missions overseas about local security conditions
  • Our experience of the common or recurring consular problems Australians experience overseas
  • Intelligence reports, and in particular threat assessments by the National Threat Assessment Centre
  • Advisories prepared by our consular partners (United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada). The information provided in our advisories may be different to our partners as we focus on topics that may affect Australian travellers.
  • When necessary, we liaise with other Government departments and agencies to ensure that the information we provide is as accurate and useful as possible for Australian travellers.

How do we grade our advisories?

Travel advisories are graded across four different levels. The level we give a specific country reflects our overall assessment of the security situation in the destination and is designed to help you assess the level of risk you would face in that country.

In determining the level of a destination we consider the security risks and compare these to the general security threats in a large Australian city, but there is no strict formula. We also take into account the capacity of a foreign government to deal with the risks.

Level 1 – Exercise normal safety precautions

Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.

Level 2 – Exercise a high degree of caution

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media about possible new safety or security risks.

Level 3 – Reconsider your need to travel

There is a high level of risk in the country/area. This may be due to a very high threat of terrorist attack or a volatile and unpredictable security situation. If you are already in a destination where we advise you to "reconsider your need to travel" and you are concerned about the security situation, you should consider leaving.

Level 4 – Do not travel

The security situation is extremely dangerous. This may be due to a very high threat of terrorist attack, widespread armed conflict and or dangerous levels of violent crime. If you are already in a destination where we advise that you "do not travel" you should consider leaving unless you have compelling reasons to stay.

Each travel advisory is graded against the levels outlined above; this is shown in a coloured bar at the top of the summary section of each travel advisory. Some advisories show more than one level. This may occur when the overall country is at a certain level, but different regions within the country are assessed to be at higher or lower levels due to particular risks or safety concerns.

How current is the information?

The information provided in our travel advisories is kept under constant review. Every travel advisory is subject to a full review at least once every six months, but if developments in a specific country require more frequent updates, these will be reflected in the relevant travel advisory.

Our Consular Emergency Centre (which operates 24-hours a day) and our network of missions overseas provide us with regular updates of security and related developments around the world. Travel advisories are updated promptly in response to these developments. We encourage Australians to not only read travel advisories before they leave, but also to subscribe to our email notification service.

Travel advice is not updated simply to reflect the fact that a security incident overseas has occurred. Travel advice is not a news service that reports on all incidents. The travel advice may contain examples of security incidents from the recent past but these serve as an example of the sorts of threats mentioned in the advice. When security incidents occur overseas, we assess the risk to Australians travellers - if the level of risk has not changed, the travel advice will not be changed.

How will I know when the travel advice has changed?

If you subscribe to the travel advisories for the destination/s you will be visiting, you will receive alerts to your email address each time the travel advisory for one of your destinations is reissued. iPhone users can download our Smartraveller iPhone app and receive push notifications when travel advice is updated.

If the travel advice changes significantly (for example the overall level of the advice is raised) the Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate responsible for that destination will send the information to all registered Australians located at that destination.

Many of our travel advice updates are also posted on Twitter and Facebook. Due to changing features and limitations of social media platforms we suggest you do not rely solely on social media to receive travel advice updates. See our disclaimer for more information.

Subscribing to travel advisories and registering your travel and contact details enables us to provide you with this information quickly and easily, and when necessary contact you directly.

Can you provide any more information than is contained in the travel advisory?

No. An important principle behind our work is that the travel advice we provide to on Smartraveller is the same advice we provide to our own staff, to other Australian Government agencies or to the private sector.

As part of this commitment, should we withdraw our staff from overseas locations because of security concerns or increased security measures, we will include this information in the travel advisory. There is no additional information that can be provided by contacting the department directly, either by phone or email. Advice provided on Smartraveller is the most up-to-date advice.

What countries am I not allowed to travel to?

Our travel advisories offer advice, but travel decisions are your own personal responsibility. You should use our advisories as a tool to help you gather information when deciding whether, when or where to travel. We cannot predict or control unexpected events or incidents overseas.

What about 'issues and events'?

We also provide bulletins about issues and events of interest to Australian travellers, such as major sporting or cultural events or natural disasters affecting a certain area or several countries. This advice may also be used to provide information on significant events in destinations where no travel advisory exists.

Travellers are encouraged to read bulletins about issues and events in conjunction with the relevant, country-specific travel advice which remains the primary source of up-to-date information on safety and security risks.

You can subscribe to receive updates to advice on issues and events in the same way that you can subscribe to country-specific travel advisories.