Travel advice explained

Australians take more than 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?

Travel advisories assist Australians to make informed decisions about overseas travel. They highlight the range of risks that you could face at your destination, whether related to security, safety, health, local laws, entry/exit requirements, or natural disasters. They also highlight areas that are clearly not safe for travel.

By understanding these risks, you are more likely to take steps to avoid, minimise, or cope with difficulties overseas. This is true for a holiday, business trip, school visit or university exchange.

We maintain travel advisories for more than 160 destinations. We also produce bulletins for special events (such as ANZAC Day commemorations) and on thematic issues (such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014).

These travel advisories and bulletins offer advice. But they should not be the only documents you read. We encourage all Australian travellers to seek out other sources of information, such as guide books, news reports, overseas friends, and online sources, so that you have a range of views and insights before travelling. In areas where greater risks exist, we also encourage you to consider subscribing to commercial services providing information on the safety and security environment.

As part of your pre-trip planning, we strongly recommend that you read and subscribe to the travel advice, regardless of the location or the length of your trip. It is a key component of being a well-informed and resilient traveller.

What information is used in the advisories?

We use a range of information sources in our travel advisories, including:

  • reports and assessments from Australian diplomatic missions overseas
  • threat assessments produced by ASIO's National Threat Assessment Centre
  • our experience of the common problems Australians experience overseas
  • travel advisories prepared by our consular partners (United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada), though the assessments in our travel advisories may differ from theirs
  • information from other Government departments and agencies, such as the Department of Health
  • media and open source reporting.

How do we present the risks in our advisories?

We use four levels of travel advice (see next section). These reflect our assessment of the level of risk that a traveller will confront at this location. We also provide a written description of risks under the following headings: Entry/Exit, Safety and Security, Local Travel, Laws, Health, and Additional Information.

Some advisories, such as Thailand, show more than one level, Every country will have an overall risk level. But in some cases, regions within the country will have different levels due to particular risks or safety concerns.

Thailand travel advice levels: Thailand overall - Exercise a high degree of caution. Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla - Do not travel

Each country travel advisory shows these levels on a continuum bar at the top of the advisory and in a map (some maps are being updated currently).

What are the levels?

Each of the four levels has advice on how to behave or respond to the risks.

Level 1 – Exercise normal safety precautions

You should exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia, and monitor the media and other sources for information on local travelling conditions.

This level indicates an overall security environment similar to that in a large Australian city, generally with a functioning law and order system and stable government. This does not mean that there are not risks. Travellers could still face terrorist attacks, civil unrest, violent crime, different laws, harsh legal punishments, or unique health threats. But overall, the risks are low.

Travellers should act as they would in Australia, although remember that being in a unfamiliar location without your typical support mechanisms always has additional risks.

Level 2 – Exercise a high degree of caution

You should pay close attention to your personal security at all times in these locations and monitor the media about possible new safety or security risks.

This level means that there are more or bigger risks in this location than what you would typically find in a large Australian city. The level may reflect a weak law and order system (where violent crime is prevalent) or deficiencies in public services (such as less responsive law enforcement agencies). In some cases, the level may reflect underlying volatility where the security environment could change with little warning.

Travellers should do research on the specific risks outlined in the advisory before travelling, amend travel plans to account for these risks, and apply a heightened sense of awareness overseas to help mitigate against these risks.

Level 3 – Reconsider your need to travel

You should think seriously about the need to travel. This may mean deferring non-essential travel, staying as short a time as possible, eliminating some activities from your itinerary or choosing a less risky destination.

This level means that there are serious and potentially life threatening risks that make the destination unsuitable for most tourists. This could be due to intelligence we receive on a persistent terrorism threat, frequent cases of violent crime, ongoing civil unrest, widespread disease, or other safety risks. Such destinations often have an unpredictable security environment. This level may also be adopted on a temporary basis, such as in response to a natural disaster or disease outbreak.

If you chose to travel, you should be aware of these significant risks and have security measures and contingency plans in place. You should also check to see if your travel insurance covers you for all parts of the country to which you will be travelling.

For this level, Australian officials usually cannot travel to these areas without having first undertaken a detailed security risk assessment and if necessary adopting specific mitigation measures.

Level 4 – Do not travel

You should not travel to this location. If you are already in a 'do not travel' area, you should consider leaving unless you have compelling reasons to stay.

This level means that the security situation is extremely dangerous. This may be due to a high threat of terrorist attack, ongoing armed conflict or critical levels of violent crime.

If you chose to travel despite this advice, you should exercise extreme caution and ensure that you have robust mitigation measures in place and a detailed emergency management plan, including for your departure by independent means. You are strongly advised to engage a private security provider and ensure you have life insurance. The Australian Government is often unable to provide consular assistance in such extreme locations, nor can the Government provide security assistance or advice. This is your responsibility.

For this level, any travel by Australian officials is subject to high-level approval. It includes rigorous risk assessment and movement planning usually involving the use of armored vehicles and personal protection.

How current is the advisory?

The information provided in our travel advisories is kept under close review. Every travel advisory is reviewed and reissued several times per year; however, a travel advice may be updated more regularly in response to new developments – such as credible intelligence reporting, major protests or unrest, new entry requirements, or a natural disaster.

Travel advice is not a news service. Not all issues and security incidents are reported. For example, travel advisories are not updated after every terrorist bombing. If we assess that the risk of travel for Australians has not changed, the travel advice level will not be reissued.

All Australians overseas, regardless of location, should follow local and international media for developments that may affect your safety and security.

How will I know when the travel advice has changed?

If you subscribe to travel advice for the destination/s you will be visiting, you will receive alerts to your email address each time the travel advisory is reissued.

Smartraveller also has an iPhone app available via the app store. Users can receive travel advice notifications and register their travel through the app. Users of other mobile devices can access the Smartraveller website though the mobile website www.m.smartraveller.gov.au.

You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

For those who have registered for their destination, it is important to note that this does not include the subscription service – which means you will not automatically get the updates. This is why registered Australians must also subscribe to the travel advice.

How does travel advice affect my travel insurance?

Some travel insurance policies may not cover you for destinations where we advise against travel (level four). Some policies may also not cover trip cancellations as a result of a change in the travel advice level for a particular destination.

This, however, is a private matter between you and your travel insurance provider. You should make sure you understand the conditions of your travel insurance policy. You should read the product disclosure statement and consult your provider for more information on what is covered by your policy.

See our travel insurance page on how to find a policy that suits your needs. You can download the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide to help you get the most suitable insurance for your trip and your personal circumstances.