Travel advice explained

Australians take more than nine million trips overseas each year, and many live abroad. Travelling or living overseas can be rewarding, but also carries potential risks. To help Australians avoid difficulties overseas, we maintain travel advisories for more than 170 destinations.

What are travel advisories?

Travel advisories assist Australians to make informed decisions about overseas travel. They highlight the range of threats 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 threats, you will be better placed 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 170 destinations. We also produce bulletins for special events (such as ANZAC Day commemorations) and issues (such as the Schengen Convention).

These travel advisories and bulletins offer advice. But they are not the only documents you should read. We encourage all Australian travellers to seek out a broad range of information, including from guide books, news reports, friends, and online resources. In areas where more serious threats 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.

How do we present the risks?

We use four levels of travel advice. They are:

The levels reflect our assessment of the threats that a traveller will confront at this location. The levels provide advice on how to behave or respond to these threats. We provide more detail about threats under the following headings: Entry and exit, Safety and scurity, Local travel, Laws, Health, and Additional information.

Every country will have an overall level. In some cases, regions or cities within the country will have different levels due to particular threats or safety concerns. Each country travel advisory shows these levels on the bar at the top of the advisory and in the map. For example, the Thailand advisory includes two levels:

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

Level 1 – Exercise normal safety precautions

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. Do not assume, however, that the local situation will be the same as Australia. Laws and social customs could differ significantly. Travellers could also face terrorist attacks, civil unrest, violent crime, or unique health threats. But overall, the threats are not significant.

You should exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. You should monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions. You should be aware of local differences, and as appropriate, take similar precautions to those you would take in Australia. Remember that being in an unfamiliar location without your typical support mechanisms always creates additional challenges, even if the local environment is similar to Australia.

The types of precautions travellers should take may include:

Before you go:

  • Leave your itinerary, contact details and scans of key travel documents with friends or family – always let them know if your plans change.
  • Seek medical advice on vaccinations and general health issues related to your travel.
  • Purchase travel insurance that covers all your planned activities and provides cover for any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Familiarise yourself with the destination, especially dangerous areas of a city, types of crimes, risky modes of transport, specific precautions for women or LGBTI travellers and any behaviour that may offend or break the law.
  • Subscribe to Smartraveller country travel advice.
  • Register with Smartraveller

Stay informed while travelling:

  • Monitor the local media for information about possible new safety or security threats.
  • Ask your hotel, tour guide or employer about local safety and security concerns.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities on safety and security issues.
  • In the event of a natural disaster or security incident at your destination, always let your family or friends know promptly that you are safe.

Remain alert and trust your instincts:

  • If you feel uneasy, leave the area you're in.
  • Be suspicious of people asking for personal information without reason.
  • In an unfamiliar cultural setting, be aware that you may misinterpret the behaviour of people around you.
  • Be aware of scams targeting foreigners.

Minimise your exposure to threats:

  • Avoid demonstrations and protests as they can turn violent.
  • Check the safety record of any tour operators or service providers and always use available safety equipment, even if others don't.
  • Be sure any vehicles you use are in good operating condition.
  • Avoid areas that are known to have high incidence of crime or violence.
  • Be especially careful at night – stay on well-travelled and well-lit streets.
  • Don't leave drinks unattended in nightclubs or bars, and don't accept food or drinks from strangers. Your food or drink may be spiked.
  • Don't hitchhike or offer lifts to hitchhikers.
  • Never take something across a border for someone else.
  • Be sure of the identity of visitors before allowing them to enter your hotel room.

Respect local culture and try to blend in:

  • Dress and act more like the locals to stand out less.
  • Show respect for local customs, religions and practices.
  • Be aware of how you, a foreigner, may be perceived by locals.
  • Don't take photos of people, or sensitive places, without permission.

Protect your belongings:

  • Don't travel with anything you can't afford to lose.
  • Avoid overt displays of wealth and never carry large amounts of cash.
  • Look after your cash and documents – never keep them all in the same place.
  • Watch your luggage and make sure it's locked.

Level 2 – Exercise a high degree of caution

This level means that there are more numerous or significant 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. It may also be used temporarily to reflect a passing event, such as a cyclone, political unrest or a short-term increase in a country's domestic terrorism level.

Importantly, we are not saying "don't go" to this location. Rather, you should research specific threats and take extra precautions. You should pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security threats.

The types of precautions that travellers should take may include:

Before you go:

  • Have a basic understanding of the political and security situation in your destination.
  • Familiarise yourself with the destination, especially dangerous areas of a city, types of crimes, risky modes of transport, specific precautions for women or LGBTI travellers and any behaviour that may offend or break the law.
  • Be aware of religious holidays or days national significance. In some countries terrorists have launched attacks on these occasions.
  • Leave your itinerary, contact details and scans of key travel documents with friends or family – always let them know if your plans change.
  • Seek medical advice on vaccinations and general health issues related to your travel.
  • Purchase travel insurance that covers all your planned activities and provides cover for any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • subscribe to Smartraveller country travel advice.
  • register with Smartraveller

Stay informed while travelling:

  • Monitor the local media for information about possible new safety or security threats.
  • Ask your hotel, tour guide or employer about local safety and security concerns.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities on safety and security issues.
  • In the event of a natural disaster or security incident at your destination, always let your family or friends know promptly that you are safe.

Plan your daily movements:

  • Avoid known flashpoints when travelling between points at your destination, such as protest areas.
  • Don't wander into unknown areas – find out how safe they are first.
  • If there is a threat of terrorism, consider the level of security provided at the types of locations which may be targeted by terrorists. If you decide to visit a location, minimise your time there.
  • Vary your routines and travel routes.

Stay alert and take additional measures to protect your personal security:

  • Vacate an area at the first sign of unrest, or if you feel uneasy.
  • Be aware of building exits and always know the safe places you can access if you feel threatened.
  • Take notice of the people around you, and their behaviour. Be aware that, in an unfamiliar cultural setting, you may misinterpret some behaviour.
  • Be suspicious of people asking for personal information without reason.
  • When discussing your plans, limit sharing details that others may overhear.
  • Be cautious about the information you share on social media.
  • Be aware of scams targeting foreigners.

Minimise your exposure to threats:

  • Avoid demonstrations and protests as they can turn violent.
  • Check the safety record of any tour operators or service providers and always use available safety equipment, even if others don't.
  • Be sure any vehicles you use are in good operating condition.
  • When driving, keep your car doors locked and your windows up.
  • Avoid areas that are known to have high incidence of crime or violence.Be especially careful at night – stay on well-travelled and well-lit streets.
  • Don't leave drinks unattended in nightclubs or bars, and don't accept food or drinks from strangers. Your food or drink may be spiked.
  • Do not hitchhike or offer lifts to hitchhikers.
  • Never take something across a border for someone else.
  • Be sure of the identity of visitors before allowing them to enter your hotel room.
  • Refuse unexpected packages.

Respect local culture and try to blend in:

  • Avoid dress and behaviour that might draw attention to yourself.
  • Show respect for local customs, religions and practices.
  • Be aware of how you, a foreigner, may be percieved by locals.
  • Don't take photos of people, or sensitive places, without permission.

Protect your belongings:

  • Don't travel with anything you can't afford to lose.
  • Avoid overt displays of wealth and never carry large amounts of cash.
  • Look after your cash and documents – never keep them all in the same place.
  • Watch your luggage and make sure it's locked.

Level 3 - Reconsider your need to travel

This level means that there are serious and potentially life threatening threats that make the destination unsafe for tourism and unsuitable for most travellers. This could be due to an ongoing threat of terrorism, , frequent incidents 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 when an incident such as a natural disaster has made the destination too risky or logistically difficult for most travellers.

You should think seriously about your need to travel. This may mean deferring non-essential travel or choosing a less risky destination. If you decide to travel, you should stay as short a time as possible, eliminate unnecessary activities, and regularly review your security arrangements. You should be aware of the significant risks and have tailored security measures and contingency plans in place. You should also check your insurance policy carefully, as it may not cover travel to all"reconsider your need to travel" destinations.

Australian officials are required to undertake a detailed security risk assessment before travelling to these areas. They may be required to adopt specific protective security measures.

In the event of a crisis, departure options may become severely limited. You are responsible for ensuring you are able to depart independently and that your travel documentation remains up-to-date. You should not expect that the Australian government will facilitate your departure.

The types of precautions that travellers should take may include:

Before you go, research and plan thoroughly:

  • Have a strong understanding of the political and security situation at your destination – gather information from a variety of sources before booking.
  • Be aware of religious holidays or days national significance. In some countries terrorists have launched attacks on these occasions.
  • Seek local advice on your itinerary and strictly follow advice on areas to avoid.
  • Pre-book accommodation located in safe areas with appropriate security.
  • Minimise time spent in airports. Schedule direct flights if possible, and avoid stopovers in high-risk airports.
  • Leave your itinerary, contact details and scans of key travel documents with friends or family – always let them know if your plans change.
  • Seek medical advice on vaccinations and general health issues related to your travel.
  • Purchase travel insurance that covers all your planned activities and provides cover for any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Subscribe to Smartraveller country travel advice.
  • register with Smartraveller

Stay informed while travelling:

  • Consider subscribing to commercial services providing detailed security information about your location.
  • Monitor the local media for information about possible new safety or security threats.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities on safety and security issues.

Plan your movements:

  • Pre-plan your travel routes and have contingency plans in place. Be prepared to change your plans in response to evolving threats.
  • Avoid known flashpoints, such as protest areas.
  • Vary your routines and travel routes.
  • Avoid potential terrorism targets and know what you should do in the event of an attack.
  • Don't wander into unknown areas – find out how safe they are first.
  • Be aware of building exits and always know the safe places you can access if you feel threatened.

Maintain a high degree of security awareness at all times:

  • Stay alert and maintain an active awareness of your environment.
  • Look out for suspicious activity or items, and immediately report anything of concern to authorities.
  • Vacate an area at the first sign of unrest, or if you feel uneasy.
  • Don't discuss travel plans with strangers. Never share personal information with people asking questions without good reason.
  • Don't discuss your plans or mitigation strategies where they might be overheard by others.
  • Don't share information about your travel arrangements on social media.
  • Be aware of scams targeting foreigners.

Minimise your exposure to risks:

  • Avoid travelling alone, especially after dark and on long trips.
  • Minimise travelling by foot and be vigilant in public areas.
  • Actively avoid demonstrations and protests as they can turn violent.
  • Before getting into a vehicle, check the car for anything suspicious. Be sure any vehicles you use are in good working order and have sufficient fuel to get you out of unexpected trouble.
  • When driving, keep your car doors locked and your windows up.
  • Watch for people following you, and be ready to take evasive action.
  • Avoid using public transport.
  • Check the safety record of any travel service providers and always use available safety equipment, even if others don't.
  • Don't leave drinks unattended in nightclubs or bars, and don't accept food or drinks from strangers. Your food or drink may be spiked.
  • Never hitchhike and don't offer lifts to hitchhikers.
  • Never take something across a border for someone else.
  • Don't meet strangers in your hotel room, or in unknown or remote places.
  • Refuse unexpected packages.

Have contingency arrangements in place:

  • Wherever you are, have a plan of action in case the environment becomes unsafe.
  • Be prepared to change your plans at short notice, such as rescheduling meetings or activities to less prominent areas or less dangerous days.
  • Always carry a charged phone with local emergency contacts programmed in.
  • Inform a trusted person about where you are going and when you intend to return, and agree what action they should take if you don't return at the planned time.
  • Maintain contingency kits, including medical supplies, food, water and fuel, to sustain yourself through any period of heightened unrest. Carry provisions with you when moving around.
  • In the event of a natural disaster or security incident at your destination, always let your family or friends know promptly that you are safe.

Respect local culture and try to blend in:

  • Avoid dress and behaviour that could make you conspicuous or cause you to become a target.
  • Be aware of how you, a foreigner, may be percieved by locals.
  • Demonstrate respect for local customs, religions and practices.
  • Don't take photos of people, or sensitive places, without permission.

Protect your belongings:

  • Don't travel with anything you can't afford to lose.
  • Avoid overt displays of wealth and never carry large amounts of cash.
  • Look after your cash and documents – never keep them all in the same place.
  • Watch your luggage and make sure it's locked.
  • If you think your luggage may have been tampered with, do not open it. Report it to local authorities immediately.

Level 4 – Do not travel

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

You should not travel to this location. If you are already in a "do not travel" area, you should consider leaving.

If you choose to travel despite this advice, you should exercise extreme caution and seek independent, professional security advice which may include hiring personal protection. Ensure you have robust mitigation measures in place and a detailed emergency management plan. 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.

In the event of a crisis, departure options may become severely limited. You are responsible for ensuring you are able to depart independently and that your travel documentation remains up-to-date. You should not expect that the Australian government will facilitate your departure.

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.

You are likely to require a specialised insurance policy for travel to "do not travel" destinations. Some travel insurance policies may not cover you for "do not travel" destinations.

How does the travel advice level affect my travel insurance?

Before booking your travel and purchasing travel insurance make sure you are aware of, and comfortable with, the level of the travel advice. Most travel insurance policies will not cover cancellation of travel if the travel advice level has not changed.

The level of the travel advice may be raised in response to a specific event, such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack, to reflect the changed circumstances in the country. It may also be raised in response to our assessment that the security environment has deteriorated and to signal to Australian travellers that more robust precautions are advisable, possibly including departure.

If the travel advice level is raised, you may wish to contact your insurer to see if your policy allows for to make a claim to cover travel booking costs. This is particularly the case if the level is raised to "reconsider your need to travel" or "do not travel".

You should be aware that some policies donot cover trip cancellations as a result of a change in the travel advice level for a particular destination. These are commercial decisions taken by travel insurance companies.

Should you have concerns about your policy, resolution is a private matter between you and your travel insurance provider. You should make sure you understand the conditions of your travel insurance policy before purchase. You should read the product disclosure statement and consult your provider if you require more information on what is covered by your policy.

Our travel insurance pages includes advice 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.

What information do we use to develop travel advice?

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 analysis 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
  • feedback from you on the advisories or your travel experiences overseas.

How current is the advice?

The information provided in our travel advisories is kept under close review. Every travel advisory is 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 included. 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 changed.

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 email alerts each time the travel advisory is reissued.

Smartraveller also has a free 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.

You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

It is important to note that if you register your travel plans on Smartraveller, you will not automatically receive travel advice updates. You should separately subscribe to the travel advice for each destination.

Does a travel advice update mean the level has changed?

When a travel advisory is reissued, this does not necessarily mean the threat has changed, or that the level of the advice has changed. Advisories are regularly reviewed and updated to include new information.

When the level of the advice is changed, this will be clearly recorded in the 'Latest Update' section at the top of each advisory. If you hear in the media that an advisory has been "upgraded" or a level has been "raised", be sure to check this for accuracy on the Smartraveller website.