If you’re planning an upcoming trip to a foreign country, be sure to research the safety conditions of your destination. Not everyone checks in with the State Department’s travel assessments before departing.
But you should. The latest updates to the U.S. government’s travel advisories include kidnapping risk levels for 35 countries. In light of the recent incident in Uganda where an American woman was kidnapped – along with her tour guide – and held for ransom, the State Department announced updates made to its travel advisory listings.
Safety designations are issued to help Americans who are traveling abroad understand what risks they may face in each country. When visiting the site, you will see ratings such a “C” for crime, “U” for civil unrest, and the newest, “K” for kidnapping.
Among the countries updated with the kidnapping warning are:
Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Russia-controlled Ukraine, Afghanistan, Mexico, Lebanon, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russian Federation, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turkey. For the full list, click here.
In many cases, the kidnapping warnings are also an indicator that hostage-taking, terrorism, or ransoms may be involved, depending on the region. Regardless of the reason for travel, Americans should practice caution when visiting these areas.
California resident Kimberly Endicott was on a game tour at a national park in Uganda when the vehicle she was riding in with other visitors was accosted by gunmen. After robbing the travelers, the men kidnapped Endicott and the tour guide and held them as hostages for five days.
At some point, they were taken across the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The kidnappers used the guide’s phone to demand ransom which was negotiated between U.S. officials and Ugandan authorities.
Both Endicott and the guide were released without harm on April 7. The State Department has now put Uganda at “Level 2: Exercise Extreme Caution” because of the kidnapping.
In general, travelers are urged to practice basic security when abroad. That includes stowing your passport and personal belongings, be aware of your surroundings – especially at night, and know the laws of the country you are visiting.
The State Department publishes information about travel safety on its website, but also encourages citizens to reach out to their local embassy/consulate for additional information. Here are some of their tips for international travel:
- Take time to educate yourself on your destination’s laws, customs, medical care system, and travel requirements.
- Pack supplies for yourself, children, and infants; check to make sure medications are legal and will make it through customs.
- Keep a list of your emergency contacts handy and create a communication plan.
- Keep the contact details for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate with you.
- Notify your banking institutions that you will be traveling abroad.
Do you research the State Department’s site before traveling abroad? Are you glad about the new kidnapping rankings? Any plans to visit any of these countries for business or pleasure?