Did you know that the US State Department has a special program to keep international travelers safe in case of emergency? They do – it’s called STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Even better, it’s easy to join, and completely free!
To enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, all you have to do is visit the STEP website. There, you will enter basic information about yourself, your trip, and your emergency contact people. You’ll have the choice of registering just one trip, or creating an account so you can easily register future trips.
Who is eligible for STEP?
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is open to all US citizens. It can be used whether you are just making a short international trip or living overseas.
What are the benefits of the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program?
Once upon a time, if you wanted to register your trip with the State Department, you had two options. You could go in person to the nearest US Embassy or US Consulate General when you arrived at your destination, or you could send your information to the Embassy by mail in advance of your trip. Neither choice was particularly quick or convenient. The modern version of STEP allows you to register online in minutes. You can even register from your smartphone while you wait to board your flight!
Once you’ve enrolled, you’ll get the following benefits:
Travel Warnings and Alerts
The US State Department is constantly monitoring conditions around the world. If there are any events that could put travelers in danger, they will publish an official Travel Warning or Travel Alert. Travel Alerts are typically issued for short-term events, like strikes or disease outbreaks, while Travel Warnings are for more serious, long-term situations like civil war or extremely high crime rates.
When you enroll in STEP, the State Department will email you any active Travel Alerts or Travel Warnings for your destination. They’ll also let you know if a Travel Alert or Warning has been lifted.
Emergency Services from the US Embassy
You’ve made careful plans so that your trip will be perfect… but unforeseen events can still happen. Do you know what you would do if an earthquake shakes up your wine tour of Italy, or a hurricane crashes your beach vacation in Mexico?
One of the most important roles of US Embassies and Consulates is to provide assistance to US citizens. That means that if your trip is interrupted by a natural disaster or political turmoil, they can help with emergency accommodations or evacuation. But they won’t know to help you if they don’t know you’re there! If you have enrolled in STEP, the Embassy will have you on the list of citizens that they need to make sure are safe.
Your enrollment in STEP will also make it easier for your family back home to check on your safety with the State Department if they can’t contact you directly.
STEP can also help if you have a personal emergency, like a medical crisis or an arrest. You will already have the contact information for the nearest US Consulate so you can quickly get assistance.
Help in Case of an Emergency Back Home
Imagine you’re on a business trip in Beijing, and back home, your wife is in a car accident and is hospitalized. Your mother-in-law is trying to get in touch with you, but your cell phone doesn’t work in China, and she doesn’t know what hotel you are in. If you are enrolled in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, your family will be able to get the Embassy’s help to contact you.
Got a group? Get STEP.
STEP is great for individual travelers, but the State Department has also made it easy for you to register groups of travelers. You can register yourself as the point of contact for a group, and add as many travelers as you like. This is very useful if you are in charge of a school group or other tour. It can also be used to manage STEP enrollments for the travelers from your corporation. You could even use it to register all of the members of your family before your next big family vacation!