Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program from the US Department of State

July 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Ian in How To

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program LogoOn July 18th, the United States Department of State issued a worldwide travel caution to U.S. citizens. While I find it quite preposterous to make an all-encompassing statement to induce fear of travel to the entire world (my feelings on this travel caution could fill a blog post by themselves, but I will refrain), the warning did help us stumble upon a way to take a few steps to safeguard ourselves in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Back in olden times, international travelers were urged to register with the U.S. Embassy in each individual country they were planning to visit. Concerns about Big Brother aside, the basic goal of this recommendation was to be able to reach American citizens in case of a major problem in the country they were visiting, such as sudden outbreak of disease or political instability.

Thankfully, our generation doesn’t have to worry about ridiculously inconvenient things like actually picking up a telephone as the United States Department of State has created the online Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP. Signing up is a breeze, and can be done at https://step.state.gov/. The site is aesthetically boring, but perfectly functional (isn’t that what we want out of our tax dollars?). Most information is optional, but you have the ability to fill in personal and emergency contact information. After that, one can simply update your profile with trip itinerary anytime you are traveling.

The communication benefits of the STEP program work in both directions. If an American traveler loses a passport or necessary paperwork, the local embassy will be better prepared to help. Likewise, if an emergency in the area arises, the STEP program allows the embassy to quickly get in touch with American citizens who may be in need of assistance. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, for example, the STEP program helped safely evacuate almost 17,000 US citizens. From the STEP website:

“U.S. consular officers assist Americans who encounter serious legal, medical, or financial difficulties. Although consular officers cannot act as your legal counsel or representative, they can provide the names of local attorneys and doctors, provide loans to destitute Americans, and provide information about dangerous conditions affecting your overseas travel or residence. Consular officers also perform non-emergency services, helping Americans with absentee voting, selective service registration, receiving federal benefits, and filing U.S. tax forms. Consular officers can notarize documents, issue passports, and register American children born abroad. Most embassies and consulates have web sites with more information.”

In addition, you have the option to automatically receive country-specific travel information, alerts, warnings, and fact sheets for every country on your itinerary. What’s not to like about this program if you are a traveler? We have registered ourselves, and we’ll be updated our trip information as it our path unfolds.

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