The New Year is here, and with that means more international travel. But if the news coming from the Middle East is confusing and alarming to you, you aren’t alone.
President Trump last week ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani, who was killed at the Baghdad International Airport (BGW). Iran has promised retaliation, and some analysts have warned Americans to be especially cautious while traveling overseas. In fact, the U.S. State Department is urging Americans to leave Iraq immediately.
On January 5, Iraq ordered all foreign troops to leave the country, calling the attack on Suleimani “a political assassination,” and further escalating tensions in the region.
With tension mounting, travelers may be wondering: Is it safe to travel to the Middle East? What precautions should I take if on vacation or a work trip? Here’s what you need to know.
At the time of publication, no major airlines have issued flight waivers to the region. TPG also spot-checked a selection of major resorts in the region, and none have issued advisories for tourists at this time.
The State Department told The Points Guy that it has not issued a new worldwide caution for travelers.
“We encourage all travelers to read the travel advisories for each of their destinations and the country-specific information on Travel.State.gov,” a State Department spokesperson told TPG.
Scott Hamilton, an aviation and security expert, told TPG that unless absolutely necessary, U.S. citizens should avoid the region for now.
“Iraq and Iran are not on the tourists’ lists anyway,” Hamilton said, and suggested that if you do have a flight connecting in the region to route yourself elsewhere.
“To me, the concern is how this all might proliferate beyond the region into attacks on soft targets,” he continued.
Experts on the region, including TPG’s Carissa Rawson, a former Arabic translator, advised travelers to exercise increased care while traveling in Israel due to the risk of rockets in the area and to avoid travel to Lebanon, where terrorist groups such as Hezbollah reside, if possible.
If you do need to be in the region, follow the State Department for the most up-to-date information in the country you plan to visit. We also strongly recommend registering your trip with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a program to help keep you up-to-date on relevant security updates from the nearest US consulate, wherever you are in the world.
If you’re traveling to a lower-risk country, like Canada, you probably don’t need to register. However, you should consider registering if you’re traveling to an area that’s politically unstable or prone to violence. If you’re taking an extended trip or traveling to a hot-bed country where you may have limited internet access, you may also consider registering.
To help you keep up, TPG put together a list of all the State Department advisories that have been issued or updated and Level 4 advisories as of Jan. 3, 2020. You can also find the complete list of travel advisories on the State Department’s website.
Featured image of Baghdad International Airport courtesy of Getty Images