American travelers – at least those of the cautious variety – might be familiar with the US State Department’s travel advisories.
The agency monitors the world for potential trouble and issues warnings from “Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions” to “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” alerting would-be visitors to terrorism threats, war, arbitrary enforcement of local laws, high crime rates and other personal security issues.
But have you ever wondered how other countries’ governments caution their citizens about coming to the United States? What kind of reputation does America have?
After all, the rate of gun-related deaths in the United States has been going up in recent years.
Mass shootings have become downright commonplace: 690 in 2021; 647 in 2022; and 476 as of 6 a.m. ET August 29, 2023, according to Gun Violence Archive.
The worst of the mass shootings make headlines – not just in the United States but worldwide. And while mass shootings generate the most attention, they account for a small fraction of the overall gun-related deaths in the United States.
Would-be visitors aren’t being warned off entirely as if America is an active war zone. Each nation has its own approach, but a general theme boils down to this: The United States is more violent than what you’re used to. Learn to take precautions that you might not have to take at home.
The other takeaway: Violent crime rarely involves tourists.
Here’s more on what nine countries – which account for a good chunk of the international tourism traffic to the United States – have to say:
In 1996, 35 people were killed in a mass shooting in Port Arthur on the island of Tasmania. In the wake of the massacre, Australia passed stricter gun control laws that included “a near ban on all fully automatic or semiautomatic firearms,” according to Britannica online encyclopedia.
So for more than 25 years, Australians have lived in quite a different gun culture than that of Americans.
The Australian government warns its citizens who plan to visit the United States that violent crime is more common than in Australia and gun crime is possible in all areas. It instructs Australians to follow local guidance and instructions. They’re encouraged to learn active shooter drills if they live in the United States.
On its SmartTraveller website, the Australian government also reminds would-be travelers that “although tourists are rarely targeted, there is always a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It does not provide notice of specific incidents “unless there’s a significant risk to Australians.”
Still, it’s not warning its citizens off US travel. As of August 29, it advised to “exercise normal safety precautions in the United States of America.”
Canada advises its citizens to “take normal security precautions” when visiting the United States.
The Canadian government cautions its citizens about crossing the US-Mexico border by car, citing “criminal incidents associated with drug trafficking.” It tells its citizens to avoid traveling at night at the border.
It also warns about gang- and organized crime-related violence in large urban areas, noting that violent crime “rarely affects tourists,” but cautioning travelers to be mindful of their surroundings.
The government also reminds Canadians of the frequent mass shootings in the United States. “Incidences of mass shootings occur, resulting most often in casualties. Although tourists are rarely involved, there is a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The United Kingdom reminds would-be visitors to America that “incidents of mass shooting can occur, but account for a very small percentage of homicide deaths.” It advises UK citizens to read over an active shooter guide (PDF) from the US Department of Homeland Security.
It also tells its citizens that “violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists, but you should take care when traveling in unfamiliar areas. Avoid walking through less traveled areas alone, especially at night.”
Like Canada, the United Kingdom cautions its people about the US-Mexico border.
Lauren Redfern, a London resident in her early 30s who was completing a PhD in medical anthropology, made extensive trips to the United States in 2018 (Chicago to New Orleans) and 2022 (Los Angeles).
But while staying in an Airbnb in New Orleans, she was doing laundry in a common area when someone cracked open a door and poked in the barrel of a shotgun.
No shots were fired, but “it was this weird, out-of-body experience where it really made me think and appreciate and understand ‘oh, this is very real’ on a level I have never experienced and will never experience in the UK.”
“That experience definitely changed my sense of personal safety while traveling in the US,” Redfern said.
It didn’t deter her from making another US trip, but “it changed the way I thought about American culture.” She’s much less likely now to venture out alone when visiting the United States versus London, where she has no worries about doing so.
Israel is a very security-minded country with special ties to the United States.
It issues warnings on a scale of 01 to 04, the latter being of the highest risk level. Israel’s travel warnings are focused on terrorism directed specifically at its citizens when abroad vs. more general crime worries.
For example, people are warned away from the North African nation of Algeria, which has an 04 ranking because of terror groups and “hostility towards Israel on the Algerian street.”
However, the United States is rated at 01 (“ordinary precautions”) despite a rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a different take.
It says generally “the United States of America is among the safest countries,” but it does warn French citizens about some urban areas and notes an increase in carjackings.
Interestingly, the ministry breaks down potential threats to specific neighborhoods in cities. A couple of examples:
• In Boston, “it is recommended to avoid traveling alone, on foot and at night, in certain parts of Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury.”
• In Atlanta, French visitors are told to “be vigilant in isolated areas of the city center (downtown) after the close of business and favor taxi travel at night.”
Germany is another US ally with strong tourism ties, and it has strict gun laws and a much lower rate of firearm homicides compared with the United States. It’s even lower than some of its European neighbors and allies.
Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells German citizens that “it is easy to obtain guns in the United States, leading to increased use of guns and occasional killing sprees. The number of arms and ammunition purchases has increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It also warns would-be visitors to the US about the possibilities of domestic clashes over racism and police violence, advising them to “avoid gatherings of people in the vicinity of which violence could possibly occur.”
Interestingly, the German government also warns its citizens – who are more used to going bare – about skinny dipping and topless sunbathing.
The Mexican government has recently overhauled its travel website for its citizens planning to visit the United States.
Before the overhaul, the Mexican government had warnings that “historical racial and ethnic tension, including opposition to immigration, have led to attacks by violent extremist groups” and advised its citizens to avoid large crowds in the United States.
As of August 28, the site no longer carried any warnings about mass shootings or general crime in the United States. However, visitors planning a trip to Florida were cautioned about the state’s new immigration law, specifically about transporting people to the state who aren’t in the United States legally.
The site also cautioned that “the Florida authorities authorized several bills that could have an unfavorable impact on the LGBTQ+ community” and warned about “the prohibition of transgender people to use bathrooms and changing rooms that align with the way they live their lives in publicly owned or leased buildings, and even in airports, government buildings, convention centers, parks, school campuses and stadiums.”
Despite the shocking assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July 2022, Japan has a homicide rate far below the United States.
So it’s no surprise that the government warns that “it is important to recognize that the security situation is very different between the United States and Japan, and to understand what kind of crime victims are at high risk in what areas.”
It says “one of the main security concerns in the United States is gun crime” and offers a lot of advice for getting out of or hunkering down in possible active shooter situations, including:
• Find security exits in a new place and have an evacuation plan
• Hide in a room and barricade the door using heavy furniture
• Keep quiet and mute cell phones
If a Japanese tourist can’t escape or hide, they’re advised to “throw objects nearby at the criminal or use them as weapons.”
As of August 28, Australia’s island neighbor had an “exercise increased caution (level 2 of 4)” alert for the United States “due to the threat of terrorism.”
New Zealand’s SAFETRAVEL website goes on to warn its citizens that “there is a higher incidence of violent crime and firearm possession than in New Zealand. In many states, it is legal for United States citizens to openly carry firearms in public.
“Violent crime has targeted individuals and groups from the LGBTQIA+ community and those with diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. However, crime rates vary considerably across cities and suburbs and while tourists are rarely targeted, there is always a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
It suggests that people coming to the United States research their specific destinations before traveling and seek local advice.
SAFETRAVEL guides New Zealanders to an active shooter response pamphlet put out by the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.