One of the most important roles of the US State Department is to protect and assist US citizens who are traveling internationally. US Embassies and Consulates overseas provide a number of services to US citizens who are traveling or residing abroad, and they encourage travelers to “enroll” with the Embassy so they can be contacted and located in case of emergency.Traditionally, this would be done by visiting the Embassy in person or sending a request by mail, but travelers today can register their trip online in minutes using STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
What is STEP?
STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, collects basic information from travelers, including their contact information, trip details, and emergency contact information for a relative or friend in the United States. Travelers can register on the STEP website, and the pertinent details are available to the US Embassy and Consulates in their destination country.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program also allows travelers to receive emails with updated Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings for countries of interest to them.
How Do US Embassies Assist Travelers?
US Embassies and Consulates provide assistance to US citizens overseas, both for personal problems like illness or lost passports and during major crises such as natural disasters or political turmoil.
For travelers who encounter personal difficulties while out of the country, consular officers at the nearest US Embassy or Consulate can help by putting them in touch with English-speaking caregivers like doctors or attorneys. Travelers who have lost their passport can have it replaced at a US Embassy or Consulate to be able to travel home to the United States. The US Embassy can also provide loans and assistance with return transportation for US citizens who have become destitute overseas.
All of the personal situations listed above would require the distressed traveler to contact the Embassy for help, but what happens in a major event like an earthquake, terrorist attack, or outbreak of civil war? This is when the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program becomes crucial – it allows the Embassy to contact all US citizens who are known to be in the country in order to confirm their safety and arrange for evacuation. It also makes it possible for the Embassy to contact the traveler’s family back home with updates.
How Can Travelers Enroll in STEP?
Enrollment in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is free, and takes only minutes on the STEP website. Travelers have the option of registering only a single trip, or they can create an account to allow them to register future trips quickly. It’s highly recommended that frequent travelers create an account on STEP, so travel details can be added and updated with ease. The site also allows people to sign up for automated emails with Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts for any country of interest, whether they are traveling there or not!
Families who are traveling together only need to register once, as there is space to list additional travelers on the STEP registration form. Larger groups, such as tour groups or school programs, have the option of creating an organizational registration for the whole group.