Following the aftermath of USA’s exit strategy from Afghanistan, I wonder, what is the travel notification system for Americans.

Last week, I wrote an article about the travel notification service Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs offers. The voluntary service (matkustusilmoitus.fi) helps contacting Finnish citizens traveling and living abroad in possible crisis situations. Watching the aftermath of the Afghanistan evacuation in the news, I ponder is a similar service available for Americans. Where am I supposed to notify of my travels or possible move abroad, if I wish to do so?

Americans are not required to notify anybody of their travels or move to another country.

As a US citizen you do not have to notify any authorities of your travels or move to another country, not like in Finland. If you are a Finnish citizen, you must submit a notification of each of your permanent moves, including a move abroad, and while abroad. Digital and Population Data Services Agency (Digi- ja väestötietovirasto) mandates this information in Finland.

Matkustusilmoitus.fi is the voluntary travel notification service, which helps tracking down Finns abroad e.g. in evacuation situation. United States does have a similar service provided to their citizens as well. The US service is STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, mandated by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Through STEP, Americans can register their travel plans or move to abroad and that way help consulate services contacting them in a possible crisis situations.

The main purpose of STEP is:

  • Protecting the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad
  • In an emergency, provide important safety and security information, or support during a crisis
STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

With STEP you can:

  1. Enroll a trip and get alerts
  2. Get travel information and advisories
  3. Create an account if you are a frequent traveler

If you are planning a trip, or move to abroad, you can easily notify the U.S. Department of State of your travel plans by filling out their form online. Alternatively, you can visit the Embassy or Consulate in person to enroll or fill out a paper enrollment form and mail it to the appropriate Embassy or Consulate, or to the Department of State.

If you are not feeling comfortable to travel yet, you can sign up to get travel notifications of the destination country of your desire. You can subscribe to receive notification emails of multiple countries too.

If you travel a lot internationally, STEP recommends creating a profile. This makes it faster to fill out and change any travel information online.

STEP is a service available only for American citizens.

STEP is only for American citizens. Your passport number is asked on the form. Unfortunately, if you are a permanent resident, green card, or visa holder, this service is not for you.

The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has been on the hot seat this week regarding the exit strategy from Afghanistan. One question addressed to him during the congress hearing on 9/13/2021 was: “How many Americans are still in Afghanistan?” His respond was about a 100, not able to give an exact number, because it is not mandatory to let the authorities know about your travel or move plans in the United States. Congressman Brad Sherman responded to this that perhaps it should be mandatory when people are thinking of traveling or moving to a war zone. Perhaps then we would be able to know exactly how many citizens are living or visiting other countries and are residing especially in dangerous areas.

Again, STEP is completely voluntary service provided to the U.S. citizens, just like Matkustusilmoitus.fi is for the Finns. Both services only use the travel information to locate and inform their own citizens about possible danger or evacuation situation. Neither service uses nor passes on your information without your consent.