What Is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)?

When we used to travel internationally to individual countries, before the age of mobile phones and easy email access, we used to register with the U.S. Embassy in each country we would visit. I can remember having our kids do it when they traveled in Europe in the 1980s after college. The idea was to let the American Embassy know of your presence in the area just in case there were any problems, either with the traveler or with the country.

The old system of registering with embassies or travel registration, as it was also known, has been replaced by something new called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, abbreviated as "STEP." The program is free and operated by the United States Department of State as one of the many travel services they offer.

Although I don't travel to individual countries anymore and mainly take cruises, I think the STEP program is a great idea and think all independent or solo travelers should take advantage of it. Many travelers are aware of the country-specific warnings the government issues, but this program will deliver any appropriate warnings to your email address in real time. Instead of just checking in advance, now travelers can be alerted to problems during their trip, should they come up.

Signing up for the program is easy, and travelers can then receive detailed information about their destination country. Travelers also receive any updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, which are essential news updates and warnings provided by the U.S. government about specific destinations. These warnings and alerts can help Americans avoid problem countries and areas and are essential for international travel. We always review the informative State Department travel website to see if any warnings or alerts apply to our planned destinations.

In addition to receiving warnings, the STEP system allows government authorities to contact and assist travelers in emergencies, political violence, and natural disasters, should any of them strike. The system can be used to make communication easier with family back home in emergency situations.

Once enrolled in the system, travelers can then add and remove individual trips from their personal accounts, so the system always reflects the current, real itinerary. The system should be used by travelers, who can enter their travel itinerary and hotel information, and also Americans living abroad, who can supply their foreign address. The sign-up is done online on the State Department website and takes only minutes. The information collected is protected by government privacy laws and can only be used for travel-related purposes.

You can follow travel writer Ted Sherman on Twitter @travel4seniors and check out his blog travel4seniors.com.

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Published by Ted Sherman

Navy service WWII and Korea, BFA, MA. Retired, experience: exec. speechwriter, advertising, sales promotion, PR, graphic art, photography, travel and humor writing. Follow me: @travel4seniors, Editor of my...  View profile

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  • Ashlesh Shah 9/3/2013

    Sharing this presentation that I came across. Registering your plans with STEP, allows government authorities to assist you better in an emergency situation.