As the world grapples with political tensions, terrorist attacks, civil unrest, and natural disasters, frequent travelers know that staying safe while abroad is a serious concern.
Luckily for U.S. citizens, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Department of State to ensure that all Americans traveling or living abroad stay safe, secure and informed.
Here’s how to enroll yourself or your executives in this program, as well as the many benefits you’ll receive for doing so.
Why Should You Enroll in STEP?
Being a smart traveler is about knowing where potential dangers lurk. When you participate in STEP (whether on your own or on behalf of your executive), you’ll receive up-to-date news, information, warnings, advisories and travel alerts about your travel location, straight from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at your destination.
Depending on the specific STEP features you take advantage of, the program can:
- Automatically notify you of any new Travel Advisories issued for countries where you or your executives regularly travel.
- Deliver time-sensitive Travel Alerts regarding “specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events.” These Alerts are more specific than the broader Travel Advisories, and are only issued to those who register their trips with STEP, as they are tailored specifically to destinations and dates of travel.
- Proactively reach out to citizens traveling or residing overseas via the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to provide assistance in the event of a local emergency.
While U.S. Embassies and Consulates can assist if you encounter issues while traveling, their primary goal is facilitating positive relationships between countries — not getting travelers out of bad situations. The key defining feature of STEP is its proactive nature. If you haven’t registered your trip with STEP, the State Department won’t know you or your executive is in the country in order to reach out and offer assistance.
How to Enroll in STEP
STEP offers travelers three primary means of communication, depending on how frequently they travel:
- The ability to register a one-time trip
- An account creation feature intended to streamline the process for regular travelers
- A country-specific alert service, independent of any travel plans
Register a One-Time Trip
To register a single trip for your executive (either to test the service or if they travel internationally infrequently), click the image that reads “Traveling? Enroll a trip and get Alerts.”
You will first be prompted to confirm your executive’s citizenship status and travel plans:
Answering “No” to either question will redirect you to the country-specific alerts registration service, as STEP is intended for use by U.S. citizens only. Next, you’ll be asked to agree with the program’s Privacy Act Information:
Checking the box will make the next section (“Traveler Information”) accessible. Here, you will be prompted to complete your executive’s basic profile information. Use the “Comments” section to include information that may be useful in helping local embassies determine when you or your executive should be contacted or what type of assistance they may require while traveling.
The “Traveler Information” screen will also prompt you to confirm your executive’s contact information. If they commonly use multiple forms of contact, use the “Add Additional Email” or “Add Additional Phone” for their information.
Clicking “Next” after completing this section will take you to the “Emergency Contact Information” section. Though this section is optional, it’s a good idea to include a dedicated emergency contact, such as yourself, a spouse or other appropriate person. Just be sure the person you include here is not someone who normally travels with your executive.
You will be asked to provide contact information for this person as well, before clicking “Next” to move on to the “Itinerary Info” section. If you have multiple stakeholders you’d like to associate with your executive’s trip, use the “Add Additional Email” and “Add Additional Phone” links to register their contact information.
Next, you’ll be asked to provide information about your executive’s destination, as well as contact information that will be active while your executive is traveling.
Note the “Add Additional Destination” link at the bottom of the section. If your executive will be visiting multiple countries on their next trip, use this feature to make sure they receive alerts and travel assistance for each destination.
Clicking “Next” takes you to a screen where you will be prompted to add details for any additional passengers traveling with your executive. If your executive will be traveling alone, skip this section and click “Next” again.
Once the details of your trip have been entered correctly, the STEP enrollment tool will display any pertinent details regarding travel to your executive’s destination. You may see specific alerts or general guidance (as below), depending on the advisories that have been issued for your executive’s destination.
Clicking “Next” after reviewing this information will take you to a final confirmation screen, which will confirm the details you’ve entered regarding your executive’s trip. Enrollment in STEP is not complete until you’ve clicked the “Finish” button.
Register for an Account
If your executive travels frequently to international destinations, consider registering for an account in order to minimize the data entry required to receive STEP enrollment for each trip.
Begin by clicking the green-highlighted image that reads “Frequent Traveler? Create an account” on the home screen. Many of the screens in this process will look similar to those associated with registering a single trip, beginning with the need to agree to the STEP Privacy Act.
One new addition, however, is the inclusion of an account registry screen, where you’ll select the username, password and security question to be associated with the new account. If you’re creating an account for your executive, add these answers to their travel brief , should they need to access the account on their own while traveling.
Add your executive’s information to the “Traveler Information” screen that appears next. If you elect to leave notes in the “Comments” box, however, keep the information generic. You’ll be able to provide details on needs relating to specific trips or destinations later on; this enrollment process applies to your entire account.
Enter your executive’s information in the contact fields that follow. As in the trip-specific registration process above, use the “Add Additional Email” and “Add Additional Phone” links to include contact information for key stakeholders surrounding your executive.
As before, you will have the option to add details to the “Emergency Contact Information” section. Use the fields provided to enter your contact information, as well as the email addresses and phone numbers of other necessary stakeholders.
Clicking “Next” here will cause your account to be created. A confirmation screen will display, which will review the information entered.
Clicking “Finish” allows you to view the newly-created account and/or add a trip:
Clicking on the “Add a Trip/Residence Abroad” button leads you to a more simplified version of the single trip reservation process described earlier. You can also use the links on this screen to change your executive’s account password or to edit profile information—which can be especially useful if you need to add a new emergency contact or update the info associated with existing contacts.
As a note, if you manage the travel of multiple executives or family members, STEP offers an “Organization/Group Account” option that can be managed online.
Register for Country-Specific Alerts
Finally, if you don’t need to register a trip or traveler, but would like to access U.S. Department of State travel advisories, click the red-highlighted image that reads “Staying at Home? Get Travel Advisories.”
On the simplified screen that appears, all you need to do to enroll is to enter your name, email address and the countries for which you’d like advisories (or your executive’s information, if you’re subscribing them to relevant alerts). You can also use this screen to unsubscribe from alerts for which you’ve enrolled yourself or your executives in the past.
Though enrolling for these alerts won’t grant you access to all of the notification features associated with registering a trip through STEP, they’re a great way to stay on top of local conditions in specific areas. If, for example, your country has branches in multiple countries, the State Department’s alerts can notify you of issues in the area, whether or not you plan to travel there.
Registering for STEP
Enrolling in STEP is easy—and, even better, it’s free. Make registering upcoming trips a part of your regular pre-trip planning process. At best, your executive will never need to take advantage of the full breadth of services provided by the program. But should an emergency occur while they’re traveling abroad, they’ll be in good hands with the full support of the U.S. Department of State.
Are you using STEP? Why or why not? Leave us a note below sharing your experiences.