In the past, many American travelers viewed the world according to a mental map compartmentalized into “safe” and “unsafe” zones. Today, the map is less defined. More Americans than ever are visiting far-flung corners of the world that once were perceived as dangerous, while areas formerly perceived as safe now present potential for danger.
As a financial advisor, your clients don't expect you to be a travel or security expert, but they will appreciate and remember any insights you can provide that will help keep them and their family safer while traveling.
Advice for Clients Traveling to Danger Zones
H. Wesley Odom Jr., president of The Ackerman Group LLC, and I recently discussed a number of security issues and ways to help protect clients regardless of where they are traveling.
Before their trip, for example, travelers should visit the State Department's Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management website to check out specific countries and learn the locations of the U.S. embassy and any consular offices. They’ll also be able to learn whether they will need a visa, and be informed about crime and security information, health and medical considerations, and localized hot spots in those countries.
Clients should also check the department's Alerts and Warnings page. The State Department issues a travel alert when it believes there are short-term events that Americans should know about, like an election season that may provoke strikes; a health alert; or evidence of a greater risk of terrorist attacks. When the short-term events are over, the department cancels the alert.
A travel warning, on the other hand, is issued when the State Department wants Americans to consider whether they should go to a country at all. Reasons for issuing a warning include an unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. Travel warnings remain in effect until the situation changes; some have been in effect for several years. Currently, the government has alerts and warnings in effect for more than 40 areas.
If clients plan on spending more than a few days in any one country, Odom concurs that they should file their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate by enrolling in the department's free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrollment enables embassies to reach travelers in an emergency (a natural disaster, civil unrest or family crisis).
Once on the ground, Odom said that “anonymity is your greatest protection.” He explained that “the biggest risks for travelers is not so much terrorism or kidnapping for ransom, but rather garden-variety street crime, which includes being a victim of a pickpocket, con artist or mugger,” he said. Odom recommends always using a concealment money belt.
If possible, advise clients to use two wallets — the concealed one with crucial ID, credit cards and the bulk of cash, and the one you show in public with no less than $20, but no more than $50, as well as an expired credit card or two. If your client is accosted, the “public” wallet can be given to the robber without causing too much trouble later on.
To avoid becoming a target for thieves in the first place, advisors should warn clients against wearing flashy clothes or jewelry, stopping and gaping, and pulling out wads of cash in public.
Clients should keep a card on them at all times that lists their name, blood type, allergies, medications and an emergency contact. If that contact is in the U.S., put the country code in the number since most people around the world don't typically call the U.S. Write the card in English and in the local language.
While no one plans to get sick on vacation, err on the side of caution and recommend that clients check the coverage provided by their travel insurance. Medical emergencies can be especially fraught if they occur in areas of danger, and some insurance policies cover evacuations in cases of medical emergencies or political unrest. Insurers may also offer more in-depth assessments of the risks involved in traveling to particular countries as part of their travel services.
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