It is important for U.S. citizens who travel abroad as journalists to understand the legal and security environments in which they operate.
Take the Time to Learn About Your Destination
Press freedom varies widely from country to country. Some countries have constitutionally-guaranteed speech freedoms comparable to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Other countries have laws that severely curtail speech. Country-specific information can be found here.
- Before traveling, make sure you understand the visa rules and processes in the country. Does your visa type permit work? What are the potential consequences for people who violate their visa terms?
- When you arrive in a country where you plan to work as a journalist, contact the Public Affairs Section at the local U.S. Embassy. They can give you local background and insight.
- Find out if you must register with a local press syndicate or receive official press credentials. Sometimes countries may tolerate “informal” journalists until there is criticism of the local government. Not having a press credential might be used as a reason to deport or even imprison you.
- Get travel and safety updates while abroad by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at step.state.gov. Carefully review journalist security guidance provided by international and non-governmental organizations (links below).
- Carefully consider whether travel to high-risk areas is essential to the story being covered. Personal safety should be considered in any travel, but all persons, including journalists, should heed the warnings on countries where the Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel.
- In a country where there is no U.S. embassy or consulate, in the case of a detention, arrest, or death of a U.S. citizen, the United States may be able to provide only limited consular services, or no services at all. Check here for additional information and tasks to complete before traveling to high-risk areas.
- Traveling to certain location puts your life, and possibly the lives of others, at risk. Traveling to many countries puts you at risk for kidnapping and hostage-taking - this should be a consideration before travel. For those who, after care consideration, decide to travel to high-risk areas, we strongly encourage you to:
- Establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones, so that if you are taken hostage, your loved ones can know specific questions (and answers) to ask the hostage-takers to be sure that you are alive (and to rule out a hoax). Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.
- Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
- Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.
- Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs if you are unable to return as planned to the United States.
- Establish your own personal security plan in coordination with your employer or host organization, or consider consulting with a professional security organization.
- Establish contingency plans for a rapid departure from an area that may have become too dangerous, realizing that normal travel methods may be unavailable or unwise.
- Erase any sensitive photos, comments, or other materials from your social media pages, cameras, laptops, and other electronic devices that could be considered controversial or provocative by local groups.
- We highly recommend journalists and all travelers have medical insurance that covers them overseas, especially for medical evacuation.
- Know the rules about importing security equipment, such as protective vests or helmets, which may be prohibited in some countries.
The Department of State assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the entities or individuals whose names appear on the above page. Inclusion of private groups on this page is in no way an endorsement by the Department or the U.S. government. The order in which they appear has no significance; the Department is not in a position to vouch for the information.