Travel Safety - Race and Ethnicity

Traveler Security and Race or Ethnic Origin

The United States is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation. U.S. citizen travelers reflect this broad diversity. Most U.S. citizens who travel each year do so safely and without incident. However, travelers may face more risk in some countries based on their ethnicity, national origin, or race. This risk includes racial or ethnic profiling, detentions, questioning, and requests to show identification.

Before you travel abroad, research local conditions and culture at your destination. What are their views on ethnicity, nationality, and race? Contact the American Citizens Services unit at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if you are held or harassed by local authorities. Please also contact us if you are the victim of a crime. You may also call us at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, D.C. at 888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444.  Officers are available to assist you in an emergency 24/7.

Be Aware of Local Customs and Norms

Customs and norms in other countries can be quite different from those in the United States. Some countries prohibit certain behaviors, ways of dressing, or specific speech. Travelers may also be profiled, questioned, and/or detained in some countries based on their ethnicity, national origin, race, or religion.   

​The police may stop you and request identification documents. Carry proof of citizenship and legal entry (visa). Ask the police to notify the U.S. embassy if you are detained.  Travelers may be exposed to hate speech or hate crimes. Americans living abroad may face limited access to housing, education, health care, and jobs. In some countries, profiling may lead to banned entry. This includes entry to privately owned facilities, like hotels and restaurants.  Foreigners may also be subject to surveillance.

Foreign laws may be different from those in the United States. They may not ban discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If they do ban such behavior, they may not be enforced.  

Being Identified as Different

In some places where locals rarely see people who look different, you could attract unwanted attention. Locals may judge you based on your attire, skin color, or other physical traits.  If you are identified as being different from the general population, you may:

  • be openly stared at,
  • be stopped in the street,
  • have your photo taken without your consent,
  • have your skin and hair touched without your consent, or
  • be asked invasive questions.

Try to stay calm and remove yourself from the area if you are uncomfortable or feel unsafe.

Last Updated: March 5, 2024