The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
What you need to know about safe travel registration
Recently, I registered Paul and I in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a free service from the U.S. State Department for United States citizens who are traveling or living abroad, enabling them to receive the latest security updates from the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
When you’re traveling or settling into a new country, you’re not often focused on what’s going on in the rest of the world so it’s entirely possible you might miss something that could affect your safety and security.
I intended to do this before Paul and I left for Portugal, but there were so many other pressing things on my mind that I forgot. Not to mention that when we traveled to Portugal in August 2021, Europe in general, was a relatively peaceful place so this didn’t feel like a priority. But with the increasing threat to world peace by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I thought it might be a good idea for the U.S. Embassy in Portugal to know our whereabouts just in case.
We’re not concerned about our safety
I do want to emphasize that right now, Paul and I are not concerned about our personal safety. Portugal is one of the safest countries to live in. And we’re a long distance from the current conflict although there has been some controversy in the news lately about a Russian billionaire securing Portuguese citizenship. I’m not an expert in politics or government affairs, but I would guess that Portugal is not the only country currently dealing with this sort of thing.
But just like most people throughout the world, we’re closely monitoring the unrest in the northern part of Europe and the situation as a whole and will take every precaution possible to stay safe.
‘Big Brother’ and your personal data
I understand that some readers of this post may feel that enrolling in a program like STEP is just another ‘Big Brother’ way for the government to gather personal data and keep track of people and perhaps that’s true. But as much as I would like to think differently, there’s probably not a whole lot that the government doesn’t already know about who I am, what I do, and where I live. If you have a passport, a Global Entry card, a bank account, or if you’ve applied for a Residence visa to Portugal or another country, chances are, you’re already on a few government databases. And if you’ve ever been in the U.S. military service (as Paul was), the government already knows who you are including your blood type and what vaccinations you were given when entering the service.
Benefits of Enrolling in STEP
The purpose of STEP is to help keep U.S. citizens safe when traveling to other countries. This may be useful especially if you’re traveling to an area where there’s a lot of unrest or political instability. It may also be useful if you’re traveling to attend an event such as the Olympics, where there could be heightened threats of violence or attacks. There are a lot of benefits to enrolling in this program – even if it’s just for peace of mind knowing that you have an additional resource from your home country to help you if you need it.
Whether you’re taking a trip or planning to live abroad, you can enter the details of your trip including the country (or countries) you’re traveling to, where you’ll be staying, and the best phone numbers and emails to contact you. You can also add trusted emergency contacts who can be contacted in case something happens to you while you’re abroad.
You will receive reports that provide details of any current social climate or security threats as well as updates on any incidences and emergency messages.
By entering your passport number when you enroll, the number is stored securely in the STEP database. If your passport is lost, destroyed, or stolen while you’re traveling or living abroad, having your information in the database will help American Embassies to assist you in an emergency more quickly.
If there’s a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, a security threat such as civil unrest, or a quickly deteriorating political situation (as in Ukraine) in the country you are visiting or residing in, being in the STEP database will help with finding you and assisting you in the event you need to be evacuated.
On the reverse side, if there’s a crisis in the United States while you’re traveling abroad, your enrollment with STEP provides a way for consulates to contact you when there is a homeland emergency.
How to Register in STEP
It’s a very easy and straightforward process to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You only need to enroll once. You can update your information anytime.
Select Continue Enrollment and you’ll be taken to the Privacy Act Statement which you must read and agree to before continuing to the enrollment.
The next steps are broken down into two separate sections. By clicking the green + Traveler Information tab, you’ll create an account and fill in your personal information such as your date of birth and passport information. When finished, click the green + Emergency Contact Information tab to fill in the name, address, phone, email, and the relationship to you of your emergency contact. Note that your emergency contacts should not be the people you’re traveling with.
When you have finished setting up the account, log in and register each specific trip you’re planning or where you’ll be residing abroad.
Each time you plan a new trip, you’ll do same process if you want to receive STEP notices and alerts.
From the dropdown menu, select Destination which is the country (and not the specific region) you’ll be visiting or residing in.
Then, from the dropdown menu, select Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you don’t know which is closest to you, select the first city on the list.
Indicate your Destination Date of Arrival with the month first, then the day, and then the year. (In our case, since we were already residing in Portugal when we enrolled in STEP, we backdated our Destination Date of Arrival to August 29, 2021.
If you’re visiting a country and know when you’ll be departing, select your Destination Date of Departure.
If you’re unsure of when you’ll be departing; or if you’re residing abroad, leave the Destination Date of Departure field blank and select the check box, My departure date in unknown/indefinite.
You’ll then be asked to provide a brief Purpose of Visit (in our case we put Retirement/Residency).
Once you enroll your trip, you’ll be brought to a page with any current alerts for the country you’re planning to travel to. Here is the page we were brought to for Portugal:
Once you have successfully enrolled in STEP, you’ll receive an email confirmation that looks like this:
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program makes it easy to register an upcoming trip abroad whether you’re just visiting or planning a longer stay.
You only need to register once, and then you can update your information and add new trips.
Filling in your information is easy.
It’s an added layer of protection for American citizens. Enrolling in STEP means that your information is in their database and if there’s a natural disaster, a security threat or a quickly deteriorating political situation they can find you and help you with evacuation or information.
Until next time…