10 Fascinating Countries Uncle Sam Doesn't Want You To Visit

NepalVeteran travelers know the U.S. State Department keeps a list of countries where it is dangerous to travel. The list is updated periodically, in response to geopolitical and environmental events around the world. The State Department doesn't pull punches, even for nations that are considered close friends of the U.S. government. For example, Israel is on the list, as is Mexico.

The State Department's "Travel Warnings" list is serious business: An appearance on it curtails visits by U.S. tourists and business travelers, and that can have a big economic impact in countries that rely on tourism as a key source of revenue. From the standpoint of the global tourism industry, America's travel might dwarfs any other nation in the world: In 2009, U.S. spending on travel and tourism abroad generated over $99 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Further expanding the influence of the list, travelers from other nations take U.S. warnings to heart when making decisions about which countries to visit.

It comes as no surprise that travelers are advised to avoid chaotic backwaters like Sudan or Nigeria, but some countries on the Travel Watch list would otherwise be fascinating to visit. Here are ten places Uncle Sam urges Americans to avoid, ranked in order of the degree to which each country's GDP depends upon tourism revenue.

1.Lebanon Lebanon
Tourism dollars per year: $11 billion
GDP (Nominal): $29.2 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 37.6%

Though Beirut is one of the most lively and cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East, the government strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon as a result of "the potential for a spontaneous upsurge in violence," adding that travelers are at risk for, among other things, the potential for frequent and intense Israeli retaliatory rocket attacks. Also, beware: "Travelers have also been detained if they have a family name that may be considered of Israeli or Jewish origin."

2. Mexico
Tourism dollars per year: $138.1 billion
GDP (Nominal): $1 trillion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 12.7%

Although millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, the country suffers from significant levels of violence and crime, frequently related to drug trafficking. A large portion of this violence occurs along the Mexico/U.S. border, and more than half of all U.S. citizens killed in Mexico in 2009 were killed in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. Mexican law enforcement works hard to keep Americans safe, however, so the U.S. Department of State recommends that tourists stay within popular tourist areas.

3. Saudi Arabia
Tourism dollars per year: $44.5 billion
GDP (Nominal): $468 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 9.5%

Though rich in history, Saudi Arabia has an insular culture dominated by the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam. The State Department says terrorist groups have been known to "target western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas and other facilities where westerners congregate." Americans are urged to "keep a low profile," and "exercise caution while driving, entering or exiting vehicles."

Kenya4. Kenya
Tourism dollars per year: $2.7 billion
GDP (Nominal): $30.3 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 9%

Though famed for its wildlife, all of Kenya is considered unsafe for American travelers. Worst of all is the area near the Somali and Ethiopian borders, where criminal gangs travel to and from neighboring countries. The American embassy in Kenya encourages all Americans in Kenya to register if they are in the country. That way, if you go missing, the embassy will know where to look.

5. Iran
Tourism dollars per year: $24 billion
GDP (Nominal): $286 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 8.4%

Rich in history and culture, Iran remains off-limits. Americans traveling abroad often need to be worried about gangs and terrorist groups, but in Iran they must worry about attacks by the government. Here, American citizens, especially Iranian-Americans, are at risk of arbitrary arrest, harassment and violence by local officials.

Nepal living goddess6. Nepal

Tourism dollars per year: $933 million
GDP (Nominal): $12.6 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 7.4%

A popular backpacker destination for decades, the State Department now warns against travel to Nepal due to political violence, noting that "protests, demonstrations, and disruptions continue to occur, often without advance notice." Recent demonstrations have resulted in rioting which, in turn, forces businesses and basic transportation to shut down. More common crimes are also common, including violent attacks and muggings.

7. The Philippines
Tourism dollars per year: $11.5 billion
GDP (Nominal): $166.9 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 6.9%

The Philippines just held national elections, which triggered significant violence. That was especially true on the island of Mindanao, where sporadic bombings occur and kidnap-for-ransom gangs are common. The State Department warning suggests that visitors "hire their own security" when traveling to certain areas.

Russia8. Russia


Tourism dollars per year: $138 billion
GDP (Nominal): $2.3 trillion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 6%

Having recently declared a state of emergency due to ongoing wildfires, the Russian Federation is another one of the countries which the United States now urges its citizens to avoid. That is, until the fires are contained. The fires are, thankfully, diminishing now, but extremely high temperatures and high levels of air pollution, made many isolated parts of Russia very unsafe in July and early August.

9. Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
Tourism dollars per year: $12.9 billion
GDP (Nominal): $202 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 6.4%

Fearing threats to both U.S. citizens and interests, the State Department urges travelers to be wary when traveling to Israel and the West Bank, and advises citizens to avoid the Gaza Strip all together. Rockets and mortars are still fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, sometimes landing 24 miles inside Israel. The West Bank, although significantly safer, remains a site of occasional violence, with incidents occurring unpredictably.

10. Colombia
Tourism dollars per year: $12.9 billion
GDP (Nominal): $243.7 billion
Tourism as a percentage of GDP: 5.3%

Narco-terrorism in Colombia, while apparently not as bad as it used to be, remains a threat to U.S. travelers. "American citizens have been the victim of violent crime, including kidnapping and murder," the State Department warns. It's not just tourists who have to worry; government officials in Colombia are required to travel by air between cities, because roads are considered far too risky, especially at night.

Charles B. Stockdale and Michael B. Sauter contributed to this report.

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76 Comments

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kcw0809

Warnings about the Philippines should have highlighted that most of the problems are in the South and not in the Christian North. Americans are generally liked in the North, even respected. Also, most Filipinos speak English as it is the Language they use in their Schools.

September 04 2010 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cindelenyc

Please add "ignorant" to the above list of adjectives necessitating deletion

September 01 2010 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marc

So... Cuba is OK now?

August 31 2010 at 8:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
krautie11

"altogether," good. "all together," bad. write 500 times on blackboard. all together, now: "altogether," good. "all together," bad.

August 31 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
michigancomp

Who cares. No one in their right mind would want to visit those places. We need to secure our borders so they don't enter our country

August 31 2010 at 1:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
JERRY

GEE I KINDA WONDER WHY THE U.S.A. ISNT ON THE LIST,

August 30 2010 at 6:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
kenburke0627

I know a family that visits Columbia almost every summer and has a wonderful time!

August 30 2010 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livingincebu

I think Charles B. Stockdale and Michael B. Sauter need to travel outside the USA a bit more, so they can see for themselves that our Uncle Sam doesn't always know what he is talking about. I have lived in the Philippines, and have traveled extensively through Mindanao during those years in country. he Philippines isn't quite as unsafe as you may think. Paul

August 29 2010 at 3:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jeronimobarahona

I strongly agree! i think the american people should stay away from this places, as beautiful and cultural they might be! they're also dangerous, i'm living in small village in sweden, the other day i was waring a usmarine camoflage one young lady approched me and wisper! you can't ware that uniform here! you can get hurt! i told her let 'em make a move, i am not gone live in fear nor let insurgent tell me what to ware or what to say, GOD BLESS AMERICA!

August 29 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
wasabimon

VIRTUALLY ALL THESE COUNTRIES ARE ON THE LIST DUE TO USA INVOLVEMENT ISRAEL SHOULD BE BOYCOTTED JUST CAUSE THEY ARE ISRAEL---TERRORIST ENTITY THE AFRICAN COUNTRIES CAUSE OF UNREST CAUSED BY OUTSIDERS COLUMBIA THE MOST OBVIOUS CAUSE OF USA TROUBLE MAKING WHY CANT WE STOP STIRRING UP SCAT EVERYWHERE WE GO ??? WE ARE BEHIND MOST OF THE UNREST IN THE WORLD IF YOU DONT UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE A VICTIM OF BLIND RESPECT--THE LEMMING EFFECT----THE SHEEPLE SYNDROME.... EDUCATE YOURSELVES

August 29 2010 at 10:30 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to wasabimon's comment
jeronimobarahona

"college boy" if you're against american what the **** you're doing in america? USA LOVE IT OR GET THE **** OUT!

August 29 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
pvp5689

israel is our most unconditional frienda and ally...trust me, we need them more than they need us!!!!!

August 29 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply