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The Most Difficult Countries for Americans to Visit

Not every destination is welcoming for Americans to visit; we've rounded up the most restrictive countries in the world—and found alternatives where safety is key and you'll be welcome to visit anytime.

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Think twice about visiting these countries

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs offers Travel Advisories for every country in the world for American citizens, with four levels of advice: 1. Exercise Normal Precautions; 2. Exercise Increased Caution; 3. Reconsider Travel; and finally, the direst warning, 4. Do Not Travel. Level 4 countries are the ones that are the most difficult, and dangerous, ones for Americans to visit. Not only are these countries nearly impossible to visit, according to the State Department website, “During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance” if you are there. It might be best to avoid these locations, so we’ll tell you where they are, but we’ve also provided options for alternatives to visit instead, too. Here are 12 things you should never do in different countries around the world.

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Central African Republic

Crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping are the trifecta of reasons that this land-locked country bordered by Cameroon to the west, Chad to the north, Sudan to the east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south is on the State Department’s “Don’t Visit” list. Since you’re not going to get in, what to do instead? The nearby Level 1 country of Rwanda offers a safe and sophisticated city stay in Kigali and fabulous gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains. Here’s the difference between a travel alert and a travel warning.

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Iran

According to the State Department, “There is a very high risk of kidnapping, arrest, and detention of U.S. citizens in Iran, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans.” In other words, “don’t go.” If you want to visit the Middle East, consider the peaceful United Arab Emirate of Dubai, where you can sample authentic Iranian food in Level 1 safety. Iran is also one of the countries in the world that have banned McDonald’s.

Aerial view from Tripoli, Libya.TheRunoman/Shutterstock

Libya

Crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict are all the Level 4 warnings that should have you crossing this northern African nation off your list. We couldn’t find any spots in northern Africa that are Level 1 (although both Egypt and Morocco are popular tourist hubs, they’re both Level 2), so keep heading north across the Strait of Gibraltar to the welcoming, and wonderfully safe, southern coast of Spain. While not all these countries are dangerous, they don’t have airports which makes them a challenge to visit.

 

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Mali

Americans should avoid travel to Mali due to terrorism, kidnapping, and crime by terrorists and armed criminals, says the State Department. Duly noted. Senegal, however, is just to the southwest of Mali and is a safe-to-visit Level 1 option in northwest Africa. These are 11 things you can do to stay safe while traveling solo.

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South Sudan

The State Department says don’t travel to South Sudan due to crime, kidnapping, and armed conflict. We say, just go south to Level 2 Uganda, skip the cities where there’s an elevated chance of crime, and head straight to the safe and secure mountains where the golden monkeys flitting across the high bamboo might steal your heart, but nothing else. In South Sudan, some children are forced to join the military, violating one of these children’s rights that should be universal.

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Venezuela

Violent crime (including armed robbery, homicide, and carjacking), civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens all make this South American nation an absolute “Do Not Visit for Americans.” Skip this nation on the Caribbean Sea and keep heading west until you get to Panama where you’ll find beaches, mountains, and Latin culture in Level 1 safety. This nearby most-visited Caribbean Island is also a safe bet.

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Yemen

Do not travel to Yemen, says the State Department, due to terrorism, civil unrest, health risks, kidnapping, and armed conflict; we basically can’t think of a reason why you would want to go to this Middle Eastern country on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula that’s one of the most dangerous places in the world. On the other hand, just to the east is Oman, a Level 1 destination on the Arabian Sea which welcomes American tourists with activities ranging from desert safaris to dolphin spotting in the Gulf of Oman to off-roading in the Hajar Mountains to world-class opera in Muscat.

iraqEng. Bilal Izaddin/Shutterstock

Iraq

U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping due to the armed conflict in the country and anti-U.S. sectarian militia, says the State Department. Since Saudi Arabia is immediately south of Iraq, and Iran borders the country to the east, head southwest to the Persian Gulf and the UAE, a Level 1 country, and spend some time in cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi or exploring the surrounding desert. You’ll also want to skip visiting these spookiest abandoned places in every state.

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North Korea

One of the most restrictive countries in the world, U.S. passports are not valid for travel to, in, or through North Korea, unless they are specially validated by the Department of State. Simply visiting the country unannounced, or being accused of any crime, can result in arrest and extremely long-term detention under harsh conditions. Just to the south, however, is the tourist welcoming South Korea, where you can experience the culture, food, and history of the region without fear of arrest. These are the world’s most dangerous cities that travelers should probably avoid.

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Afghanistan

Terrorist organizations, extremist groups, and organized criminal syndicates are active throughout Afghanistan, says the State Department and all foreigners are potential targets. Enough said. You’re not visiting anytime soon. Did you know, though, that just to the north of the war-torn nation is an up-and-coming travel destination, Uzbekistan, for a mix of deserts plains and stunning cities? Find more of the best places to visit before they get too crowded.

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Somalia

It’s not every day that “piracy” heads the list of concerns about visiting a country, but Somalia’s pirates are deadly and a threat to all foreigners, including Americans, and kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and terrorism are all reasons the country is a Level 4 Do Not Visit destination. Tiny Djibouti, just to the north of Somalia, however, offers stunning scenery at Lake Abbe and Lake Assal and a Level 1 sense of safety. Find out 20 places you need to go in 2020, according to travel experts.

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Syria

No part of Syria is safe from violence, says the State Department, and among the reasons Americans shouldn’t visit here include terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. Head west though and you’ll hit the turquoise Aegean Sea and the island of Cyprus where you can enjoy sunshine, sand, and safety. Although there is one place in Cyprus that is forbidden to all tourists.

bolivia protestKarol Moraes/Shutterstock

Bolivia

The newest addition to the “Do Not Travel” list just joined the Level 4 group mid-November due to civic unrest after a widely contested election. Flights are being canceled, and there are roadblocks and demonstrations making domestic travel difficult and dangerous. Just to the northwest is Peru, where you can view Machu Picchu, explore the mountain city of Cusco, and explore the Sacred Valley. Check out these places that you might think are dangerous but are actually safer than you think.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.