The U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for citizens traveling to China starting in 2019 and continuing into 2020. The message was simple: exercise increased caution as you plan your trip to China. But what exactly does a travel advisory mean, and how could it affect your scheduled trip to China? Let me share with you a few thoughts.

Travel Advisory 2020 Update

Due to recent events, this China travel advisory has been increased to Level 4. Instead of updating this entire article, I recommend you read this update on China travel due to the coronavirus.

First of all, it should be noted that travel advisories are a dime-a-dozen. They’re issued all the time and the U.S. State Department lists literally hundreds of them on their travel advisories page.

But what about a “Level 2”? Isn’t that serious?

Let’s start by examining how the U.S. State Department breaks down their travel advisories:

  • Level 1 Advisory: Exercise Normal Precautions
  • Level 2 Advisory: Exercise Increased Caution
  • Level 3 Advisory: Reconsider Travel
  • Level 4 Advisory: Do Not Travel

While we should certainly take notice of this new China travel advisory, you might be surprised to learn that the level 2 travel advisory isn’t uncommon. Other countries that hold this status include:

  • The United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • Spain

I doubt travel to any of these countries would be particularly dangerous for travelers, would you?

So that leaves us with one question I want to discuss today:

What is happening in China right now that warrants a Level 2 Travel Advisory and should I still continue with my travel plans?

What Does the China Travel Advisory Mean?

Per the email sent by the U.S. State Department in early 2019 and again in 2020, a China travel advisory was issued because of the following:

China has begun arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.

That sounds serious – and it is – but this is something that specifically affects two groups of people:

  • US citizens of Chinese descent as well as…
  • Expats/Business people.

The average tourist is not affected by this China travel advisory.

It may not come as a surprise to some, but China is very petty when it comes to international politics. The slightest bit of shame caused by another country makes China “offended” and they have been known to retaliate against expats living in their country by interrogating them, harassing them or giving them exit bans.

Tourists are rarely caught up in all of this.

Travelers are seen as a boost to the local economy and are welcomed for short periods of time. The only exception to this are the tourists that do something stupid, such as breaking a law, engaging in a brawl, or trying to start a protest.

Of course, there is a whole different set of rules for one particular group of people.

Special Attention: US Citizens of Chinese Descent

Whether you’re a U.S.-born citizen or you hold U.S.-China dual citizenship, those travelers of Chinese descent should heed a special warning.

Here’s the deal.

As a mostly homogeneous country, China has a hard time separating ethnicity from citizenship. In some ways, if you’re of Chinese descent, they think you belong to China.

It doesn’t matter what passport you hold.

This isn’t to say that you should walk around in fear if you look like a Chinese person. You should, however, exercise a much higher level of caution. This is especially true if you plan to travel to sensitive regions such as Tibet or Xinjiang.

Don’t put too much faith in your passport.

China has become such a big world power that they’re not very intimidated by the fact that you’re a legal citizens of another country. The majority of the time China does nothing more than question and release the people it detains, but one thing has become clear:

Your State Department will be powerless to do much to help you.

As a US citizen of Chinese decent, this China travel advisory is slightly more impactful. It’s a word of caution, though, not a major red flag.

Takeaway: What Should You Do?

I want to be transparent with you about the risks associated with travel, but I know that in doing so, I also run the risk of scaring you out of visiting China altogether. Let me reassure you.

If we step back and look at the China travel advisory levels again, you see that the second level really isn’t that scary.

The State Department isn’t asking you to reconsider your travel or telling you not to travel, they’re telling you to exercise caution.

And guess should be exercising caution as you travel no matter where in the world you are!

You’re more likely to be a victim of theft than a victim of police harassment in China. For this reason, I recommend you review these 8 China travel safety tips as well as this list of common travel mistakes that most people make.

Oh yea…and use common sense. Don’t steal from a store; refrain from punching somebody in the face; don’t take pictures of the police.

Just relax, don’t freak out about this China travel advisory and enjoy your trip 🙂

Further Reading & Resources

Josh Summers

Josh is the founder of who has been living in China with his family since 2006. Over that period of time he has traveled by plane, train, car, motorcycle and even camel to explore almost every corner of the country.

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