US Raises China to Level 4 Travel Advisory: Do Not Travel

The US State Department has moved China to a Level 4 travel advisory. Level 4 is the highest travel advisory the State Department issues. For context, this is the same level advisory that’s given to North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela. Let that sink in for a minute.

What the State Department is Saying

Along with the increase in advisory level, the State Department issued a statement:

Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.

Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means. The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus.

In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air, road, and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country. On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province. On January 29, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from China.

In addition to the State Department’s warning, the CDC has advised travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to China.

What if You Have Travel Planned?

If you have travel planned to China at this point, it might be wise to change it. While the health risks involved are obviously a concern, you also face the risk of being stranded abroad. Already, we’ve seen numerous airlines cancel flights to China. This includes Delta, British Airways, Lufthansa and countless others.

If you already have travel scheduled to China over the next two months, there is some good news. Each of the big three US carriers will allow you to change your existing travel free of charge.


This morning, Delta announced they’d be canceling all flights between the US and China from February 5th until April 30th. Customers traveling between those dates will be offered the option of reaccommodations or a refund. If you’re scheduled to fly between now and the 5th, Delta will allow you to change your flight free of charge.


Within the past hour, American Airlines announced they’d also be canceling all flights between the US and China. Prior to that, the airline had only canceled flights between Los Angeles and China. American’s pilots were suing the airline to stop flights to China, but that appears to be a moot point now.

American is also offering change waivers on flights to Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong. If you’re scheduled to travel to Shanghai or Beijing between now and March 27th, American is offering free changes to your travel. The same applies for flights to Hong Kong between now and the end of February.


United is taking more of a short-term approach to their scheduling. The airline has canceled the following flights between February 1-8:

  • Shanghai (from Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco)
  • Beijing (from Chicago, Newark, and Washington DC)
  • Hong Kong (from Newark and San Francisco)

I suspect that United will extend these dates out, especially given the recent changes in travel advisories. If you have travel scheduled to China from now until the end of March, United is also allowing free changes or refunds for all flights to China and Hong Kong.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, this is a serious situation over in China. While I don’t think you should panic, I do think it makes sense to exercise caution. The State Department, CDC, and WHO don’t make these changes lightly.

This is a rapidly evolving situation, so it’s important to keep informed for the latest news. If you do have travel planned to China in the near future, the decision is ultimately up to you. However, if you decide against traveling, your airline should be willing to reaccommodate you.

Author: Stephen Hoechst

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