Admit it: You’re 100% guilty of vacation shopping. You’re supposed to be checking email but, oops, you’re on the cruise line website again. Or you’re checking the “interested” box for that African safari deal. A super sweet beach vacation in Bali? Yes, please.
Surprising your active duty spouse with a special trip after deployment or for your 10th wedding anniversary is an exciting idea. But before you pay, pump the brakes.
Your service member may be prevented from going to certain locations or even whole countries.
Can My Service Member Go on a Cruise to Mexico?
Every so often, these kinds of questions pop up on military spouse Facebook groups. Someone will ask about booking a vacation to (insert any country) and another member will chime in that it might be off-limits. Then the debate inevitably begins.
One family went to the country in question without issue. Another couple got denied leave to that same location. What’s a vacation-planning military family to do?
U.S. Military Sets Travel Requirements
First, get the facts. There are several guiding documents and websites that military families should consult before planning any foreign travel.
Have your service member talk with their chain of command. There are often specific off-limits areas based on the unit or command. For example, many SoCal units have designated Tijuana, Mexico, as a no-go zone.
There are regional combatant commands located around the world, with each one covering a different geographic region. Each geographic region-specific command also sets travel requirements.
For example, PACOM in the Asia-Pacific region has set the travel requirements for locations in their region of authority. Right now, North Korea and certain parts of the Philippines are off-limits.
Additionally, each unit or command will also have access to the official Foreign Clearance Guide (FCG). This “for official use only” document outlines the travel requirements for countries and regions around the world. The FCG is a DoD-wide guiding document.
Unfortunately, this is truly an FOUO website. The Foreign Clearance Guide website requires a DoD login to access.
U.S. State Department Guidelines
In addition to the DoD, the State Department also issues travel warnings for U.S. citizens. For the average citizen, these warnings might help them to select a safe place to vacation.
However, DoD travel regulations and the State Department travel warnings are closely linked. Based on these documents, regional commands or specific units can declare any location off-limits to troops.
Even if your dream travel destination is categorized as an elevated risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s off-limits. However, there might be a few more hoops to jump through.
Submit Your Package Before You Leave
It’s so tempting to just hop a plane and jet to a cool location. Being totally spur of the moment like that is a limited option for active duty troops. It’s even more complicated than just clearing leave dates with the CO too.
When planning overseas travel, it’s important for your service member to get their chain of command involved.
Getting your preferred leave dates approved is the first step. Your spouse’s chain of command should be in the loop about your exact travel destination and itinerary.
There is an official travel package that service members must fill out in order to travel overseas. The Travel Tracker and Individual Antiterrorism Plan (TT/IATP) and Aircraft and Personnel Automated Clearance Service (APACS) should be filled out prior to travel.
Related: 8 Cruise Lines that Offer Military Discounts
Certain locations also have additional training or knowledge requirements. U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) ask military personnel to complete an additional brief before travel. If you’re heading to Jamaica, you’ll need to meet the training requirements for the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) and U.S. European Command (EUCOM) have similar training requirements before troops are allowed to proceed on leave.
Individual units might have briefs or trainings that need to be completed before traveling. Or there might be unit-specific paperwork that must be approved.
Keeping the chain of command involved during travel planning can ensure that all boxes have been checked before you leave.
Keep Up with Alerts
Even after all the paperwork has been submitted, approved and tickets have been booked, your trip could still be derailed. Stay on top of the news or at least the State Department travel warnings in your destination as you prep for your trip. Changes in safety could create a chain reaction that restricts travel to locations.
Because of this possibility, particularly in more volatile regions, it’s important to consider travel insurance. In the event of a forced cancellation, you might be able to recoup some of your money. Check with your specific travel insurance provider for plan options and specifics.
Additionally, travelers can alert local U.S. embassies and consulates of their trip. The State Department’s STEP program allows users to register their foreign travel. This could allow local U.S. officials to assist you in the event of an emergency.
Can My Service Member Go on a Cruise to Mexico?
Long story short, they probably can go on the cruise. However, your spouse will need to fulfill all the SOUTHCOM travel requirements, complete travel paperwork and get approval from the chain of command.
As long as your service member remembers to keep their command in the loop, and do their due diligence with paperwork, you should be in the clear!