11 November 2005

US State Department lets me down

I still haven't left Los Angeles, but I had to make this observation as I tried to obtain travel advisories for South Korea.

My first destination, of course, was the US Department of State. It specifically wanted me to be aware of possible attacks by al-Qaeda, due to South Korea's participation in the Iraq war, though no specific threats were named. Beyond that, it was not of much use, maybe except for generic warnings against anti-American protests.

For comparison, I checked the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as any savvy American traveler knows to check at least another English-speaking country's advisories. It correctly noted that the terror threat is worldwide, and that a trip to South Korea should be relatively safe. It also wanted me to be careful in Busan, due to the APEC summit and the accompanying demonstrations. (The State Department did not alert me to that, even though W is attending. Tsk tsk.) Lastly, it advised me that there are no anti-gay laws in Korea, but that gay travelers should be careful around older people; it further told me that younger people are accepting of gays, and that there is a small but established gay scene. (The State Department provides no advice for gay travelers, even though Uncle Sam punishes gays with higher tax rates. Tsk tsk tsk.)

I had made a similar comparison last year for another Seoul trip back then, and I did find the British advisories to be more accurate and useful at that time too. Time for Uncle Sam to play less politics and get real about the world.