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Travelling abroad can be an exciting but sometimes daunting adventure. Whether you are new to overseas travel or just need a refresher, the following list will help you navigate the ins and outs of international travel with confidence.
1. Passports and Visas
Passports: Making sure your passport is current ahead of time is possibly the most important item to work on first. While you can pay for expedited passport services, it will of course cost you money (an extra $60 plus delivery fees) and possibly critical time that you don’t have, so plan ahead and secure your passport several months before travelling! Thousands of post offices now have passport offices, which should make getting one much simpler: https://www.usps.com/international/passports.htm. If all you need is a renewal, you may be able to complete the process by mail if you meet certain criteria.
Bear in mind that there are some countries that may not accept passports that are due to expire in the next 6 months (in case you get stranded in their country unexpectedly). In addition, some countries require more than one blank page in your passport. See the U.S. Department of State link below for details.
As an added backup, make several copies of your passport before travelling: one to leave with a trusted person in the U.S. and one to carry with you (separately from your passport of course!) in case of loss or theft.
Visas: Certain countries such as Brazil, Russia, China and a host more require U.S. citizens to have visas in order to enter the country, and some countries require special documentation if you are planning on travelling with a minor. Checking the U.S. Department of State website will bring you up to speed on all required documentation for the country you are visiting.
U.S. Department of State Travel Information: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html
2. Registering with the U.S. Embassy The U.S. Consular Affairs Bureau has created a great program called STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which lets the U.S. Consulate convey any changing safety or security information to you while you are abroad. Through the program, you will also be able to get assistance in the event of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, and help keep family and friends in the U.S. informed of any issues: https://step.state.gov/step/
3. Travel Warnings and Alerts The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of travel warnings and alerts for countries around the world. They provide information on situations such as ongoing violence or civil unrest, which may affect your safety and influence your decision to travel, so make sure to check their website and stay in the know: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html
4. Health insurance Check if your current insurance plan covers medical emergencies while traveling abroad and consider supplemental insurance if not. The U.S. Department of State is one place to start your research: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/health/insurance-providers.html. They have contact information for several private international health insurance companies as well as other listings for travel insurance and medical evacuation insurance. Additionally, there are numerous international health insurance plans that can be found on the internet with a quick search.
5. Vaccinations Certain countries ask for particular vaccinations before they will grant you entrance. The CDC has information on the specifics of each country’s requirements: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. Once your vaccinations are complete, you will be given an International Certificate of Vaccination (a Yellow Card) which is designed to fit inside your passport. Your local UrgentWay Walk in Clinic NYC can provide all immunizations needed for travel. Better yet, no appointment is needed and with their extended hours, you can obtain your immunizations at your convenience.
6. Medications Make sure to bring all your prescription medications with you and keep them in their original bottles for identification purposes. Check with your airline or the TSA if you have any questions about what is allowed: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures. Don’t forget to pack all your meds in your carry-on in case you and your luggage get separated!
Diarrhea is the most common affliction amongst travelers to developing countries. Outside of trying to avoid certain foods and potentially contaminated drinking water, it is a good idea to see if your doctor will let you fill a prescription for antibiotics ahead of time. Likewise, consider bringing along basic OTC medicines for pain, fever, diarrhea etc. to avoid an urgent trip to a foreign pharmacy, where conveying your needs in another language could be particularly challenging!
7. Credit Cards Credit Fraud departments are set up to intercept any unexpected foreign charges, which is excellent for protecting your credit card, but could result in denied charges and a frozen account when you go to use your card internationally for the first time. Calling credit companies ahead of time to alert them to your travel plans will save many headaches and is recommended by the credit card companies. While on the phone, find out if your card adds a foreign transaction fee – most do, and it is usually as much as 3%. If you shop around, there are some credit cards that waive fees for international charges. Also, you may want to find out if the country you are visiting will accept your card. Many European countries have converted to chip-and-PIN cards and may not accept the older magnetic strip cards.
8. Cash and ATMs Research the conversion rate of the country you’re visiting so you know what to expect, and make sure you know which currency is preferred if there are several options. Some countries even prefer the US dollar over their local currency! Once you arrive, be sure to obtain some local currency, which is best achieved away from the airport where conversion rates are often worse. Be aware that your bank will likely charge you an ATM fee to withdraw from a foreign ATM. It may be helpful ahead of time to find out the cost involved and shop around for banks offering lower fees. For your safety, it is always advisable to carry minimal amounts of cash on your person, especially in a foreign city.
9. Entrance and Exit Fees Many countries charge such fees, which can run up to $200. Some countries, like Argentina, require that this fee be paid online before you travel. The US Department of State has entrance and exit fee information for each country listed in the travel section of their website (use the previous links given), or you can check out this handy list: https://faq.orbitz.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12600/~/country-entry-%2F-exit-fees
10. Airline Baggage Allowances You will need to check with your specific airline by phone or online to understand the exact baggage allowances for your flights. Airlines may let you load up heavier bags for international travel, but there are still charges for the number of bags you bring, depending on your destination. Packing lightly with clothes you can easily wash will save you money at the airport and save you the added fatigue of hauling heavy bags across the globe!
11. International Cell Phone Use Call your cell phone company to check on roaming fees and additional charges they may impose for calls made on foreign soil – the penalty of using your phone without knowing could result in huge unexpected phone bills! Most US carriers offer global roaming plans that will likely save you money but you will need to do the math and figure out the best option for your needs. Most plans start around $25 but still add charges for calls, data and texts. Bear in mind that if you are usually one to use your phone for mapping and information, you may miss it dearly in a new city if you opt not to buy an international roaming plan.
12. Drivers’ License Requirements Thinking of driving overseas? Many foreign destinations require an International Drivers Permit (IDP) which can be obtained here: http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html. This document can also be used as identification in over 150 countries, so can be helpful to carry even if you don’t plan to drive.
13. Voltage Adaptors and Plugs Plan ahead and order any special adapters you may need for your various electrical devices. Many countries have different plugs, higher voltages or both. You will want to know all this beforehand so you are able to charge and use all your devices while on the road. The following link has more detailed information about each country’s electrical particulars: http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/passports-and-international-travel/electricity-overseas-converters-adapters-and-beyond
And finally, consider packing a change of clothes and some snacks in your carry-on in case of delays or unexpected situations. Even though most longer international flights provide meals, having a quick, familiar snack to grab could be just what you need as you negotiate your first few hours in a foreign country. For more tips on making your trip smoother, check out our article on Making International Travel Easier This Summer.
Jack Roberts is an expert marketer who specializes in promoting and growing physician practices. He currently works with UrgentWay to help improve their online footprint and garner interest in their Urgent Care, Occupational Health, Health Tips and Health services.