Tips for Traveling Abroad
For many people, there's perhaps nothing more exciting than traveling to a new country, experiencing different cultures, tasting exotic foods, and exploring unfamiliar landscapes. But before you take off on an international adventure, consider that a little preparation and a few precautions can help prevent a lot of unexpected headaches.
Obtain and copy necessary documentation
Most U.S. citizens need a valid U.S. passport for international travel. Although some countries allow you to enter with just a birth certificate and driver's license, all people traveling abroad by air must have a valid passport to reenter the United States. Those traveling by land or sea must have proof of both their U.S. citizenship and identity; in many of these cases, the new U.S. passport card will suffice. You do not need a passport to travel to or from a U.S. territory (e.g., U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico).
It can take up to six weeks to receive a passport, so plan accordingly. Expedited options are available for additional fees. Also note that some countries will not accept a passport that expires within six months of your trip. Contact the embassy of your destination country for more information.
Finally, be sure to make copies of your passport, itinerary, airline tickets, and other important documents. Leave one set with a friend or relative at home and carry the other set with you, separately from the originals.
Plan ahead to stay healthy
Some countries require inoculations and other medical preparations before entering. You can research your destination at www.travel.state.gov. In addition, U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers information about your destination's medical requirements at www.cdc.gov/travel/.
Many health insurance companies do not cover policyholders while they are in a foreign country. Even if you and your family are covered, you may not receive the same benefits overseas. Contact your insurer's customer service department to find out if you have coverage while traveling abroad, and if any restrictions apply. If needed, you can typically purchase short-term supplemental health coverage from an insurance company, travel agent, tour operator, or cruise line. These policies are often combined with medical evacuation coverage, which helps defray the costs of an emergency medical trip back home.
If you take prescription medication, bring at least enough to last your entire trip. Carry medications in their original, labeled containers and pack them in your carry-on luggage. Ask your pharmacist for the generic name of your medications in case you need more while abroad, and ask your doctor to write a letter explaining your need for the medications. Some countries restrict the types of medications allowed into the country without medical documentation.
Finally, review the options for health care at your destination before you arrive. It's best to prepare for an unpleasant surprise rather than have to search for a doctor at the moment you need one.
Avoid costly mistakes
Planning to use your mobile phone? Contact your carrier and review your plan for international roaming. Calling, texting, and posting updates to your social media sites can be extremely expensive if you don't plan ahead.
Similarly, ask your credit or debit card bank about foreign transaction fees. Since many do not charge these fees, it may pay to shop around. Also, inform your card companies that you will be traveling so that they won't suspend your card for suspicious activity while you're away, and can provide a toll-free number should you need to contact them.
If you plan to use cash or traveler's checks, keep some on your person and some in a separate safe location. Also, before deciding to use traveler's checks, be sure to confirm they are readily accepted. And remember to check exchange rates so you can accurately calculate your vacation budget.
Consider travel/baggage insurance
In addition to supplemental health insurance coverage, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance, particularly if the peace of mind outweighs the premium cost. Some types of policies protect you in case the trip is cancelled or interrupted due to certain events, such as weather, illness, or death of a loved one. Investigate whether your credit card or travel club offers this type of coverage as well.
Although most airlines will reimburse passengers for luggage lost during transit (up to certain limits), you might also want to consider baggage insurance for protection when your bags are not in possession of the airline.
These are just a few tips to consider before traveling overseas. For more comprehensive information, visit the U.S. State Department website at www.travel.state.gov.