Smart Tips for Americans Traveling Abroad

Tips & Tools

Global Meetings Industry Day is April 12, so what better time to review best practices when traveling abroad for business or pleasure? Here are smart tips for international travel.

Health and Safety

  • Register with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive emergency alerts and make your whereabouts known in the event of emergency. Meeting professionals can create an account and upload a spreadsheet with contact information of all attendees at once, according to the State Department’s traveler’s checklist.
  • In case of emergency, such as a lost passport, know the location and contact information for the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to your overseas destination.
  • American health insurance policies are not always valid outside of the country, and Medicare doesn’t provide coverage, either. Check with your carrier, and purchase international insurance, if necessary. Make certain your policy covers emergency medical evacuation; otherwise, you could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars, or even more.
  • Diseases not common here may be prevalent where you’re traveling. Check the websites of Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to research recommended immunizations. Additionally, some countries require visitors to provide an International Certificate of Vaccination, or Yellow Card, to cross their borders.
  • If you require prescription medication, travel with the written prescription from your doctor, original label from the pharmacy and an extra supply of your pills in case your trip gets extended unexpectedly. Never check these meds in your luggage on flights. It is also wise to bring over-the-counter medication you might need.
  • Make copies of all travel documents. Take the original and one copy with you, and leave a spare copy with family or friends at home.
  • Know the 911-equivalent number of the country you are visiting.
  • A U.S.-issued driver’s license is invalid in many countries, so if you plan on renting a car, look into getting an International Driving Permit. Your auto insurer can tell you if travel outside the country is covered; purchase supplemental insurance if necessary. Many credit cards offer international coverage.

Weather Report

  • As a reminder, destinations in the Southern Hemisphere have reverse seasons from countries above the equator. This means when it is summer in the United States, it is winter south of the equator. Plan and pack accordingly.
  • Similarly, in either hemisphere, the farther you travel from the equator, the colder and more seasonal temperatures become.

Number Crunching

  • In some countries, toiletries such as soap, shampoo and nail polish are much more expensive than at home—and familiar brands may not be available. Bring enough to last the duration of your trip. For extended stays, it might even be in your wallet’s best interest to ship a box of extra supplies to your destination.
  • Some American banks have partnerships with overseas banks that allow customers to use ATMs without foreign transaction fees.
  • To avoid foreign transaction fees when using credit cards, cash may be a better (and cheaper) option than plastic. Some credit cards do not charge these fees, so inquire. Be cautious about carrying too much cash on your person.
  • Celsius and the metric system are widely used in most of the world, so pack a converter or download an app.
  • In many countries, gratuities are included—or not expected—and additional tipping is not necessary. Online travel guides detail these local customs.
  • Want ketchup for your burger and fries? It might cost you. Some foreign restaurants charge extra for condiments.

Phoning Home

  • Avoid being shocked by huge international roaming charges. Check with your mobile carrier about an international plan. Or bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card; or purchase a cheap, prepaid phone in the country you are visiting.
  • Download a texting app such as What’s App to message free of charge with friends and family back home.

Culture Shock

  • It has been a tradition for generations of Canadians to sew a maple-leaf flag patch on their backpacks, in what is perceived as an effort not to be mistaken for Americans. A safer strategy is to try to blend in, because identifying yourself as a tourist puts a target on your back, regardless of what country pickpockets or muggers believe you’re from.

Passport Fees Increase This Month

Effective April 2, the fee the State Department charges for issuing a passport is increasing by $10. The new price for adult passport books is $145; for children 16 and younger, it’s $115. Less expensive passport cards—which are valid for border crossings and travel by sea to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, but are not for international air travel—increase to $65 for adults and $50 for children. Fees for passport renewal by mail remain the same.

Smart Tip: Don’t get turned away at the airport because your passport is too close to expiration. Most countries require that six months remain on your passport beyond the date you plan to return home. So, renew early if necessary, and do not wait until the last minute.