This post has been updated as of November 24, 2020
Ok, so you’re ready to take your first international trip (YAY!). Or maybe this is your 103rd international trip, but each and every time you feel like you’re forgetting something. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things on your “To Do” list, but I’m here to help you simplify the process and ensure you don’t forget anything, down to even the most minute detail. Here’s a simple checklist of things you should do before taking an international trip:
Get Your Passport in Order
This is first and foremost. You’re not going anywhere abroad without this. Point.Blank.Period. So, make sure:
A) You have it on deck. If this is your first time traveling international and you don’t have a passport give yourself ample time to apply for one and receive it. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE! It takes approximately 6 weeks door-to-door to receive your passport (approximately 3 weeks for expedited services). Click this link for more info about applying for U.S. passports.
B) If you already have your passport make sure it is still valid or has at least 6 months validity left. Some countries will not allow you into the country without this.
C) You physically have your hands on your passport the night before. Don’t think “Oh, I know it’s in my top drawer. I’ll grab it in the morning”. No! Dig it out and put it in a safe and easily accessible place the night before your big trip. And ladies, do not put it in one purse and then change purses at the last minute, forgetting to take your passport out of the zipped pocket (don’t be like me, be better than me).
Get it? Got it? Good.
Get Your Visa
This is also very important, and something that some people don’t think about or consider. You can’t just waltz into all countries all willy nilly with your passport; some require a visa no matter how short, or long, your stay. This website lets you know whether you will need a visa to visit a particular country or not.
Make Copies of Your Documents
I cannot stress to you how important this is. ALWAYS keep a copy of your passport either on you, or in your carryon luggage, somewhere, anywhere. You do not want to run into the misfortune of losing your passport and have no way to identify yourself or be able to prove that you are in a country legally. This doesn’t only go for your passport. Make copies of your visa (if applicable), itineraries (flight and hotel), and other IDs.
Let Someone Know
Speaking of making copies, it’s also very important that someone other than you has a copy of this information. A family member or someone that you really trust. Someone should know where you are or at least have a general idea of your itinerary. I always email my parents this information, and if I happen to be traveling with someone I give them their contact information as well.
Notify Your Bank
This is a biggie! There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a country without access to your funds (trust me, I know). Be sure to notify your banks and credit card companies of your travel plans. This way they’ll flag your account and won’t put a freeze on it if/when an “erroneous” charge from, oh let’s just say, Kuala Lumpur shows up. Also, I’d suggest setting up a PIN number (if you haven’t already) for your credit cards. So, if by chance you are sitting in Kuala Lumpur with $5 cash to your name, because you can’t access your bank funds, you can at least withdraw cash from your credit card at an ATM. Typically, setting up PIN numbers can’t be done over the phone and you have to wait 7-10 business days for it to be mailed to you, which doesn’t really help you when you’re cashless in KL, now does it? I may or may not be speaking from experience *inserts side eye emoji*.
Exchange Your Currency
Speaking of money, before traveling internationally research to find out if ATMs are prevalent in the country you are visiting or do they mostly work on a cash only basis. If it is mostly cash, you may want to exchange some currency to the currency of the country you will be visiting. You never want to be stuck in a foreign country without any cash on hand, especially if you get there and your card decides to stop working (it’s happened to me before in Southeast Asia). Furthermore you don’t want to be hit with withdrawal fees every time you withdraw from a foreign ATM (they REALLY add up). You can exchange money at your bank or at the airport before leaving (you’ll likely be charged a little more at the airport). Also, word to the wise, NEVER keep all of your cash in one location. Put a little here, a little there, different pockets, different bags, etc.
Register with the Consulate
Disasters and calamities can happen at any given time in any given place. If you are traveling international it is important to stay abreast travel warnings and alerts, and to make sure in the event something disastrous does take place the government will know where you are and how to locate you. U.S. citizens can sign up for updates and enter your travel information with the STEP program. This enrolls you with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Either contact your cell phone provider and add an international plan to your account, OR you can take a more cost efficient route and use apps and social media to stay connected. There are a gamut of apps that allows you to text and make free calls, as long as you are connected to WIFI. Some of my faves are:
- Google Voice (sign up for a free Google number)
- Kakao Talk (this is most popular in South Korea, but it works everywhere)
- Facebook Messenger
- Skype (you can purchase a Skype number)
- iMessage (I love iPhone for this very reason)/Facetime (I also despise iPhone for this very reason lol)
Another alternative is purchasing a local SIM card in whatever country you are visiting. This way you are not confined to only using your phone only when WIFI is available.
Note: If you have plans of traveling to Southeast Asia here’s a comprehensive list of How to Stay Connected in each country.
Chargers, Adapters, and Converters
Another thing that people often forget are adapters and converters. Your electronics and appliances (hair dryers, flat irons, etc) are not always equipped to work in other countries without an adapter or converter. What is the difference? Converters convert electricity. They step your voltage up or down. Adapters allows your appliance/electronic to be plugged into the wall of another country. I use this All-in-One Universal Adapter every time I travel internationally. Here’s a Travel Converter ideal for laptops, cameras, Smartphones, Tablets, etc.
Also, be sure to pack your chargers for all electronics.
Vaccines and Medications
Some countries may require you to get vaccines before entering. Check this website to see what vaccines, if any, are required, and also stay informed about any health notices and precautions you should be aware of. Also, be sure to get all prescription medications filled before leaving. If you are traveling long-term, have your doctor or physician write you a prescription that will cover your length of stay.
Get an International Drivers Permit
If you plan on renting a car or driving abroad, more than likely you’ll need an International Drivers Permit (IDP). They’re pretty easy to get (I just went through the process myself). The easiest method is going to a local AAA office and getting it done there. But, if you can’t make it to an office, visit their website and follow the easy instructions. It costs $20 and takes about 3-4 weeks to arrive via mail.
Research Entrance and Exit Fees
This is something I’d never thought of or even considered until a recent trip to the Philippines and an Exit Fee was required before leaving. So, although some countries may not require a visa, you may be subject to other types of fees. Be sure to check Consular Information Program website to see what fees may or may not be required for the country you are visiting.
It is a must! Insurance, no matter the type, is one of those things where you don’t need it until you need it. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially if you’re going to be participating in some adventurous activities while traveling, like skydiving, scuba diving, jet skiing, that sort of thing. Not only that, sometimes things happen and you may have to change or cancel your trip altogether, travel insurance covers that as well. SafetyWing is is an excellent company for affordable travel insurance. It’s currently what I use. Plans start at $40/month or you can purchase by days. You can read more about it here. So, protect yourself. Get covered!
Check COVID Requirements
For U.S. citizens, international travel has been greatly impacted due to COVID-19. Many countries still has their borders closed and only a select few are allowing U.S. citizens to travel to their country. Even then, often times there are strict COVID guidelines in place. So, if you do find yourself traveling during this time, you want to check to see what these guidelines are before traveling and make sure you adhere to all the regulations. You can check this site for country specific guidelines, but I also HIGHLY recommend checking the specific country’s official website to check the latest updates. Things can change at a moment’s notice. Also, whether a country has COVID testing restrictions or not, I recommend getting testing at least 48 hours prior to traveling and practice all social distancing measures.