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International travel checklist – Do these 11 things before you leave

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Are you traveling internationally for the first time and wondering what you need to do before you go? It’s definitely more complicated than domestic travel. Certain things only apply to international travel. Add these items to your international travel checklist to help sort out what needs to be done before you leave.

1. Get a passport or check your old one

If you have never had a passport before, you will need to apply for one at least 90 days ahead of time. Typical turnaround time is 6-8 weeks, however, this gives you some wiggle room in case something happens.

We applied for and renewed our passports at our local library. They can even take your picture. However, if you have AAA, they offer discounts on passport photos, so you may be better off there. Our post office also offers this service although you need to make an appointment.

Is this a last-minute trip? You can expedite your passport, for a rush fee of course. We did this several years ago when my mother-in-law joined us in the Bahamas. The total cost was approximately $500, but it only took one week to obtain the passport. I wouldn’t suggest this, but know it’s possible if you need it.

If you already have a passport, verify the expiration date. Most countries require the passport to be valid for a full six months after your intended departure date.

Two blue books with gold writing and emblem saying Passport United States of America on top of brown table
Get your passport!

2. Need a visa?

Depending on where you are traveling, you may or may not need a visa. USA visitors to the EU do not need a visa in 2019 or 2020, but starting in 2021, need an ETIAS (a visa waiver) that can be easily applied for online. It’s an extra security measure the European Union is taking in regard to visitors.

Check the state department page to see if a visa is required for your intended country.

You need two blank pages in your passport for each visa.

3. Bring local currency

Exchange dollars for some local currency. Banks will usually do this with a 1-2 day turnaround time.

Get lower denomination bills. My bank asks me if I want lower or higher denominations and I always choose the lowest. This money will be enough to get you started with tips, trains or busses.

Keep in mind that many small businesses or vendors will only accept cash. Therefore, it’s prudent to keep always keep some with you.

As an avid credit card user (for travel points) at home, I always ensure I have enough cash to last until I leave when I’m traveling internationally.

Upon returning home, banks will buy back any paper bills remaining, but not coins.

Pink and green paper symbolizing foreign currency along with small round coins.
Take some foreign currency with you

4. Use a debit card in-country for cash

Does anyone use traveler’s checks anymore? It’s been over 20 years since I have. Instead, use your debit card to get cash from an ATM.

Find a bank and use it’s ATM. Most machines have a language option, so you can change it to English or whatever your preference is.

If it asks you if you want dynamic currency conversion, hit NO. It’s cheaper to pay in the local currency rather than convert it.

5. Buy travel insurance

For international travel (including cruises), I always suggest travel insurance, although I do not buy it for domestic travel.

Does your health insurance provide coverage outside your home country? Mine does not, so I always purchase additional travel insurance.

In addition, it comes with quite a few other benefits such as lost luggage, trip interruption, cancellation or delay, and help to find a doctor or dentist when abroad.

Purchase it online through a variety of places. I have used insuremytrip.com as well as allianztravel.com. Read through the main policy points and find one that suits you.

Some policies have “a cancel for any reason” clause, although that does cost more.

6. Make passport photocopies

Actually, make two photocopies. Leave one at home accessible by someone you trust.

Pack the other copy with you albeit in a different place than your original passport.

7. Write down your embassy phone numbers

If your passport gets lost or stolen, you will need to contact your local embassy for help. Having these numbers written down ahead of time is easier and at your fingertips when needed.

Check here for the embassy and consulate addresses and phone numbers.

8. Traveling as a single parent with kids?

Customs and Border Protection recommends having a notarized document with the non-traveling parents’ signature stating he/she is aware their child is traveling internationally. If there is no other parent due to having full custody or death, bring the appropriate paperwork.

While the US may not ask for these documents, other countries may. Don’t get stuck in this situation.

9. International Drivers Permit

Do you plan on driving abroad? If yes, you most likely need an international driver’s permit. It’s easy to get. Just go to your local AAA office and fill out a form. It doesn’t take long and is necessary in order to rent a car internationally. It’s valid for one year.

In mid-2019, we paid $20 for our international permit.

Keep in mind that a majority of rental cars (especially in Europe) are manual transmissions. Automatics can be found, but usually at a hefty price tag.

Cream colored booklet with black typing and blue printing with the words International Driving Permit on top of brown table
You need an international permit if you are going to drive

10. Check Travel Vaccinations

Some countries require proof of vaccinations while others suggest vaccinations that are not common at home.

We visited a travel clinic a couple of months before we went to China and received the typhoid vaccine. Since it was more than 10 years that I had the polio vaccine, it was suggested I get this one as well.

In addition to vaccinations, a travel clinic can give you medications such as for malaria if you will be traveling in areas where malaria is present. Do your homework, especially when traveling to areas such as Asia, Africa or South America.

Find one near your house or ask your family doctor if they can provide the same service.

11. Add international calling to your cell phone

We do this each time we travel. Both Verizon and AT&T have plans whereby you pay a daily fee if you use the phone that day.

If you don’t use it, you don’t pay. This works with your current cell phone plan regarding data, texts and minutes. You can also purchase a separate plan, but we found it costs more.

Turn your phone to airplane mode if you do not plan on using it so you will not get charged for any data.

Before we left for Europe, I installed an app called maps.me and downloaded the pertinent city maps of where we going. It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed us to get directions without using any of our phone plans data.

International travel checklist – before you go

International travel requires more planning before you leave. I hope these 11 things to do before your travels remind you of items to think about.

Want a before-travel checklist for both domestic and international travel? Download this pre-vacation checklist to help plan what needs to be done before taking off.

Do you have any other tips for international travelers? Let me know in the comments!

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