A trip requires careful planning. Whether this is your first trip abroad or you are a seasoned traveler, planning is the key to an enjoyable vacation. Listed below are important steps you can take to prepare for a safe trip anywhere outside your home country.
Beware of Any Travel Alerts and Warnings for Your Destination
The U.S. State Department issues Travel Warnings to recommend postponing travel to a country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity or, in some cases, because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country and may have great difficulty in assisting U.S. citizens in distress. Travel Alerts disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats or other relatively short-term or transnational conditions that could pose significant risks to you and affect your travel plans.
Do You Have All Required Travel Documents?
Most U.S. citizens must use a U.S. passport to travel overseas and reenter the United States. A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies your identity and citizenship. Only the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassies and Consulates have the authority to issue or verify U.S. passports.
Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. Some countries may allow you to enter with only a birth certificate, or with a birth certificate and a driver’s license, but all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air, must present a valid passport to reenter the United States.
If you are traveling by land or sea, you must provide evidence of both your U.S. citizenship and your identity when you reenter the United States. For many land or sea trips this means you can travel using the new U.S. passport card instead of the normal passport book. Read more about U.S. passport requirements.
What about your children? Some countries have instituted requirements to help prevent child abductions and may require travelers to present proof of relationship to the children and evidence of consent from any non-accompanying parent(s). Visit our child abduction country information pages for information about your destination.
When does your passport expire? Some countries require that a traveler’s passport be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of the trip. Contact the embassy of your foreign destination for more information. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found in our Country Specific Information pages.
Are You Prepared for an Emergency?
Make sure you have the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are going. Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at U.S. embassies, consulates, and consular agencies overseas and in Washington, D.C. Contact information for U.S. embassies, consulates, and consular agencies overseas may be found in our Country Specific Information pages. If your family needs to reach you because of an emergency at home or if they are worried about your welfare, they should call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C. at 1-888-407-4747 (during business hours) or 202-647-5225 (after hours). The State Department will relay the message to the consular officers in the country where you are. The consular officers will then try to locate you, pass on any urgent messages, and, if you wish, report back to your family in accordance with the Privacy Act.
You can read more about what the Department of State can and can’t do for you in an emergency here.
Do You Plan to Drive Overseas?
If you plan to drive overseas, you may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). Many countries do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, and it is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most places. You should check with the Embassy of the country where you plan to travel, to find out more about the driver’s license and car insurance requirements. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
If you will be residing overseas for an extended time, it is a good idea to obtain a local driver’s license as soon as possible, since an IDPs is not always valid for your entire length of a stay abroad, and often is only valid if presented in conjunction with a valid U.S. or local license. To renew a U.S. driver’s license while abroad, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your home state.For more information, please review our page on Driving Abroad.
Don't forget rental car insurance (known as collison damage waiver). You may be covered by your travel insurance or credit card but check before you depart!
Pack light so you can move more quickly and have a free hand when you need it.
Carry a minimum number of valuables and plan places to conceal them.
Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity and nationality.
Avoid packing IDs, tickets and other vital documents in backpacks or other locations you won't be able to see at all times.
Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag. Don’t be one of those travelers decked out in J’adore Paris apparel because the airline lost your luggage and you have nothing else to wear.
Bring snacks. Traveling abroad is fun, but eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a task. Bring small snacks that will tide you over until you find that perfect restaurant or food cart.
Check out Rick Steves tips on packing light.
Do You Have Photocopies of Your Itinerary and Travel Documents?
Make two photocopies of all your travel documents in case of emergency or if your documents are lost or stolen. Leave one copy with a friend or relative at home. It is always a great idea to let at least one person know exactly where you will be staying and how to contact you in an emergency. Carry the other copy with you stored separately from the originals. Documents to make copies of include:
Passport ID page
Foreign visa (if applicable)
Travel insurance confirmation
Credit cards brought on the trip
Traveler's check serial numbers
Phones and Technology
Bring a charger adapter. Countries have different size plugs and voltage. So if you want to use your iPod, make sure you can charge it.
Check the voltage of your electronics. From my own experience I know that nothing is worse than having an adapter and still not being able to use a blow-dryer or a straightener because the voltage isn’t high enough for that country.
Activate your phone’s global capabilities. There's usually a charge we doing this, but it is much less than the roaming charges you’ll get if you don’t.
Rick Steves offers more great tips for taking your technology on your trip.
Prepare to Handle Money Overseas
Check and understand the exchange rate before you travel.
Before you leave, notify your bank, credit card company, or other financial institutions that you are going overseas.
Avoid carrying cash and consider using traveler's checks or major credit cards instead (but make sure they are accepted at your destination before departing on your trip).
Change traveler's checks only as you need them.
Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
Learn about local laws and customs
While traveling, you are subject to the local laws even if you are a U.S. Citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own and it is very important to know what's legal and what's not. If you break local laws while abroad, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the U.S. Embassy cannot get you out of jail.
Do You Need Any New Vaccinations?
Vaccinations Are Required for Entry to Some Countries. Some countries require foreign visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination (aka Yellow Card) or other proof that they have had certain inoculations or medical tests before entering or transiting their country. Before you travel, check the Country Specific Information and contact the foreign embassy of the country to be visited or transited through for currenty entry requirements.
Health Experts Recommend Vaccinations for Travel to Some Countries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) can provide you their recommendations for vaccinations and other travel health precautions for your trip abroad.
Do You Know How to Find Medical Help Abroad?
Your Travel Insurance confirmation includes emergency contact phone numbers that are staffed 24 hours per day - 7 days per week. They are there to help you get medical help and arrange for emergency medical evacuation if necessary. Call them!
Are You Taking Any Prescriptions or Other Medications?
Pack enough to last your entire trip, including some extra in case you are unexpectedly delayed.
Carry your medications in their original labeled containers, and pack them in your carry-on bag since checked baggage is occasionally lost or delayed.
Ask your pharmacy or physician for the generic equivalent name of your prescriptions in case you need to purchase additional medication abroad.
Get a letter from your physician in case you are questioned about your carry-on medication; some countries have strict restrictions on bringing prescription or even non-prescription medications into the country without proper medical documentation.
Learn About Your Destination
Buy tickets now for places you know you want to visit or see. By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you.
Get guidebooks. Guidebooks usually include maps, key words or phrases, and give you enough detail on certain sites that you won’t need to purchase the pamphlet at the venue.
Download apps before you travel. Avoid downloading charges from your wireless carrier and get your apps before you leave.
Research events going on while you’re there. This will help you make sure that you’re not missing be events going on in the city. Fun things like festivals, ceremonies and natural events.
Also be sure to research as a few national dishes to try. You don’t want to leave the country without experiencing what its known for.