What You Need To Do Before An International Trip

June 29, 2019

map with passport

Last Updated on June 29, 2019 by Candy Wafford

There’s nothing more exciting than planning an international trip! But there is so much to do. And if this is your first trip abroad (congrats!) you may not know where to begin. So, I bring you an international travel checklist.

The first two installments in my Travel 101 Series detailed what to expect when flying and what to do if your flight changes. Those guides can be used for both domestic and international travel. But international travel involves a checklist of its own. Below I detail what things you need to do when traveling internationally.

The International Travel Checklist

Check Your Passport

suitcase with passport

I’m assuming you have a passport. If not, that needs to be step 1. But even if you have a passport, there are things you need to check before leaving. And not the day before, as soon as you know you will be leaving your country.

First, check the expiration date. Does it still have a full six months before it expires? If not, it would be best to renew it as soon as possible as many countries require an expiration date six months beyond your visit. Next, make sure there are blank pages available in your passport. Again, some countries require a blank page to enter a stamp.

Visit the State Department’s Website

If you are a U.S. citizen, the State Department’s website provides a wealth of information. You can check the State Department’s website to review entry and exit requirements for the country or countries you will be visiting. In addition to visa requirements, this page will also tell you passport validity and blank page requirements, and any vaccines needed.

If you are traveling from a country outside the United States, you can do an internet search for visa requirements for the country you are visiting and should be able to find the relevant information. I would suggest using official government websites to ensure you are getting the correct information.

Register With the State Department

U.S. citizens can enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrollment will allow you to receive information from the Embassy in your destination country and help the U.S. Embassy contact you in case of an emergency. This is a free service.

Traveling with Minors

If you are traveling with a minor, or minors, and both parents are not traveling, you should have some documentation of custody or consent. Some foreign border officials may require proof of custody or notarized consent from the other parent.

Contact Your Bank

Contact your bank and let them know which countries you will be visiting and the dates of your visit. Many banks apply controls on where a card can be used to reduce fraud. By letting them know when you are going to be gone and where you will be allows the bank to apply this information to your credit and debit cards to ensure they will work while traveling.

Also, I suggest taking more than one card and having more than one person carry cards in case one doesn’t work (which has happened to me) or a card is lost or stolen.

ATM dispensing money

Also, I do not get foreign currency before travelling internationally. I have found it to be unnecessary. The easiest and least expensive way to get cash abroad is to simply use an ATM. Most airports will have ATMs where you can grab a few dollars to get you started. You can then use ATMs near your hotel to get cash as you need it as the rates will probably be lower.

Before you go, check with your bank on your daily withdrawal limits. Make sure you take into account exchange rates as the daily withdrawal limit will apply to the currency in the country you are in. If you think you need to raise the limit, discuss with your bank before you leave.

Make Copies

Make copies of your passports, visas, insurance cards, other identification, and credit/debit cards. I usually make a color copy of all of my documents and carry that in a different bag than the originals. This will ensure you have the information should you lose yours and may speed up the process of getting replacements, especially your passport.

Making an extra set of copies and leaving them with someone you can easily contact at home is a good idea too.

Review Cell Phone Plan

Review your cell phone plan to see if any international usage is included. If not, and you think you will need additional services, contact your provider prior to your trip.

person using cellphone

I find I rarely have to use my cell phone plan since wi-fi is usually available; however, I have appreciated a reduced calling rate when I have had to make an actual phone call. My provider has a plan that allows me to sign up for a daily international rate but I’m not charged unless I actually use it.

Get Immunizations if Needed

Many countries require tourists to have vaccinations before visiting. Review any immunization requirements of the country you are visiting and schedule appointments with your medical provider to obtain them in a reasonable time frame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a tool to help travelers determine if, and what, vaccines are needed.

Obtain an International Drivers Permit

If you plan on driving while on your trip, you need to review the country’s requirements to see if your driver’s license is accepted. If not, an International Driver Permit (IDP) is accepted by over 150 countries. The IDP must be accompanied by a valid driver’s license.

blue car in front of stone building

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that verifies that you have a valid driver’s license. In the United States, you can apply for an IDP at Automobile Association of America (AAA) offices. If you are outside the United States, you should contact the appropriate government agency to get details on how to obtain an IDP. Do not use third-party companies.

Review Airline(s) Luggage Policies

Many airlines outside of the United States have more restrictive luggage policies. You should review the luggage policies, including carry-on policies, for each airline you will be traveling on during your trip. I make sure that my luggage meets the most restrictive policy of all the airlines I’m using to avoid any unexpected fees or last minute repacking at the airport.

Make Note of Your Country’s Embassy Information

Add the address and phone number for your country’s embassy in your phone or in your travel documents. You will more than likely never need it, but it’s nice to know it’s readily available should you need to contact them.

Pack the Appropriate Power Adapter

power outlets

Make sure you purchase and pack a power adapter (and converter, if needed) that will work with the electrical system in the country you will be visiting. Got to make sure you can charge all of your electronics!

I like this adapter because it works in more than 150 countries and with 6 different kinds of plugs. And it has a couple of USB ports which makes it a pretty awesome little gadget.

Learn a Few Phrases

Learn a few phrases in the language of the country or countries you are visiting.  Manners are appreciated all over the world and saying hello, please, and thank you go a long way to show local residents that you respect them.

Pack a Pen

Seems kind of silly, but trust me on this one. You will be required to fill out a form at some point. More than likely on the plane before you land in a new country and it makes it a lot easier and quicker if you have a pen of your own to use.

Preparing for any trip can be overwhelming, but following the tips included in this international checklist will help you be prepared and ready to enjoy your trip!

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More about Candy Wafford

Candy Wafford is a US-based travel blogger and while she travels frequently for her job, she is happiest when traveling for pleasure. Preferably strolling along a cobblestoned street with an ice cream cone in her hand.

    1. Wonderful tips that apply to non-US citizens as well. We always register with New Zealand safe travel when we change countries.

      1. Thanks! I tried to make it not totally a list for US citizens.

    1. Thanks for the reminder–my passsport has less than 6 months until it expires, so I definitely need to renew mine now.

      1. It’s so easy to forget about that, isn’t it? We almost forget about getting our daughter’s renewed before an international trip last year!

    1. I really enjoyed this post. As seasoned travellers we instinctively know this stuff, but I recently had a friend who ask me what she should pack for her first ever international travel. I wish I could have pointed her to your blog.

      1. Thank you! As fun as it is to write about the act of traveling, I want to create content that will help all travelers. When you travel as often as many of us do it’s easy to forget how overwhelming it all can be.

    1. Lots of great advice. (I’ll be checking my passport when I get home!) One suggestion I’d make is to email yourself a photo of your passport, and other important documentation. Then you can use any computer to retrieve it. I used to carry a photocopy but became concerned about doing this when a friend’s luggage was stolen. YMMV!

    1. Great checklist for almost any trip, domestic or international. One question, have you been through the Global Entry process and do you think it is helpful?

      1. Hi Janet! I have been through the Global Entry process and definitely think it’s worth it. I signed up for TSA Pre-Check for work travel and it was only $15 more for global entry. My husband finally got Global Entry this year and we used it for the first time on a recent trip and it was great!

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