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7 Things You Must Do Before Your Next International Trip

The key to traveling abroad is being prepared. Before you jet off to faraway lands, take care of these important to-dos.

You’re excited to be heading to that exotic locale for your upcoming vacation, but in order to have a carefree time, it’s wise to invest a bit of time upfront to make sure you’ve covered your bases.

Follow this checklist to ensure that your finances are in order, you’ve packed appropriately and your travel plans will go off without a hitch.

1. Make sure your passport and visa are up to date

Most countries require that your passport be valid for six months after your return date. The State Department recommends that you renew your passport no less than nine months before it’s set to expire.

Check the expiration date of your passport now, and if you need to renew, check the U.S. Department of State’s website to find your nearest passport facility.

Allow up to six weeks for the passport application to be processed. If you need the passport faster than that, use the expedited service for an extra fee and receive your passport in two to three weeks. Private expediting services can get it done more quickly, but they charge much higher fees.

The State Department’s Country Specific Information to learn important facts about your destination, such as whether you need a visa and where to get it, as well as other important details on crime, special circumstances, medical information and more.

If you plan to rent a car or drive at your destination, find out whether an International Driver’s License is required or if your U.S. license will suffice.

Make a photocopy of the information page of your passport and the visa page(s) for your destination(s). Pack them separately from your passport.

2. Check for travel warnings and advisories

Find out whether the U.S. government has issued a travel warning, for countries where long-term issues create a risky environment for travelers, or a travel alert, for countries with short-term conditions that may pose a threat to travelers, for your destination. Many travel insurance policies will not cover travel to countries that are under travel warnings.

3. Get vaccinations and fill prescriptions

Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find out health information and vaccination requirements for your destination. For maximum protection, you should get any required shots six weeks before departure. If you’re traveling to a country where disease is rampant, consult a travel medicine professional.

The CDC website also is a good source of information on the health risks of consuming the water and food, nonprescription items to pack and other health tips.

Be sure to check the “Confiscation of Prescription Drugs and Other Medicine” on the U.S. Department of State’s Country Specific Information site to learn which prescription drugs are illegal in your destination country.

Bring photocopies of your prescriptions, packed separately from your medicine, and note the generic drug name. Always pack your medicine, in its prescription bottles, in your carry-on bag. If you need to use syringes, make sure that you have a letter from your doctor. Always declare the syringes before you go through security.

Pack more than enough medicine to last your trip, as it may be difficult to get your prescription filled abroad.

4. Register your trip

One option, especially if you are traveling outside industrial countries or to remote areas, is register online with the U.S. Department of State, and enter your itinerary. In case of an emergency, the U.S. government will know about your presence in the country and where to contact you. Also, if specified that your travel information can be shared with third parties, your family and friends can contact the Department of State to locate you if necessary. Registration is free.

5. Stock your wallet

Choose one or two credit cards to take with you, and call the issuers shortly before you leave to inform them of which countries you will be visiting. Otherwise, your credit card could be denied, as the issuer may find the international activity suspicious.

Traveler’s checks are no longer universally accepted, and you may have trouble using them in many countries, especially the less developed ones. Instead, use your bank card to withdraw money from ATMs, which can be found in even the most exotic destinations. Memorize your numeric PIN, as many ATM keypads will not display the numbers and letters we use, or they may be placed differently on the keypad. Generally, your most favorable exchange rate will be through the ATM, although most companies will charge a transaction fee.

Write down your credit card numbers, but don’t keep the list in your wallet. Know how to contact your company from abroad. Toll-free numbers do not work from outside the U.S., but credit card companies will accept collect calls at a designated number.

6. Buy travel insurance

It is likely that your health insurance won’t cover you while you’re traveling abroad. Depending on where you’re going, consider buying medical evacuation and emergency medical insurance. Also, if your trip requires a large down payment or is booked many months in advance, trip interruption and cancellation insurance can provide valuable protection from the unexpected.

7. Pack appropriately

Other than the necessary electronics, don’t bring valuables with you. Expensive jewelry could attract thieves who are experts at targeting tourists. If you do bring valuables, always travel with them in your carry-on, and keep them locked up in the hotel safe.

Before you leave, empty your wallet of unnecessary items, such as credit cards that you don’t plan to use on your trip.

If you wear prescription glasses, pack an extra pair.

Use closed baggage tags to label each bag. Put your name, address and phone number both inside and outside your luggage.

Buy Transportation Security Administration approved locks, and always keep your luggage locked. Check to see if you can send your locked bags on in-country flights; TSA locks may not be recognized and could be cut to inspect your bags. Never put valuables in your checked luggage, and check carefully after going through security to ensure that all of your valuables are still in your carry-on.

A little effort goes a long way

As educators, you know that studying up is the best way to be prepared. The more you know about the history and customs of your destination countries, the more you will enjoy and benefit from your journey.

Do not bring shorts, miniskirts and tank tops if you’re going to a conservative country.

If you’re going to a place where you will have to take your shoes off frequently to enter tourist sites, pack slip-on shoes.

Know whom to tip and how much.

Learn how to say simple phrases in the language, like “thank you” and “good morning.”

This article was published in NEAchieve!, our monthly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive helpful tips and information delivered to your email inbox.

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