10 things to remember for your first international trip


If you are planning to travel out of the country for the first time, the details can seem overwhelming. You can’t always anticipate what questions to ask, or even what to do on Google.

After all, different destinations may require different preparations. And between foreign transaction fees, power adapters, cell phone roaming plans, and more, it’s easy to miss a critical step.

But a checklist can minimize setbacks during your international travel. Add these 10 steps to yours for a smoother experience.

1. Apply for a passport and visas in advance

The State Department website suggests applying for a new passport several months in advance. Current passports must have at least two blank pages and must be valid for at least six months after your return, depending on the destination.

Make two copies of your passport and other documents you may need, such as a visa. Leave a copy with someone you trust. Travel with the second copy and keep it separate from the originals.

2. Prepare your medications for travel

Check with your destination embassy for specific instructions regarding medications. Some countries ban the drugs or have strict requirements.

Get a letter from your doctor for any prescription and over-the-counter medications. The State Department suggests traveling with medications in originally labeled containers.

Olivia Christine Perez is a travel blogger. Christine lives with lupus and always carries her prescription on her travels.

“I do my best to find out what my illness is or how to explain it in the language of that country in case there is a language barrier,” says Pérez. Also consider looking up the foreign name of your medications.

3. Determine if you need vaccinations

Check with your destination embassy about the vaccinations needed to enter. An International Certificate of Vaccination, known as a Yellow Card, or other proof can show that you have met this requirement.

4. Know the laws of your destination

Understanding the laws of the country can save you trouble. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, travelers have received lengthy jail terms for kissing in public.

“There is no PDA. You can hold hands if you are married and that’s it. You can’t be drunk in public, ”says Jennifer Elliott, a travel agent who runs the blog. Travel agent Jen. “If you are an adventurous traveler and you go to a place like that, you have to do extensive research on what you can and cannot do.”

If you don’t have a travel agent, a reputable travel guide and travel websites can familiarize you with your destination. The Department of State’s travel website provides general information on threat levels, alerts, laws, and more.

5. Consider travel insurance

To help with the unexpected, travel insurance can be beneficial. Depending on the policy, it can cover medical emergencies, lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellations, and more.

Find out what medical services your primary health insurance covers abroad and consider adding what it does not cover to the medical plan of your travel insurance policy. Regardless, take your health insurance policy identity card and a claim form with you as proof that you have international coverage.

6. Prepare your debit and credit cards for travel

Travel with three or more cards, ideally a debit card (in case you need access to cash) and at least two credit cards (in case one is not accepted). Notify your bank that you are leaving the country to avoid declined transactions.

Also, travel with debit and credit cards that do not charge fees for foreign transactions. Cards that charge these fees can cost you, typically 1% to 3% for each international transaction.

And save money on dynamic currency conversion fees by requesting to pay in local currency wherever you make a transaction.

7. Find out if your cell phone plan will work

Determine if your wireless service works at your destination. Learn what your plan offers and the cost of coverage at your destination. With Wi-Fi access, apps like Viber and WhatsApp allow you to send text messages or calls to people in the United States for free. Another option under certain conditions could be a prepaid phone or SIM card.

8. Get an adapter

Electrical sockets look different abroad. Find out which adapter you will need to charge your phone and other devices. If you visit multiple countries, a universal charger is best.

9. Request foreign currency and look for ATMs

Request foreign currency through your bank before your trip to get the best exchange rate. Map out your bank’s ATM network at your destination in case you need more cash. Ask if your bank charges international ATM fees and foreign transaction fees for withdrawing cash abroad.

If your bank has a limited ATM network at your destination or does not have a network presence, consider opening an account, preferably one without a monthly fee, at a bank that has an ATM network in the area you are visiting.

10. Plan to overcome jet lag

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website suggests preparing for jet lag a few days before the big trip by changing your bedtime. Go to bed an hour or two later if you are traveling west; sooner if you travel east. Consider how long it takes for your body to adjust to a new bedtime, and plan to start the new routine a few days or a week before your trip.

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