Enjoy Your International Travel
Take steps to protect yourself when taking a trip abroad.
Whether it’s Munich for Oktoberfest, the beaches of the Caribbean or a safari in Africa, nothing compares to international travel. It isn’t just fun, it’s educational. But getting the most out of your next global adventure involves a little more planning than a weekend camping trip.
When you visit another country, you’ll encounter different customs, safety standards and socially accepted ways to dress. Remember that you are a guest.
Before you head out, here are some suggestions to help get the most from your trip.
- Travel warnings - The U.S. State Department posts travel warnings and alerts for most countries. These alerts draw your attention to unstable governments, violence, political disturbances and health concerns. Check your destination before planning your trip.
- Travel documents - Most U.S. citizens must use a U.S. passport to travel overseas and reenter the United States. To learn more about passport requirements, go to the U.S. Department of State website or call 1-877-487-2778.
- Prepare for emergencies - Make sure you have contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Such details are available from the U.S. Department of State. (Note: If your family needs to reach you, they should call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225, after hours.)
- Driving – Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license so you may need an International Driving Permit.
- Packing – Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity. Don’t put your ID, tickets and other vital documents in backpacks or locations you won't be able to see at all times. Check with your airline(s) for any luggage restrictions or fees.
- Photocopy your travel documents – Make two photocopies of all travel documents (itinerary, passport, tickets, etc.) in case of emergency. Leave one copy with someone at home and carry a copy with you.
- Money – Check the exchange rate before you travel. Also, notify your bank, credit card company and other financial institutions of the dates you’ll be abroad. Whenever possible, use major credit cards instead of cash, and make sure your card will work in the country you're visiting. Most European banks have changed to the more secure chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer are accepting the outdated magnetic-strip cards common in the U.S. If you pay with cash, don’t flash large amounts of money.
- Local laws – As a U.S. citizen, you’re still subject to local laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be very different and you need to know what's acceptable and what's not. If you break laws abroad, being a U.S. Citizen won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the U.S. Embassy can’t get you out of jail.
- Vaccinations – Some countries require visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination or other proof that you’ve had certain vaccinations or medical tests. Before you travel, contact the foreign embassy of the country(s) you’ll be visiting for current requirements. (Note: The Centers for Disease Control provides recommendations for vaccinations and other health precautions for your trip abroad.)
- Medical care – Check what your health insurance covers in other countries. Many travel agents offer short-term health insurance plans that will cover you overseas.
- Prescriptions – Pack enough to last your entire trip, including some extra in case you are delayed. Carry medications in their original labeled containers, and pack them in your carry-on bag since checked baggage is occasionally misplaced. Get a letter from your physician in case you are questioned about your carry-on medication.
- Electronics – Electrical plugs and voltage amounts vary by country. If you want to use small appliances, make sure you have appropriate adapters.
- Hotel info – Before you leave for the day, document your hotel's address and phone number. If you get lost, someone can point you in the right direction and a taxi can get you back.
- Proper dress – Keep in mind local customs, attitudes and religious beliefs when getting dressed. In some countries there is anti-American sentiment, so it’s best to leave your flag-embellished “I (heart) the 4th of July” t-shirt at home. Dressing appropriately while abroad not only helps you fit in, it protects you from looking like a target to thieves. When in doubt, dress more conservatively and avoid anything even slightly revealing.
- Backpacks – Once at your destination, bring a small bag for everyday touring. Be aware that any kind of backpack will mark you as a tourist.
- Cameras – Nothing screams tourist – and makes you a greater target to thieves – than a camera hanging from your neck. Many cameras are small enough to carry in a pocket or small bag.
- Souvenirs – Put anything you buy in a tote bag. Shopping bags may mark you by thieves.
- Avoid hand gestures – In some countries, a simple "thumbs up" gesture is considered obscene. Unless you know what certain images suggest, avoid them altogether.
- Re-entry to the U.S. – If you purchase souvenirs, make sure you know what you can bring back. Check the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website for more information.
- Food and Water – In areas with poor sanitation, only drink boiled water, hot beverages (coffee or tea) made with boiled water, canned or bottled water, carbonated beverages, beer and wine. Do not use ice cubes, since they may be made from unsafe water. In areas where water is questionable, don’t even brush your teeth with tap water. Foods of particular concern include anything uncooked (vegetables and fruit), unpasteurized milk and milk products, raw meat and shellfish. The Center of Disease Control has more information about food- and water-borne illnesses.
To ensure your personal property is properly protected while travelling abroad, contact your local American Family agent.