Traveling internationally for the first time ever or just in a long time can be overwhelming since you are experiencing a new country, you may not understand the language, you’ll need cash in a different currency, and you’ll want to stay as safe as possible! After visiting 20+ countries, I’ve learned a few things the hard way and gathered a list of my top international tips and it can be used as a quick international travel checklist.
Before you do anything else, do the following:
1. Check your passport expiration date
Before you go travel abroad, you’ll need to make sure your passport is up to date! If you are a citizen from the United States, most countries will not let you in if you passport expires within 6 months. As of May 2022, the passport renewal time period is 5-7 weeks for expedited service (an extra $60) or 8-11 weeks regular. If you don’t have that much time, you can often go to the local passport agency with more details here.
2. Check the COVID Restrictions
Vaccination or testing requirements, additional documents that need to be completed 48+ hours before departure/landing. As of May 2022, citizens of the USA still need a negative test to return and I highly recommend packing the Emed COVID tests for quick and easy testing anywhere. I’ve used these at home kits with the Emed telehealth services in France, Switzerland, and to get back to the USA. Depending on delivery times, I recommend purchasing your COVID tests for international travel at least 1-2 weeks prior to your trip. Don’t need a pack of 6 tests ($150), you can also order a 2-pack ($70) or 3-pack ($100) via Optum. Download the NAVICA app ahead of time.
Flights & Customs: Here are a few tips specifically for international flights.
3. Get global entry for quick return into the USA
For $100, this fast pass for international travelers (USA + approved countries) can obtain this through an application process and it includes TSA precheck. This fee is often covered by travel credit cards such as the Capital One Venture X, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or the Amex Platinum. The timeline to get global entry varies based on appointment availability, but for the first time, it takes a few months. You can quickly renew this online within a few days assuming no complications.
4. Don’t have global entry? Download the Mobile Passport Control app
The Mobile Passport Control app is a free app that you can download and is similar to global entry since there is a fast pass lane for both when you come through customs when returning to America. The app says MPC as the logo with a white background. Previously, the Mobile Passport app was an approved app, but as of February 2022 the Mobile Passport Control app is the only approved app.
5. Flight costs
Consider getting a travel credit card with a huge points bonus well before your trip! Spend the minimum requirement to earn the points and save big on your international flight! This is great to save on one flight, bonus if you can pay for both flights on points!
6. Remember to discard all produce, nuts, and meat, before landing in a new country
Many countries do not allow you to bring these items into the country to prevent disease and infection from spreading in their land, affecting their crops, waters, etc. You can take them on the plane, but make sure you finish or discard these items before deplaning.
7. Pack a black pen
On your flight, you’ll likely have to fill out a paper form for customs and need a pen. I keep a pen in the same bag as my passport since you’ll typically need some information from your passport to fill out the document.
Looking for more tips for improving your airport experience? I’ve gathered 33 tips to improve your airport experience here.
Credit Cards & Payment Options
8. Get a credit card that does not have international fees
Most travel credit cards are free from international fees and by having a credit card that doesn’t charge you these fees, you can save a lot of money on your next international adventure! Example credit cards without international fees include: the Capital One Venture X, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or the Amex Platinum.
9. Bring 2+ credit cards and keep one separate from the rest
Do you have the fear of getting your wallet stolen? Reduce this fear and the stressful aftermath by keeping a backup credit card in a different location than your main credit card.
10. Schedule your trip with your bank & credit cards
Call your bank or go online to inform them that you will be out of the country and that these transactions should not be considered fraud. Do this for both your debit and credit card(s).
11. Bring cash or get some in the local currency at the beginning of your trip
It’s always good to have some cash on hand in the local currency because many places around the world still use cash. You can get cash from your bank at home, at the airport in your home country, or in the airport at your destination.
12. Only get cash from official banks and not random ATMs
Once you are in a foreign country, you might need cash. It’s important to protect your debit card and ONLY get cash out in the local currency using an official bank. Go inside the bank and use the safer ATM to avoid having your debit card information stolen.
13. Look up the local currency and conversion rates
I recommend having the quick figures of how much $10, $20, $100 would be in the foreign currency to help you budget and understand how much you should be spending on taxi rides, meals, etc.
14. Does this country speak a different language than the language you speak?
Look up key phrases to know and use while you travel. A few words and phrases I would recommend having in your back pocket include: Hello, goodbye, thank you, do you speak English, how much $, beer/wine/your drink of choice, where is the bathroom, etc. I personally love using Duolingo and currently have a 460+ day streak! You can join for free to pay for plus. Sign up for Duolingo here. I also recommend having and downloading Google Translate for the local language to help translate things on the spot.
Backups & Safety
15. Take the hotel card with a phone number and have the address saved in your google maps
In case you happen to get lost, you can show this information to a taxi driver or use public transit to get back to your accommodation.
16. Print a colored copy of your passport and vaccination card and keep it separate from your passport
If your passport is stolen, it helps to have a picture of your passport as a backup when you go to the local US embassy. I personally keep a colored copy of my passport and vaccinated card in all of my suitcases and in my google drive travel folder as backups in case something happens to my passport or vaccination card.
17. Print everything out and/or save it in a google folder
I recommend printing out all your tickets, reservations, a copy of your passport, etc. to have with you in case your phone doesn’t work or you don’t have internet. Save these files to a google folder so they can be available to download if needed.
18. Download Google Maps using their Offline Feature
Trying to save cell data or don’t have wifi? I recommend downloading the area/city you’ll be in to have available even when you are offline.
19. Get a belt bag or fanny pack
From classic tourist turned trendy, I’m personally am a huge fan of the belt bag / fanny pack trend! I was gifted my first Lululemon Belt Bag for Christmas just in time for my trip to Paris and felt extra safe traveling solo knowing I could easily hide my bag under my arm and provide that extra security that my travel essentials, key, phone, and wallet were safe.
20. Share your location with friends
Use the free Find My app or any other sharing location app that allows you to share your location with friends and family.
21. Cell phones
I highly recommend WhatsApp, turn off your cellular data to avoid excess fees, and be on airplane mode! Or many phone planes have an international option for about $10/day where just one person only needs cell coverage since you’ll likely be together the whole time.
22. Wifi Hotspot
Many phone plans offer an international phone plan option which is great! I personally use my hotspot that I can use anywhere in the world and have used it in 5+ countries so far. You’ll purchase the physical hotspot then additional wifi plans as needed. I aim to purchase USA or International plans as needed or when there are good discounts I stock up for future trips.
23. Pack a travel adapter
Don’t forget to pack a travel adapter for plugs and such! I recommend an all-in-one adapter available on Amazon that has the main adapter/plugs you’ll need in almost every country! To be safe, make sure to confirm which plug the country you plan to visit uses!
24. When to visit
Google the best time to visit a certain country. Many shoulder seasons have more affordable flights/accommodation pricing. Some countries have rainy vs dry seasons so you’ll want to plan accordingly!
25. Gather Inspiration
I recommend checking blogs/Pinterest for local recommendations, places/areas to stay, their preferences of one city or location over another one, etc.
26. Google Maps
Use Google Maps to save recommendations for your upcoming trip and add various notes so you can remember later.
One of my favorite websites for looking up the best routes from point A to point B is Roam2Rio. I mostly use this for trains across Europe, but you can use this website for almost anywhere in the world!
Make sure to check the weather about 1-2 weeks out to pack accordingly.
29. Pack Light
The lighter the better! I aim to only pack a backpack and a carry on when it comes to international travel. This gives you a peace of mind knowing your luggage can be carried on with you and not lost, it’ll save you money not having to pay to check the bag, and when you arrive many international destinations, you won’t want to carry a huge piece of luggage around.
30. Plan your transport before you land
Once you arrive in your destination, you’ll need transport to your hotel. To avoid getting ripped off or any scams that can happen to tourists (depending on the destination), make sure to look up your transport options and feel comfortable with the route you plan to take to your accommodation. Schedule a transfer, know how much the Uber/Lyft/Taxi will be, or what metro lines to take.
As our travel experience has greatly changed due to the pandemic, I hope these tips can help put you at ease and help you prepare for your next international adventure!