So you’ve finally booked that overseas vacation that’s been marked on your calendar for months now. Congratulations!
Before you embark on your hard-earned trip, you’ll have to jump a few necessary hurdles so your vacation can go off without a hitch. What kind of hitches, exactly? Well, the kind that includes a block on your credit card or struggling to make a phone call without being charged a month’s rent for it.
Here’s a list of everything you need to accomplish before your flight finally takes off.
Call your bank
Before you leave the country, make sure you contact your bank to inform them that you’re traveling overseas. Why? It’s simple—so they won’t interpret any foreign transactions as fraudulent and block your card from making purchases.
Notify Your Bank Before You Travel to Avoid Extra Charges With Your Cards
The easiest way to accomplish this is to call the number on the back of your credit card and give them both the dates and location of your trip. Some banks will also let you set this up online if you’re phone shy. Here’s how a couple of banks operate, as noted by Credit Karma:
Bank of AmericaYou can set up a Bank of America travel notice on your mobile app or through your online account. How to set up a travel notice through your online account:
Log in and hover over the “Help & Support” menu tab.
Click on “Set Travel Notice” in the drop-down menu.
Enter your destination(s), travel dates, contact number and card(s) you’re taking with you. Share any other travel details you think are relevant.
ChaseTo set a Chase travel notification, start by logging into your online account:
Click on the icon with three horizontal bars at the top left of your screen.
Click on “Profile & Settings.”
Scroll down to the bottom under “More Settings” and click on “Travel.”
Click on “Update” at the far-right side of the credit card section.
List your departure and return dates and your destination.
Wells FargoIf you want to take your Wells Fargo credit card with you, set up a Wells Fargo travel plans notice. You can do so through the bank’s mobile app or through your online account.
Start by logging into your account.
Hover over the “Accounts” drop-down menu at the top of the screen.
Click on “Manage Travel Plans,” which is under the “Manage Cards” section.
Enter your travel dates and destination(s).
Exchange your money
You’ll definitely need some cash on your trip, as fees on credit and debit cards can rack up quickly. Some banks charge a foreign transaction fee —around one to three percent of your purchase—anytime you use a credit card. Worse, banks may charge international service assessment fees for ATM withdrawals—anywhere from one to five dollars.
Save yourself from the foreign-fee headaches by bringing cold, hard cash. How much exactly? According to Maria Hart, an executive editor of hotel review site Oyster, generally, the rule of thumb is to have anywhere from the equivalent of $40 to $60 on you on any given day—if you’re visiting a city, that is. In a metropolitan area, it’s likely you’ll have access to ATMs and have the ability to obtain cash, unlike more remote areas, she said.
“If you’re going to a more rural place, calculate how long you’ll be between metropolitan areas or airports (with access to an ATM) and dole out $100-$200 per day, per person,” she added. “When I went to Cuba, I had to carry cash on me for the entire trip, as U.S. credit and debit cards didn’t work.”
And it’s probably best to keep money your money in a safe place, especially if you have a big stack on you. “If you’re carrying several hundred dollars on you, don’t put it in your wallet,” Hart said. “Get a quality money belt, tuck it under your clothes, and carry the bulk of it there. I’d also squirrel away a few bills in another spot like inside the zippered lining of your suitcase. Don’t make it easy for pickpockets to nab your vacation funds.”
You can find a ton of money belts on Amazon (and they’re not all embarrassing, if that’s a concern).
To Travel Cheaply, Watch Currency Exchange Rates
The trick to finding the best exchange rate isn’t at your airport kiosk, either—it’s at your bank, according to airline expert and author Seth Kaplan. As a service to customers, most banks offer to exchange money into international currencies. You can accomplish this in person at a branch of your bank (some will also allow you to do this online and pick up the cash at a branch).
“Otherwise, check to see whether your bank either has branches in the country you’re visiting or participates in a consortium of banks, where a particular bank in the country you’re visiting will give you a decent deal,” Kaplan said. “For example, Bank of America participates in what’s called the ‘Global ATM Alliance.’”
If you have leftover currency and you’re a coffee fanatic, you can load it on a Starbucks card to use back home (as we’re previously written). Alternately, you can ask your bank if they’ll accept it for exchange (they should, but it depends on the currency).
Put Leftover Foreign Currency on a Starbucks Gift Card
And what about the whole “paying in U.S. dollars or local currency” question you might get from vendors overseas? Well, avoid paying in U.S. dollars at all costs, Kaplan said. It’s better to pay in local currency, as there’s often a fee for the conversion involved (called dynamic currency conversion—it’s usually worse than your typical exchange rate).
How much should you be prepared to budget for an entire vacation? Well, that depends on a number of factors. You should take into account meals, transportation, activities, and souvenir costs per day in addition to big costs like airfare and hotels. You can also use NerdWallet’s calculator to find how much money you might need to save for your trip.
Get an international phone plan
Always Buy an International Data Plan When You Travel Abroad
If you want to avoid racking up phone fees quickly, the first thing you should do upon landing is turn on your airplane mode or turn off your cellular data. This will make it so you’ll rely only on access to wifi (assuming you haven’t yet bought an overseas phone plan). Yes, you can likely survive a trip on wifi alone, but in cities where it’s hard to come by, you might struggle to hail an Uber.
You can also contact your phone provider and request an international phone plan, but this often comes with the caveat that you’ll still have to conserve your data (meaning you’ll have to restrict your time on Instagram). This is how a few plans stack up, according to Wired:
AT&T offers a service called Passport, which gets you 200 MB of data and unlimited texting in more than 200 countries for just $40 tacked onto your current monthly plan. (Calls abroad still cost a buck a minute, so talk quickly).
Verizon offers a similar service, Travel Pass, that costs $5 a day to extend your plan to Mexico and Canada and $10 per day for service in more than 100 other countries.
How much data you need depends upon how active you plan to be online. Posting 30 photos to social media costs about 10 MB; each web page you visit costs about one.
The true trick to beating those pesky fees is using WhatsApp. A message on WhatsApp requires much less data than a text sent via your phone plan; you could feasibly send thousands of messages within WhatsApp’s plan without ever hitting your limit.
You could also buy a local SIM card or prepaid phone at your destination. It’ll take some extra legwork (you’ll have to find an available store), and SIM cards aren’t compatible with all phones. “Generally, you will get the best deal if you wait until you are there to buy it, but of course you can research plans before you get there,” Kaplan added. “In many cases, a local mobile phone provider will have a store or kiosk at the airport where you are arriving, so if you’re prepared, you can know just where to go when you land.”
Also, if you’re headed somewhere closer, like Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, your existing phone plan may already cover those areas, Hart said.
Buy a power adapter and converter whenever necessary
Do you have the appropriate power adapter for your hairdryer or phone?
Find your country’s outlets by consulting ConAir or International Electrotechnical’s Commission’s lists and check for voltage. Some countries will also list more than one type of plug, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need another adapter. Consult your hotel or do an online search to find out which outlet is most commonly used.
Common Plug Types and the Countries Where They’re Used, In One Graphic
For the most part, the world’s outlets run on two voltage settings: 110/125V or 220/240V. Look at your device (usually on a tag) and compare it to your country’s voltage settings. If the destination’s setting is too high for your device, your equipment might burn out. If it’s too low, it won’t perform as well or will cause damage.
You can also buy a travel converter, which will convert the outlet’s voltage settings to fit your device. You can find a bunch of joint adapter/converter plugs on Amazon. A lot of gadgets now are also “dual voltage,” meaning they can work on both settings (meaning chargers for your smartphone or laptop are probably fine). On something like a hairdryer, you’ll see this noted with something like “110-220″ on its tag.
Wondering if your device might have trouble? Here’s what you’ll need at a few destinations, assuming you’re coming from the U.S.:
- For Australia and New Zealand, newer devices likely need only the Type-I adapter. Older devices will likely need both the adapter and a converter.
- For Ireland and the United Kingdom, newer devices likely need only the Type-G three-pronged adapter. Older devices will likely need both the adapter and a converter.
- For Japan, you likely won’t need an adapter at all (though, from experience, Type-A converters are much more common than Type-B converters which have the extra prong. This means you’re less likely to find a suitable outlet for devices that need the third prong, like power adapter extensions from Apple). The voltage is slightly lower than that of the U.S. (100 instead of 120 volts). You should be fine without any converter, but if you’re concerned, you can buy one just in case.
And if you want to be safe, Amazon sells plenty of universal adapters that’ll cover every country’s outlets—so if you’re planning a trip with multiple destinations, that’s the best solution.
Make sure your passport is valid
Is your passport valid for at least six months? While some countries may only require that your passport is valid through your stay, a number of countries require that it’s valid for much longer, according to Kaplan.
“Not all countries have the six-month requirement, but you should follow it regardless because you never know what kind of detour you will have to take,” he added. “For example, maybe your flight home cancels and the airline re-routes you a different way, and you find yourself with a long layover in a country you didn’t plan to visit, unable to get to the hotel they offer you because you’re not allowed to leave the airport.”
And to be safe, you should always make sure to get a photocopy of your passport whenever possible. Why? In the event you lose it overseas, having a copy will make it significantly easier to prove your identity (the U.S. State Department recommends leaving a photocopy at home with a friend or family member and bringing one along with you, separate from wherever you plan to keep your passport). You can even apply for a duplicate passport if you’re someone who regularly travels abroad and tends to lose things.
Request a Duplicate Passport If You Travel Internationally Often
If you do lose your passport internationally, bring your photocopy to the closest U.S. consulate or embassy, as USA Today recommended. At the Consular Section, you’ll be asked to fill out a passport application and take a new photo. You can usually obtain an emergency passport within 24 hours for travel purposes.
Check for visa requirements
Before you head on vacation, find out if you’ll need a visa to visit. Check Visalist to see if your destination requires one and how to sign up for one. It’s usually a painless process, Kaplan said, but you often have to complete it before your trip.
Some destinations may also charge you upon leaving or entering an airport, sometimes referred to as a “visa” fee. To see what you might owe, check the U.S. State Department’s website and search for your destination (and bring sufficient cash in your wallet).
Find out if you need travel and health insurance
Before we dive into the world of travel insurance, you should know there are two types: the standard kind, like the one you’d see tacked on as an option when buying a flight, and more comprehensive health insurance.
The former typically covers things relating to lost bags, canceled flights, and missing a flight because you’re sick. The latter, however, typically covers any need for medical care because of a health problem, as well as transportation back home or to a hospital for an emergency (and accidental death coverage, too—but let’s not think about that for now), in addition to everything above.
When to Buy Travel Insurance
If you want to be sure you’ll get compensated for a canceled flight, then basic insurance might be worth it, Hart said, especially if a flight is particularly expensive. Purchasing basic insurance is pretty easy and you can usually add it while you buy your flight.
Some credit cards (like Chase Sapphire) may already provide trip insurance if you bought your flight with their card, so be sure to check your bank’s policy, Kaplan said. You can also buy cheap travel insurance through providers like Allianz if you’ve already purchased your flight. You can compare different policies using Insure My Trip to be sure.
You might want to consider health insurance abroad to cover you in case of an emergency. Often times, you may already have comprehensive medical coverage as provided by your healthcare provider. Check your overseas insurance policy by calling your insurer using the number on the back of your ID card to find out.
And if it doesn’t cover you internationally, you can usually buy a supplementary travel policy that will cover you in case of a medical emergency (both Aetna and UnitedHealthcare offer such policies). For any medical care, you’ll still have to file a claim as usual through your healthcare provider (so keep all receipts).
Check your destination’s vaccination policy and prescriptions
A number of countries require that you receive special vaccinations in order to visit (other vaccinations are just good measure, even if they’re not required). Consult the CDC’s website (or the CDC app) to find out what vaccinations are required and recommended for your destination.
This CDC App Tells You Which Vaccines You Need to See the World
Also, fill any prescription medications before your trip, in the event you run out. Even if you come prepared to a pharmacy with a copy of a prescription and sufficient cash, you may still run into problems getting the prescription filled (the CDC also doesn’t recommend getting medicine overseas as you can’t guarantee its quality or authenticity). You might have better luck seeing a doctor locally who can prescribe you the necessary medications. If you choose to bring the medication back, be sure to declare them upon arrival to U.S. Customs and have a copy of your prescription and doctor’s note for good measure.
And if you’re bringing a medication overseas, be sure they’re marked clearly on containers and have a doctor’s note on hand, preferably on letterhead, the New York Times recommended. Generally, in small amounts, you won’t run into much of an issue, but you could risk confiscation or worse in an international country. The CDC recommends contacting the U.S. embassy at your destination ahead of time to find out if your medication will run into any problems upon arrival.
You might also want to pack other non-prescription medicines you won’t find as easily overseas, too (like ibuprofen or Pepto Bismol).
Get a driving permit if you’re planning a road trip
Planning an international road trip? In many countries, it’s actually illegal to drive without both a driver’s license applicable in that country and an insurance policy. If you’re driving long-distance (or short-distance and just want to be safe) and don’t want to be heavily fined, you can obtain an International Driving Permit from AAA. It’s recognized in 150 countries and translates your identity information in a number of languages.
You can fill out an application on AAA’s website and bring it to a nearby branch (or do it via mail). You’ll need two passport photos, your driver’s license, and money for a $20 fee. If you’re already overseas, you can obtain one via mail, but it will take anywhere from four to six weeks before it gets to you, unless you choose to expedite it (so it’s best for those who are on an extended stay).
Register your trip with the State Department
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program Helps U.S. Travelers Stay Safe Abroad
If you want your family to know you’re okay at all times, register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP. You can register your travel dates, check in on travel advisories at your destination, and in the event of a local emergency, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can provide you with assistance.
If your family or friends are having trouble reaching you, a local consulate or embassy will use the information you provided to them to contact you as best as possible (even if it’s a family or personal emergency).
Take care of housekeeping if you’re headed on a long trip
Before you take off on a month-long vacation, you’ll have to take care of some necessary housekeeping. Like what exactly? For one, pre-pay any bills that might come your way while you’re on a trip, Hart said.
Oyster put together a list of other house duties you might need to address, but here are few standouts:
Unplug any unnecessary appliances like toasters, computers, and fans. You’ll protect them from power surges and save on energy costs.
Take out the garbage and recycling. Make sure there isn’t any lingering food in the garbage disposal. Bonus points for adding a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to destroy odors.
Put your mail and newspaper subscriptions on hold. Or, ask someone to pick it up every few days; nothing says no one is home like a stack of mail.
I’d add that if you’re going overseas for a long time, consider freezing your gym membership. If you have a child or an animal and aren’t taking them for the ride, hopefully you’ve already set up an appropriate babysitter, dog walker, or cat sitter in advance, too. And, of course, always set up an out of office auto-reply for your email (this applies to anyone on any length of vacation).
About to head out for the airport? Here’s a quick checklist of things you should ask yourself before you take off:
- Is your flight on time? Download your airline’s app before your flight, so you can stay informed of any delays (there’s also the added benefit of changing seats quickly if you’re trying to get out of the middle seat). Or just check the airline’s website.
- Is your flight really delayed? Know your rights to compensation for significant delays, as we’ve previously written about (and if you’re headed to or from the EU, you’re likely guaranteed cash during a long delay, according to EU law)
- Do you have TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry? Make sure you’ve updated your passenger information on an airline’s website with your Known Traveler Number, so you can skip the security lines on the way there.
All the Airports Where You Can (And Should) Use Mobile Passport
- Do you have a confirmed seat? If not, and you’re about to leave for the airport, you’ll have to address it at check-in (often times, airlines give up seating arrangements to airports when it’s really close to departure time). If you have a few days before your flight, use the airline’s website or contact them directly via phone.
- Do you have a food allergy? Make sure you’ve included a meal request in your passenger information on the airline’s website at least 24 hours before your flight. If you’re concerned about being overseas with a food allergy, look up restaurants ahead of time to be safe.
- Do you have a snack or entertainment for the flight? Buy a book or snack before you get to the airport (it’s often cheaper). While you can’t bring liquids through security, you can bring a refillable water bottle in your carry-on to fill up at an airport water fountain.
- Do you have a “smart” bag like an Away? Remove the battery pack and place it in your carry-on. Bags with unremovable battery packs are banned and airline attendants will ask you to remove it upon check-in.
Remove Your Smart Luggage Battery Before Flying Delta
- Is your hotel confirmed? Find your emailed confirmation. Better yet, print it in case you don’t have access to wifi and need an address. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, contact your host to let them know of any significant travel changes that would cause an unexpected arrival or delay. They’ll want to know this so they can anticipate when to exchange keys.
- Have you learned any basic language skills for the country you’re headed to? Might be good to know some simple conversational expressions, like ‘hello’ or ‘thank you.’ A good guidebook should incorporate this, as well as the basics of tourist hotspots.
- What’s the weather like? Check the forecast before you leave so you know what to bring in your carry-on, like a coat or swimsuit.
- Are there any safety alerts? Check your destination for and travel advisories from the U.S. State Department.
- Phone, keys, wallet! The trifecta of necessities. And your passport! Have a good time and don’t forget to send a postcard!
RELATED VIDEO: 8 clever travel hacks to make your airport experience stress-free (via TODAY)
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