International Travel Checklist

Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney


Whether you're traveling to Europe for a vacation, to the Middle East to perform humanitarian work, or on a business trip to Australia, traveling across the world requires some thoughtful and careful preparation. Navigating through airport security and the ever-changing rules about what you can and cannot bring on an airplane can be confusing and irritating, and knowing what to expect when you arrive at your destination can be a little frightening or exhilarating, depending on your point of view. Here, we've come up with a comprehensive international travel checklist to help you get organized for your journey.

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Before You Go

It's exciting to travel abroad, especially if this is your first trip. However, it is a major undertaking that requires some careful preparation to ensure your safety and minimize the risks of any mishaps. Here are the important things you need to do before traveling:

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  1. 1
    Make sure your passport is up to date or obtain one if you've never had one. Get your passport or renew it at least six months before your departure date to give the government plenty of time to process your application and issue it to you. If your passport is due to expire in six months or less, it is time to get it renewed.
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  2. 2
    Obtain travel visas for the countries you plan to visit. If the country requires you to have a tourist visa, be sure to get it issued well before your departure date. Similarly, check with the Consular program at the State Department to determine if there are additional entry or exit requirements, such as fees you must pay upon arrival or departure.
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  3. 3
    Make two copies of your travel documents and other important paperwork. Leave one copy at home with family or a friend and keep the other one with you in a separate location from the originals. Make copies of the following:  
    1. Your passport
    2. Drivers' license (state and international)
    3. Travel visas
    4. Credit cards, front and back
    5. Letter from countries that don't grant visas overseas regarding where and when your visa will be issued
    6. Alien registration card, if you're not a U.S. citizen
    7. Traveler's medical insurance policy, if you purchased one
    8. Airline tickets
    9. Commercial invoice for your laptop, if required. Check with Customs in the country you are visiting to see if this is required.
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  4. 4
    Check with the State Department for "travel alerts" and "travel advisories" for the specific region where you are going. The State Department evaluates risks to travelers from the United States worldwide and makes this information available to the public to help people decide whether to travel to a certain area and events that are happening there that are a concern. Check for travel warnings/advisories and register your trip.  
    1. Travel Alerts. Travel Alerts are events in the region you are traveling to about which the State Department thinks you should be aware. They are short-term in nature and are just an advisory.
    2. Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department deems that it is inadvisable for Americans to travel to the region due to political instability, war, rampant disease, or other factors that would make it unsafe for travelers. If the State Department has issued a Travel Warning for the area of the world you want to visit, you should reconsider your choice.
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  5. 5
    Register with Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The STEP program was created for Americans who travel abroad to register with the State Department in order to locate you and render assistance in the event of an emergency.
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  6. 6
    Notify the American Embassy where you will be traveling. The U.S. Embassy in the country you are visiting is your safe-zone. Let the embassy know that you are in the area, and write down its address and phone number in case you need them.
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  7. 7
    Learn helpful phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. Be able to communicate about any food allergies you have or if you have a serious medical condition as well being able to convey the niceties, such as "thank you." If you need to, create flash cards with these phrases printed on them and carry them with you.
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  8. 8
    Get an International Driving Permit. Some countries do not recognize U.S. drivers' licenses; find out if the country you are traveling to is among these. If so, and you want to be able to rent a car while you're there, you will need an International Driving permit. Go to your local AAA office or similar to obtain one. Also, be aware of the driving laws in the country you are visiting.
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  9. 9
    Inform your bank and credit card company where you will be traveling. Banks and credit card companies will place a hold on your account if there are charges from another location other than where you live to prevent fraud. Let them know ahead of time to avoid the inconvenience of having to call them from abroad to get the hold lifted.
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  10. 10
    Check to see if your credit card will work in the destination country. Most other countries have switched to the chip technology, and magnetic stripe cards may not work there.
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  11. 11
    Make sure your immunizations are up to date. Also, if you are traveling to an area where a particular disease is a problem, obtain the relevant vaccines from your doctor.
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  12. 12
    Check the currency conversion rate before you leave. Make sure that there are no surprises when you go to exchange your dollars for the currency of the country you are in.
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  13. 13
    Book your hotel and arrange for transportation from the airport ahead of time. Some hotels offer shuttle services to and from the airport. Alternatively, you may arrange for a rental car or discover how the public transportation system in the area works, or how to hire a taxi.
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  14. 14
    Purchase travel medical insurance. Especially if you have a chronic condition or a life-threatening illness, you may want to consider purchasing a travel policy. They are inexpensive and will cover you should you require medical attention while on your trip.
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  15. 15
    Obtain relevant paperwork for items such as laptops and video cameras from U.S. Customs. This will make clearing customs on your return easier.
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  16. 16
    Clearly tag your luggage with your name and address. This will help to identify your luggage in case it gets lost.
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Preparing Your Carry-on Bag

You're allowed one carry-on bag for most flights, but be sure to check with the airline ahead of time regarding what you are allowed to bring on the airplane and the weight limits. As a rule, however, keep it light. Additionally, be aware of other restrictions. For instance, flights originating in Europe or traveling with its borders prohibit laptops in the cabin.

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  • Your passport and other travel documents
  • Airline tickets
  • A change of clothes
  • A tablet or e-reader loaded with books and games
  • Snacks
  • A small bag of toiletries. Keep in mind the restrictions regarding liquids, however
  • Prescription medications in their original bottles
  • Chargers for your electronics with the appropriate currency adapters
  • Traveler's checks and one credit card
  • Earbuds or headphones
  • Extra pair of glasses and case
  • Travel sickness pills or bands
  • Books and magazines
  • Games (crossword puzzles etc.)
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Duplicate suitcase keys

What to Pack in Your Checked Luggage

Keep in mind that as with your carry-on bag, airlines now have strict weight limits on checked luggage, and charge a fee for each pound over the limit you go. Most airlines allow you to check two pieces of luggage with a weight of 70 pounds each. Accordingly, you should pack enough that you are prepared for your trip, but try not to bring everything and the kitchen sink with you.

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  • Clothing appropriate to location and activities you will be taking part in. Be sure to take a jacket or coat in case the weather is cold where you're going
  • Alarm clock
  • Electrical adapters to convert voltage
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Hair dryers and electric shavers
  • Shoes, including a comfortable pair for walking
  • Guide books
  • Foreign language dictionary
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For Health and Safety

  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
  • General first aid kit
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine (Imodium etc.)
  • Anti-nausea medicine (Gravol etc.)
  • Anti-histamines
  • Prescription medications (in original bottles)
  • Cold medicine (cough syrup, decongestants, etc.)
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When You Arrive

You've landed at your destination and are ready to find your hotel and get settled in. Here are a few things you should do after you get off the airplane.

  1. 1
    Don't use the exchange centers at the airport. Instead, at your first opportunity, go to a bank and use the ATM machine there. You'll get much more favorable exchange rates there than you will elsewhere.
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  2. 2
    Always have cash in the local currency on hand. Not every establishment will take credit cards and certainly, buses and other local public transport will not.
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  3. 3
    Place your valuables in a secure box. Most hotels have a room safe: use it.
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  4. 4
    Take precautions if you're in a region where the water is unsafe to drink. You can shower as normal, but make sure that no water gets in your mouth. Use bottled water to brush your teeth and rinse out your mouth, and avoid raw vegetables and fruit that you haven't peeled yourself.
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Special Considerations for Traveling with Children

Traveling with children, especially very young children presents its own challenges for which you must be prepared. A major problem faced by traveling families is keeping the young ones entertained during long flights.

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  1. 1
    Pack your children's favorite coloring books and a box of crayons. Your children can occupy themselves with coloring on the airplane.
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  2. 2
    Pack some children's books. If your children are readers, they can read for a while. Alternatively, you can pack a child's tablet loaded with some of their favorite stories to save space in your carry-on.
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  3. 3
    Pack some children's games. Whether they're hand-held electronic devices, mini-board games, or tablets with games loaded on them, have a variety of games for your children to play.
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  4. 4
    Make a game out of looking out of the airplane window at the clouds. Ask your children to tell you what shapes and forms they see in them.
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  5. 5
    You may need to provide proof of custody if you are traveling alone with your children. If you are divorced or share custody, bring your custody documents with you or a letter from your former spouse/other custodial parent granting permission to take the children out of the country.
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Special Considerations for Humanitarian Workers

Because they are going into distressed regions of the world which may not have the best sanitation and where the disease may be rampant, Humanitarian workers have specific needs when traveling. To keep yourself as safe as possible, make sure that you have the following:

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  1. 1
    Visit a travel medicine specialist. In addition to seeing your regular doctor for a general check-up to make sure that you are healthy enough to travel, you should make an appointment with a doctor specializing in travel medicine. They are knowledgeable about the risks of international travel, specifically to the under-developed parts of the world or war-torn, and disease-ridden areas. They will advise you on what vaccinations you require and on how to minimize your risks while providing aid.
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  2. 2
    Research the region of the world you are going to. Spend some time online looking up the country you are traveling to for information about the conditions there, their customs, and what you can expect. The Center for Disease Control's (CDC) website is a good resource to find out what diseases are prevalent and other health concerns.
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  3. 3
    Carry a lightweight travel bag or backpack. The areas of the world where you will be rendering aid will be quite rough and unlikely to have many (or any) conveniences, so don't pack more than you can comfortably carry, even over rough terrain. Additionally, make sure that you are carrying the following essential supplies:  
    1. A well-stocked first aid kit. Bandages, antiseptic, suture needle, and thread, scissors, antibiotics, rubber gloves iodine, quinine, etc.
    2. A means to purify water. Water purification tablets, a water filter, or those special bottles that purify their contents.
    3. Nonperishable food items. Dry foodstuffs such as cereal, rice, and crackers as well as meal bars or MREs (meals-ready-to-eat)
    4. Mosquito net. Especially important if you're traveling in an area where malaria is endemic
    5. Additional pairs of prescription glasses.
    6. Toilet paper. They might not have anywhere you're going.
    7. A sewing kit.
    8. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
    9. Packages of laundry soap.
    10. A flashlight with extra batteries
    11. A supply of candles with a means of lighting them, such as matches or a lighter. If you choose to bring a lighter, make sure to include a supply of lighter fluid.
    12. Ziplock bags.
    13. Goggles and nose masks.
    14. Family photos. Humanitarian work is stressful and having memories of home with you can be a comfort to you and keep you sane in insane situations.
    15. Copies of important documents. These include your passport and medical license if you have one.
    16. Lightweight clothing. It should be breathable and comfortable to move around and work in. Additionally, it should be easily layered and quick drying, as you will likely be washing your own clothing and may have to air-dry it. Clothing that's moisture-wicking is another good option.
    17. Comfortable shoes. They should be close-toed to protect your feet from rocks, glass, and other hazards and you should be able to walk a good distance in them or wear them all day without them hurting your feet.
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Hints and Tips

  • Obey all of the laws of the country you are in
  • Check your bags until your final destination
  • Keep your receipts for customs purposes
  • Keep prescription slips for medicines and glasses in case you need to fill them while you are away
  • Pack outfits that can do double duty as a casual outfit and a formal one
  • Put toiletries in durable plastic bottles
  • Keep an eye on your luggage at all times
  • Don't agree to hold someone else's bag for them
  • Wear slip-on shoes to the airport so that you can easily slide them off at the airport's security checkpoint

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Categories : Travel & Leisure

Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw

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