Whether you’re thinking about going abroad to explore the world or have already bought your plane tickets, there are some things you need to know before you leave. Check out these tips to help ensure a safe, fun trip.
- You’ll need a passport: If you’re over 16, you can apply online for this piece of identification that entitles you to travel outside the U.S. It may take weeks or months to get the passport, so make sure you apply well in advance of your trip. Even if you apply online, you’ll have to submit the application in person at an acceptance facility or passport agency. When you do, they’ll ask you for your birth certificate and any expired passport you’ve been issued in the past.
- Secure a travel visa: No, not a credit or debit card Visa, but a document that shows you have pre-approved permission to enter a certain country. Some countries will allow you to apply for a visa in-person at the airport, but for the most part, you should apply for this ahead of time. When you do, you must specify the reason for your trip and you may need to supply supplementary documents, such as proof of travel insurance. If you are travelling through Europe, you may want to apply for a Schengen visa which allows entrance (upon approval) to 25 European countries.
- Culture isn’t just about manners: It’s always a good idea to learn the ins and outs of your destination’s culture, just to be polite. But in some countries, ignoring cultural norms could actually get you in trouble. Things that the American culture may tolerate could be illegal elsewhere.
- Understand how healthcare works: You’ve probably heard about the “free” or socialized healthcare in other countries, but that doesn’t mean visitors who are injured in those places get to take part. In fact, residents of other countries may be taxed very heavily for their health care and as a non-resident, you haven’t been. That means instead of free care, you’ll get a hefty bill if you need medical treatment abroad.
- Learn the way the currency works: Before you leave, make sure you have a solid grasp of the exchange rate for the currency you’ll be using abroad. Without a good understanding, you could pay exorbitant prices for items that aren’t worth that much and you could be given the wrong change back in a transaction.
- Find out what your cell phone bill will look like: If you take your cell abroad, you could come home to one crazy bill. According to CNN.com, in 2010 a traveler was charged $700 for 4 text messages, use of a wireless modem and a single 20-minute phone call while she was in Canada. To avoid this, you can consider bringing a laptop or tablet and chatting through a free or controlled-cost service such as Skype.
- Discover how to handle an emergency: If you try to dial 9-1-1 while overseas, you might be in for a big surprise when the number doesn’t work. Every country has its own number for emergencies, and you should be aware of it before you leave. Additional emergency tips can be found at the State Department’s website.
- Find out whether there’s been a travel alert or warning issued: Sometimes, it’s just not safe to travel to certain areas. Other times, there are special precautions you should consider making. The State Department issues warnings and alerts for various areas so that you can travel with confidence.