Tips for International Travel

Jordan Atherton, CMP, Senior Events Planner
March 12, 2019

Whether you are traveling internationally for an extended vacation or briefly visiting for business, traveling to a foreign country requires different preparation than what you may be accustomed to domestically. In preparation for your trip, here are a few things to keep in mind.



Passports are the best form of identification when traveling and are required for all international air travel. When traveling to a country that doesn’t require a U.S. passport, you will want to make sure you travel with a valid government-issued ID (driver’s license) and a document to prove your citizenship (notarized birth certificate issued by a U.S. state).

Renew your existing passport

Did you know that you can be denied boarding at the airport if your passport expires within 6 months past the return date? If your passport has expired or will expire within the next 6 months, save yourself a headache and take the time to renew your passport prior to your international travel. You can find more information on how to renew your passport from the United States Postal Service's website. 

If you are traveling as or with a dual-citizen or non-U.S. citizen, be sure to check-in with the Passport Office to verify any other documentation they might need to travel into a foreign country.

Pro-tip: Renew your passport if it is within six months of expiration from your travel date. While the U.S. should let you use your passport up to the date of expiration in the cover, many countries require that your passport be valid for six months beyond the date of your return.

Apply for your passport

If you have never held a valid passport, the process usually takes anywhere from three to six weeks from the time you submit your application. As a best practice, apply for a passport approximately nine months prior to your travel date. While there are services that offer expedited processing, expect to pay additional fees for the convenience.

You can find more information on how to apply for a passport from the United States Postal Service’s website. Simply click on “1. Fill out your form,” and it will prompt you to select which passport you are seeking.

Passport book vs. Passport card. What’s the difference?

If you plan on making multiple international trips, it is highly recommended that you apply for a passport book rather than a passport card. A passport book is valid for all international travel while a passport card has limits and restrictions on the countries to which you can travel.


Immigration & Customs

Upon your arrival at the destination’s airport, you will have to clear both immigration and customs. While most airports or port of entries combine the two check points into one, these stops check two very different things. Immigration confirms the person who is traveling. Customs reviews what you are bringing into the country such as luggage.  

Immigration forms: For most international flights, the flight crew will distribute needed immigration documentation specific to the destination country. Simply complete the form as instructed and be ready to provide the needed information to the immigration agent upon arrival.

Pro-tip: The airlines do not supply pens or writing utensils to complete the immigration forms during your flight. Bring a pen (or two!) on board with you to fill out these forms.

Pro-tip: Have your flight details readily available. Most forms will ask for your flight number as well as your departure date and information.

Clearing customs: Once you have cleared immigration and claimed your checked bags, you will move on to customs. Depending on the structure of the countries’ airport, you will interact with a customs agent who will inquire about anything you are bringing into the country and the contents of your luggage. It is not abnormal for your bag to go through an additional screening at this point. Most airports also have a system for random bag checks. If you are pulled aside, don’t worry—this is most likely a routine random bag check.


Entering the United States

Welcome home! Depending on which airport you are flying into, the customs and immigration experience may vary slightly.

Once you deplane, you will be directed towards immigration and customs. Depending on your airport, you may work with an immigration agent or a self-service kiosk to collect your customs receipt. After you have cleared immigration, you will proceed to the baggage claim area to collect any checked baggage. From there, you will present your customs receipt to the customs and border protection officer to exit the airport.


Tips for International Travel

Before you pack your sunscreen and jet off to your next exotic destination, here are a few tips and tricks for when you are traveling internationally.

Data roaming

Call your cell phone provider and alert them of your international travel to make sure your mobile device is set up to make international phones calls and avoid data roaming charges. Depending on your carrier, there may be a small charge for each day you are traveling outside of the country.

Alert your bank(s)

A quick call to your bank(s) to alert them of your international travel is always a good idea. If you don’t alert them, you risk your bank(s) flagging any international charges as fraudulent and shutting down your debit or credit card.

Make copies of your passport

If your passport gets lost or stolen, it can be helpful to have copies of your passport to provide proof of citizenship and a source of identification. While you cannot get back into the country on a copy of a passport, it will make your life a little easier when working with the U.S. Embassy to obtain a new one. Take it one step further and leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can securely store but have access to if needed.

Power & electricity

Double check the power and electricity format for the country you are traveling. Most European countries operate on a different voltage than the United States and will require a conversion kit for any electronics. provides a comprehensive list of the voltage and frequencies for each country as well as what type of outlet plug is required.

Enroll in Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

The STEP is a free service that allows U.S. Citizens traveling or living abroad to enroll with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By enrolling, you will receive the latest safety and security information for your destination country. It will help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, and it will help family and friends get ahold of you in an emergency.

Hotel business cards

Once you arrive at your hotel, grab a business card from the front desk. That way, if you are ever caught off property and get lost, you have the name and address of the hotel in the local language. Large populations around the world speak English, but having something in the local language that you can show to locals and taxi drivers is an extra bit of insurance.

Safe travels!

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