Today’s Wanderlust Wednesday brings you tips for crossing an international border. Some people find this part of traveling to be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few things that will help you be prepared to venture into a new country:
1 – Is your passport valid? For how long?
It should be a no-brainer that you need a passport to travel internationally. Passports are not difficult to get, but they do take time to process. So make sure that you give yourself plenty of time (at least 6-8 weeks) to get a passport, or renew your old one. Also – make sure your passport isn’t expiring soon! Most countries require your passport to be valid for an additional 3-6 months when you enter their country. (This ensures them that your passport will be valid for you to LEAVE the country too!) In addition to extended validity, many countries also require 1-2 blank pages available in your passport for immigration stamps and/or visas. So make sure your passport isn’t full (but I’m impressed if it is!).
2 – Know if you need a visa!
Before you book any flights or hotels in a foreign country, make sure you can go! And if you can, what do you need? Some countries will require a visitor’s visa, while others won’t. It all depends on your home country, your citizenship status, and the purpose and duration of your trip. So how do you know? It’s easy! Check the US Department of State’s travel website. If you find out you need a visa, you will be given information on how to apply and how much it will cost. Another thing to consider is your occupation; certain countries will require people in specific professions (for example, journalists) to have a special type of visa, even if they are just traveling for tourism purposes.
3 – Have a layover in an additional country?
There is such a thing as a “transit visa”. A transit visa is occasionally required of a person who is only in a country for purposes of connecting flights on their trip – they land there and are immediately leaving again. Transit visas are more often required of citizens from particular countries; do you research to find out if you will need one.
4 – This is not a comedy show.
Yes, you joke around with your friends in the car or on the plane, but when you get to customs & immigration, leave the jokes behind. Just be upfront and honest about the purpose of your trip. Have any necessary information ready – where you will be staying, if you are meeting up with any friends/family, how long you will be staying, etc. This is the step that makes people nervous, but there really is no reason to be if you’re just taking a vacation!
5 – Know what you CAN and CANNOT bring into a country.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, plants, and meat are almost always a no-go. Reason being that they do not want any diseases or bacteria brought into the area that isn’t already there. In addition to screening your bags, many airports have dogs that will sniff luggage looking for these things. (Whatever you do – risk the urge to pet them! I know, I know, you want to play with the pup, but he/she is working – for the government no less – and should not be bothered.) There are usually limits on cigarettes and alcohol, so do your research before buying. It’s no fun to get to the airport only to leave behind the bottles of wine you just purchased! Again, this is something you can easily search for online.
6 – Uh-oh, all you have is American dollars!
So you forgot to exchange your money before traveling. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world! But there are a few things you should know to help you use your money in a foreign country. First, most credit and debit cards will allow you to use your card in another country – BUT make sure you inform the card company or bank before traveling. If you do not let them know, they may deny the transaction and flag it as a potentially fraudulent charge. Also, while credit cards usually offer good exchange rates, some cards will still charge you a ‘foreign transaction fee’. As with most things, this depends on your credit card company or bank, so find out ahead of time so you can be prepared. Also, not every place will take card! Some places, particularly in smaller towns and villages, are NOT equipped to process foreign cards. Be prepared to have cash (in local currency!) with you. Banks and travel agencies can exchange money; be wary of designated money exchange places as they usually don’t have the best rates. The best place? A local casino – casinos are usually known to give good exchange rates and don’t have outrageous fees (if any). Also, keep yourself educated about what the current exchange rate is. XE.com is my favorite source and is quite reliable. They also have an app for your phone so you can stay up-to-date on the rates and convert currencies so you know how much you’re really spending.
As St. Augustine of Hippo said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” So get out there! Travel. Read the whole book; see the whole world. Hopefully this has answered some of your questions or calmed your concerns that you may have about traveling to a foreign country.
*Please note that this post is designed to give you advice and tips on traveling internationally, but holds no legal responsibility for what you do as you travel. Be sure to do your own research depending on your trip’s itinerary regarding immigration documents and currencies.