INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

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jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#1
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
International travel can be extremely rewarding and yet very intimidating to the novice traveler. Here are some tips to help you sort through everything. An ongoing theme in booking travel internationally is this: It is the traveler’s responsibility to have the correct documentation. Even if you have a crackerjack travel agent, be sure to verify that everything is in order.

Prior to departing on virtually all international travel (minus a few cruises and even then we always recommend one) you will need a passport. Passport processing times vary, but generally speaking, routine applications take 4-5 weeks. The minimum time is 5 days if you apply for expedited processing. For American citizens, http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html is the website you can use to see fees and get the process started. Even if you have a passport already, you will want to check the dates to ensure it is valid for the length of your travel and a good period beyond. Most countries will not accept a passport unless it is valid for 6 months past the return travel date. Be sure your passport is in good condition, there instances where travelers were refused boarding because the checkin agent thought a passport was damaged. Check to make sure you have plenty of blank pages.

Next, check what visa(s) you may need. For tourist visas, the requirements range from none to an online or airport purchase to sending your passport to the country’s embassy. Some visas, such as Brazil, can take several weeks to obtain. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html shows what the US state department lists as visa requirements, however it’s always a good idea to check on your destination country’s official webpage to make sure the information is current. This website will also show other vital information, such as required or recommended vaccinations, a listing of embassies and consulates, a destination description, information about safety and security, local laws, health, and travel and transportation facts. You can also visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html to see if there are any travel alerts and warnings, as well as voluntarily enroll in the STEP program. This free service assists the state department in contacting you or rendering aid in the event of an emergency.

Chances are you’re going to need money during your trip. Currency requirements are highly variable – some countries are primarily cash based economies and some accept credit cards. That's where your research comes in handy, both online and travel books.

Even among countries that accept credit cards, crime rates may make their use impracticable; it may be unsafe to use your card in certain parts of the world. In some countries, using your card is a sure-fire way to have your number stolen and used by the "bad guys". Your card can be charged up to the max in minutes. This, unfortunately, also applies to using an ATM. Yes, the bank/credit card company shouldn't hold you responsible, but why go through the hassle?

If you do intend to use your card, contact the issuer and ask what their foreign transaction fee is, and notify them of your destination and travel dates to avoid card freezes. Fees for foreign transactions can vary from none to 5% or higher, but some cards charge no fees at all. It’s worth "shopping around" if you have more than one card. If you intend to use your ATM card, contact your bank to advise them of your international travel plans. Many times, obtaining foreign currency through an ATM is the most economical and convenient way to do so.

If you have them, it is a good idea to bring a couple of extra credit cards and an extra ATM card as well. If one of your cards becomes unusable (happens often, even to experienced travelers), you have a spare so you don't have to waste time unscrambling the situation. Moving some cash from your basic checking account into a savings account will allow you access to two different accounts in case of problems.

Check with your health insurance company to see if they offer international coverage. If not, you need insurance that covers you outside the United States. These policies not only cover medical expenses but may offer translation and many other services as well. A good trip insurance policy has coverage for a multitude of problems, including emergency medical evacuation. You can generally tailor a policy to fit your specific needs. If you need only emergency evacuation coverage, there are several companies who offer this. Read a recent personal story in our Insurance Forum "Think You Don't Need Insurance When You Travel?

Before buying international trip insurance, get out your calculator to determine the amount of insurance you need. Have a hard look at your plans and the associated costs. For example, don't insure the full cost of your air tickets, but rather the amount of a change/cancel fee. You don't need to insure hotel costs, unless they're prepaid (which we always discourage).

What is considered a legal medication varies widely around the world. Japan, for example, bans the import of medications commonly sold over the counter in the US, and other countries sell items over the counter that Americans need a prescription for. But before deciding to stock up on your Rx in another country, be aware that quality and strength may vary. Generally speaking, carry a small quantity of common medications you may need on your trip such as cold medicine or antacids. If you take prescription meds, check to ensure they are legal at your destination. Keep any Rx in the original container. If you carry controlled substances, it’s not a bad idea to have a letter from your doctor, on his letterhead, listing the meds you take and the reason you take them. Be sure that this letter states your name as on your passport, as well as your date of birth.

ARRANGING TRAVEL
Next you’ll need to arrange your travel transportation. For complex or “once in a lifetime” vacations, a travel agent is recommended. Agents can book tour packages, flights, translators, guides, and other services. For a small fee, typically $25 per ticket, they can arrange everything for you, as well as assist if things go awry during your trip. Many times you'll pay no fee at all. Here's an example of why a TA is a good idea: You are out on a safari and your flight home gets rescheduled to an earlier time slot while you're out of email range. Your agent will get notice of this and rebook you on a later flight. If you had done your own booking, you’d miss your flight and be out of pocket the cost for another ticket at the dreaded "walkup" fare.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE
It’s an old saying, but “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” still holds true. Respecting the local culture and customs will not only help you learn and understand about their way of thinking, but also help ensure you have a fun, safe trip. Utilize online or paper guidebooks to understand the culture, safety, and other considerations of the area you’re travelling to. Do they accept only cash or only chip and pin credit cards? Do you need to carry around your passport and visa at all times? What is the local expectation for haggling or tipping – are they expected or frowned on? How safe is it for a woman to walk alone at night? What’s the best way to get around? These answers vary widely from destination to destination. Paper guidebooks typically have maps and language guides as well, or you can download this information to your phone. Always attempt to speak the local language! Using even a few words is nearly always appreciated.

For your safety, try to blend in as much as possible. Avoid US sports team apparel, flags, and similar items. Blue jeans and white sneakers, for example, are common signs of Americans. In much of Europe, slacks and casual shoes are the norm. Base your actions on the area. In many places you are safer than in the United States, in others you can be a target due to your nationality. It’s a good idea to know where your safe zones are. In some countries, police stations are safe zones, in others, they’re to be avoided due to corruption. In nearly all major cities, pickpockets are a problem. Women should not carry a purse and men should move their wallets to their front pockets. A money belt or waist-pack is a good idea. To quote one of our frequent traveler advocates, "I may look like a dork, but I've never lost a dime". Make a photocopy and/or digital image of your passport and keep it separate place. It's not a bad idea to leave copies of important docs at home with someone … just in case. It’s also a good idea to do this with your credit cards, driver’s license and nearly anything else you carry. As they say, "How could it hurt?"

COMING HOME
When flying back to the United States, you’ll encounter customs and immigration at your first domestic airport. You generally have to claim your luggage, process through, and recheck it for your connecting flight. A minimum of three hours is recommended; many experienced travelers allow more. If you zip right through the formalities, you can always do a little duty-free shopping, enjoy a nice meal or have a good walk. Pack a pen in your carryon for the forms you’ll need to fill out.

ETT thanks Advocate Technomage1, with input from Advocate cp556
 
Last edited:
Jan 6, 2015
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#2
Great information, Judy. Thank you.

Regarding the trip insurance, if you book a non-refundable fare and cover only the change/cancel fee, then you are at the mercy of the airline for a voucher which you then need to use within 1 year typically, correct? Also, if you experience a "trip interruption" situation you are again at the mercy of the airline to work with you because the airfare is not covered.

Given the low cost of trip insurance and the nightmares that are written about every day here, I would still cover the airfare.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,478
6,535
113
San Francisco
#3
Great information, Judy. Thank you.

Regarding the trip insurance, if you book a non-refundable fare and cover only the change/cancel fee, then you are at the mercy of the airline for a voucher which you then need to use within 1 year typically, correct? Also, if you experience a "trip interruption" situation you are again at the mercy of the airline to work with you because the airfare is not covered.

Given the low cost of trip insurance and the nightmares that are written about every day here, I would still cover the airfare.
What a good insight, VoR - I travel all the time, so I didn't even think of it. I'll ask my broker if a policy would pay the entire ticket amount to me, even though it's eligible for a credit towards future travel.
 
Likes: VoR61

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,260
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113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#4
Not sure why you are saying credit card use can be unsafe. It is actually safer to use a credit card than carrying around cash.

I bring two credit cards so if anything happens with one, I have another to fall back on.

You just have to chargeback any unauthorized charges. I would be more worried about a debit card than a credit card.
 
Jan 6, 2015
2,002
1,962
113
#5
What a good insight, VoR - I travel all the time, so I didn't even think of it. I'll ask my broker if a policy would pay the entire ticket amount to me, even though it's eligible for a credit towards future travel.
Thanks. When I checked with InsureMyTrip, they said the airfare would not be reimbursed because you only covered the cancellation fee (as it should be).
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,000
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#6
Not sure why you are saying credit card use can be unsafe. It is actually safer to use a credit card than carrying around cash.

I bring two credit cards so if anything happens with one, I have another to fall back on.

You just have to chargeback any unauthorized charges. I would be more worried about a debit card than a credit card.
I stated that because it's true. Some places I've been the petty crime such as pickpocketing is much less of a risk than systematic and widespread credit card fraud, especially targeting tourists. Some places you may as well just give the mafia or mafya the number because if you use it, it's theirs in minutes.
Yes, you can use charge backs (as noted in the article) and a fallback card...but that does no good when you're stuck without money and both cards (or 3, 4 or 5 cards) are now inactive due to fraud. And I've known several people stuck just like that, and they've got the problem of dealing with the cancelled cards, too. Cash is by far the better option in these areas.
 
Likes: VoR61

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,260
12,443
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#7
I stated that because it's true. Some places I've been the petty crime such as pickpocketing is much less of a risk than systematic and widespread credit card fraud, especially targeting tourists. Some places you may as well just give the mafia or mafya the number because if you use it, it's theirs in minutes.
Yes, you can use charge backs (as noted in the article) and a fallback card...but that does no good when you're stuck without money and both cards (or 3, 4 or 5 cards) are now inactive due to fraud. And I've known several people stuck just like that, and they've got the problem of dealing with the cancelled cards, too. Cash is by far the better option in these areas.
As a travel agent who has had clients who have been pickpockets while traveling, they were very happy to only have to deal with a credit card company vs. having their cash stolen.
In fact your bank can get a new card delivered to you in a few days if something happens. What is important to note is make sure you have the cc numbers and phone number to your bank packed elsewhere in case your cards are stolen so you can report it right away.

If you read hints about international travel, no one recommends not using credit cards. And most tell you not to carry a lot of cash and to get cash at local ATMs to avoid carrying a lot at one time.

I also don't suggest having two or three cards in your pocket when our and about- that defeats the purpose of bringing backups. And the possibility of mafia getting hold of their info is a bit far fetched.

I wouldn't include that in a public post that we might post here. What we tell clients is to be very aware of their surroundings, secure their handbags, if they use an ATM use at a bank and check for possibly skimming devices ( which is more apt to happen here than abroad). And not to walk around with 3 or 4 credit cards so you have a backup in an emergency.

With many banks not using chip and pin, credit cards are far safer to use than cash. I'd rather have my cc stolen than $300 in cash.

It's our job to teach them how to travel wisely versus scaring them and it's safer to use a cc than carry around a lot of cash. We should focus more on them being aware of their surroundings and carrying valuables safely IMO.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,478
6,535
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San Francisco
#8
Everybody travels in their own style to their chosen destinations, 5* hotels to hostels. We want to present the facts, not to alarm people, but to be sure they take proper precautions no matter where they venture. So many problems we deal with on Elliott could have been avoided if the traveller had done thorough research and gotten advice before making the plans. Personally, I'd rather have backups and cash than spend several days hanging around waiting for a new credit card. I don't carry cards and cash with me every day, I safeguard them all, along with my computer. Someone told me how to do this years ago.
 
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Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
#9
Judy I also don't carry all my credit cards and cash everyday either. People just need to remember to safeguard what they do travel with. And that includes not leaving anything valuable in hotel rooms! Thing should always be locked in a safe.
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
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#10
As a travel agent who has had clients who have been pickpockets while traveling, they were very happy to only have to deal with a credit card company vs. having their cash stolen.
In fact your bank can get a new card delivered to you in a few days if something happens. What is important to note is make sure you have the cc numbers and phone number to your bank packed elsewhere in case your cards are stolen so you can report it right away.

If you read hints about international travel, no one recommends not using credit cards. And most tell you not to carry a lot of cash and to get cash at local ATMs to avoid carrying a lot at one time.
I also don't suggest having two or three cards in your pocket when our and about- that defeats the purpose of bringing backups. And the possibility of mafia getting hold of their info is a bit far fetched.

I wouldn't include that in a public post that we might post here. What we tell clients is to be very aware of their surroundings, secure their handbags, if they use an ATM use at a bank and check for possibly skimming devices ( which is more apt to happen here than abroad). And not to walk around with 3 or 4 credit cards so you have a backup in an emergency.

With many banks not using chip and pin, credit cards are far safer to use than cash. I'd rather have my cc stolen than $300 in cash.

It's our job to teach them how to travel wisely versus scaring them and it's safer to use a cc than carry around a lot of cash. We should focus more on them being aware of their surroundings and carrying valuables safely IMO.
All I can tell you is official government advice to military travelers in certain areas is exactly what I wrote. I know how to safely guard my cash. I can't prevent theives from taking my credit card number and therefore canking my card for the rest of my trip. If I rely solely on the card in those areas, I'll be out of luck.

Incidentally, My whole post was generally modeled on the process we have to do to travel both officially and for leisure.
 
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jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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6,535
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San Francisco
#11
Judy I also don't carry all my credit cards and cash everyday either. People just need to remember to safeguard what they do travel with. And that includes not leaving anything valuable in hotel rooms! Thing should always be locked in a safe.
Unfortunately, Neil, hotel room safes are not very safe at all. Often they're not physically secured and people screw them up so often that maintenance usually has a master to open them. I remember one case where "they" took the entire cabinet the safe was in! Valuables should be relegated to the big hotel safe, with access through the front desk.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,260
12,443
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www.promalvacations.com
#12
Unfortunately, Neil, hotel room safes are not very safe at all. Often they're not physically secured and people screw them up so often that maintenance usually has a master to open them. I remember one case where "they" took the entire cabinet the safe was in! Valuables should be relegated to the big hotel safe, with access through the front desk.
I know about safes but it is better than leaving anything valuable in the room unlocked or carrying it around with you.
 

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
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#13
I think "spreading the risk" is a good rule of thumb in travel. Having a bit of cash as well as a couple of credit cards (not placed together) is the safest way to go. Credit cards do have safety limits in place but those can sometimes work against you. For example, I was using a Wells Fargo issued credit card in the Windward Islands without a problem. Then, out of the blue, the fraud department thought the card may have been compromised and declined all transactions until I could speak with them on the phone. Of course we didn't know this until we tried to use the card at a restaurant. Glad we had some cash to pay the bill. In addition, certain remote places won't take credit cards or if a business's server is down, won't accept them as payment. You never know until its too late.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,478
6,535
113
San Francisco
#14
[

I think "spreading the risk" is a good rule of thumb in travel. Having a bit of cash as well as a couple of credit cards (not placed together) is the safest way to go. Credit cards do have safety limits in place but those can sometimes work against you. For example, I was using a Wells Fargo issued credit card in the Windward Islands without a problem. Then, out of the blue, the fraud department thought the card may have been compromised and declined all transactions until I could speak with them on the phone. Of course we didn't know this until we tried to use the card at a restaurant. Glad we had some cash to pay the bill. In addition, certain remote places won't take credit cards or if a business's server is down, won't accept them as payment. You never know until its too late.
While I am grateful for good security on my credit cards, I don't trust "the system" so I take 2 or 3 cards, plus ATM cards from two different banks. I'll never forget standing in front of an ATM in Paris watching it swallow my card ... I had about 5 euros in my pocket and my husband wasn't arriving for two days. Never again!
 
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Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
1,175
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#15
[

While I am grateful for good security on my credit cards, I don't trust "the system" so I take 2 or 3 cards, plus ATM cards from two different banks. I'll never forget standing in front of an ATM in Paris watching it swallow my card ... I had about 5 euros in my pocket and my husband wasn't arriving for two days. Never again!
Eeek!
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,260
12,443
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#16
Great information, Judy. Thank you.

Regarding the trip insurance, if you book a non-refundable fare and cover only the change/cancel fee, then you are at the mercy of the airline for a voucher which you then need to use within 1 year typically, correct? Also, if you experience a "trip interruption" situation you are again at the mercy of the airline to work with you because the airfare is not covered.

Given the low cost of trip insurance and the nightmares that are written about every day here, I would still cover the airfare.
And you can possibly void an entire claim if you underinsure your trip.
 
Sep 6, 2015
280
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#17
Unfortunately, Neil, hotel room safes are not very safe at all. Often they're not physically secured and people screw them up so often that maintenance usually has a master to open them. I remember one case where "they" took the entire cabinet the safe was in! Valuables should be relegated to the big hotel safe, with access through the front desk.
As for the safe in your hotel room vs using the hotel safe at the front desk, I travel with controlled substances and there is no way on this earth I'm going to put them in a safe where someone else can easily see what it is. Just because they work for the hotel doesn't make them any more trustworthy. And yes, I had some medications stolen from a hotel room in PA (I believe it was someone from housekeeping) several years ago when I didn't think to put them in a safe (and I am not allowed a refill if they are stolen). If there is a room safe, I use it, and if not, the meds are either with me in my backpack or locked in the trunk inside another bag do they aren't obvious should someone break in. Leaving these medications at home is not an option. When it comes to using an ATM machine while traveling in Europe (I bring a few hundred in cash and replenish when needed), I usually have my husband go with me and stand behind as a lookout. I do the same when taking pictures. We've decided to open another checking account with an ATM card exclusive to that account. That way, we can minimize access to our funds. On our current card, we had the bank make a change so it doesn't give access to our savings.