Be Prepared for Your Trip
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
Safety and Security Information
- Read the Travel Advisory and Alerts for the countries you will be visiting at travel.state.gov/destination. Review entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, customs, medical care, road safety, etc. Write down contact details for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to carry with you in case of emergency while traveling.
- Before going abroad, notify your bank and credit card companies of your travel, and check exchange rates. For information about using cash, debit/credit cards, and ATMs overseas, read information about your destination.
Although managing your money while traveling has certainly gotten easier, it still isn’t as simple and safe as you might think.
Many travelers remember when it was necessary to have a stash of traveler’s checks because those were the most secure way to pay for things when you travel, but these days traveler’s checks are hardly recognized much less recognized in most countries (although they’re still considered safe in some places).
You already know the most common strategies:
Call your bank and let them know where you’re traveling to avoid having your cards locked
Check the automatic teller machine for signs of tampering before using it
Cover the keypad when you type in your PIN
Never keep all your money in one place and use a money belt
Carry a backup card just in case
So let’s talk about the latest travel money tips from experts.
1. ATMs are still the best choice for getting your cash
Although some banks charge high fees to use foreign ATMs, not to mention adding high foreign-transaction fees, the ATM is still the cheapest way to exchange your money. Those ‘no-fee’ currency exchanges have significantly higher exchange rates. If your bank has international ATMS or partner banks abroad, you can often save on cash withdrawals.
It pays to shop around for a bank if you plan to travel internationally. Be sure to check your daily withdrawal limit if you intend to pay cash for larger expenses, like lodging, while you’re traveling.
2. Use your cards less to guard against identity theft
The less you use your cards – debit and credit – the less likely your information will be stolen and sold as identity theft. In some countries and/or certain areas, it’s not unheard of for vendors to double-swipe your card – that is charge the same transaction twice, taking one as their version of a bonus. It’s also easy enough for someone to record your credit card number for later use of their own.
Using cash wherever possible cuts down on the risk of identity theft.
3. Your credit card costs you more than you think
Many places in foreign countries don’t take credit cards or they’ll tack on extra fees to use your card. Depending on the type of credit card you have, currency conversion surcharges can vary as much as 10% between worst and best cards. Plus, in some countries where chip-and-PIN cards are common, you could find yourself in a place that doesn’t accept your credit card too.
Make your reservations with your credit card and then stick with the cash wherever you can.
4. Assume you’ll be shortchanged or overcharged
Folks who spend hours every day changing money for nameless strangers often have no problem taking a little off the top especially for tourists who don’t understand the local currency. Take the time to learn the local currency – stop by a local bank or ask the concierge at your hotel for a quick lesson – and double-check the amounts you’re being charged and when you get change.
This is easy enough to do using your native currency, so take the time to figure it out or expect to be over charged everywhere you go.
5. Use local cash and enjoy the perks
Many American travelers are happy when they find out that the clerks at their destination accept U.S. money. What they may not know is that the sales clerk is adding as much as 20% to accommodate the store’s private exchange rate. Without knowing it, you’re changing money and at a lousy rate every time you buy with U.S. dollars.
It’s best to hit the airport ATM when you land and load up on local cash instead. You’ll get the best exchange rates and some vendors are even willing to offer a discount for paying with cash. Of course, using cash helps keep your spending and the accrued interest under control.
6. Coins are worthless when you leave the country
In some countries, big-value coins are common and exporting a pocketful of change can be expensive. You’ll have to return to an actual bank state-side to get them converted back to U.S. money and there you’ll pay the expensive exchange rate. So, spend your coins, change them into bills, or give them away before you leave the country.
Note that euro coins are perfectly good in any country that uses euro currency, so you can take those with you when you cross the border into another country.
Safeguard your documents
Make two copies of all your travel documents in case of emergency. Leave one copy with a trusted friend or relative at home and carry the other separately from your original documents. To help prevent theft, do not carry your passport in your back pocket, and keep it separate from your money.
- Passport: Apply several months in advance for a new passport. If you already have one, it should be valid for at least six months after you return home and have two or more blank pages, depending on your destination. Otherwise, some countries may not let you enter.
- Children’s passports: Passports issued for children under age 16 are valid for only five years, not 10 years like adult passports. Check passport expiration dates carefully and renew early.
- Europe Travel via Canada and UK: Europe’s 26 Schengen countries strictly enforce the six-month validity rule. If you are transiting through Canada or the UK : which do not have that requirement : your passport must be valid at least six months, or airlines may not let you board your onward flight to Europe.
Will you help me during travel?
We are here to help! Please contact us if you have any issues during your travels and we will do our best to support you and resolve any issues expediently. We will also arm you with local in-country contacts such as your hotel, tour operator, or guide (if applicable).
- Some prescription drugs, including narcotics and some U.S. over-the-counter medications, are illegal in other countries. Check with the embassy of your destination(s) about regulations and documentation before you travel.
Children Traveling With One Parent Or With Someone Who Is Not A Parent Or Legal Guardian
If a child (under the age of 18) is traveling with only one parent or with someone who is not a parent or legal guardian, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that the accompanying adult have a note from the non-traveling parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with neither parent, a note signed by both parents) stating “I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter/group. He/She/They has/have my/our permission to do so.”
CBP suggests that this note be notarized. If there is no second parent with legal custody of the child (e..g., the second parent is deceased, one parent has sole custody, etc.), relevant paperwork such as a court decision, birth certificate naming only one parent, death certificate, etc., would be useful as well.
While CBP may not ask to see this documentation when the child enters the U.S., the U.S. is very sensitive to the possibility of child abduction and trafficking, and the child and accompanying adult could be detained if questions arise about the situation. While the U.S. does not require this documentation, many other countries do, and onward travel could be impeded without a notarized permission letter and/or other documentation. (Canada, for example, has very strict requirements in this regard).
This advice applies to U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike. More information can be found on the Customs and Border Protection website.
Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones
You should carefully consider the potential dangers and inconveniences of traveling to storm-prone regions of the world. If you go, make an emergency plan beforehand. Even inland areas far from the coastline can experience destructive winds, tornadoes, mudslides, and floods from storms.
What are hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones? Which regions are affected by them and what is the impact of these storms?
Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all the same weather phenomenon – they are storms which have a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that start up over tropical or subtropical waters. They are all “tropical cyclones” but are called different things based on where in the world the storm originated:
- Hurricanes – Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific Ocean
- Typhoons – Northwest Pacific Ocean
- Cyclones – South Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean
Storm surges, high winds, heavy rain, flooding, mudslides, and tornadoes can cause extreme storm damage. There may be widespread damage to infrastructure (such as roads, electricity, and phone and internet service), and serious shortages of habitable accommodations, food, water, and medical facilities. Storms can result in airport closures or limited flight availability due to runway or terminal damage and a shortage of electricity. U.S. citizens in affected regions may face delays returning home, and may even need to stay in emergency shelters with limited food, water, medicine, and other supplies.
When is storm season?
Generally speaking, storm seasons are:
- Hurricanes – June to November
- Typhoons – April-December
- Cyclones – November to April
While these are the times when storms are most likely to happen, it is possible for intense storms to occur outside of these ranges. Additionally, the past several years have seen an overall increase in the quantity and intensity of storms, particularly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
How can I prepare?
Before you go, sign up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrolling your trip in STEP allows you to receive important information about safety conditions in your destination and helps the U.S. embassy or consulate contact you in an emergency.
While traveling during storm season, stay aware of developments by monitoring local media and the National Hurricane Centerfor news and weather reports. Minor storms can quickly become hurricanes, limiting the time to get out. If a weather emergency occurs, stay in touch with your tour operator, hotel staff, and local authorities for evacuation instructions. It could save your life.
For more information and resources, see Natural Disasters.
How do I Apply for TSA Pre-Check?
It takes five minutes to submit an online application and schedule a ten minute in-person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting at an enrollment center.
Before you apply, we recommend that you review the various DHS trusted traveler programs, such as the TSA PreCheck™ Application Program, Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI, to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements and determine the best program for you.
Customs Restrictions of Foreign Destinations – What You Cannot Take to Other Countries
Customs Restrictions of Foreign Destinations – What You Cannot Take to Other Countries
Many countries have restrictions on what you can bring into that country, including food, pets, and medications. Even over-the-counter medications may be prohibited in some countries. Check with the foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. for your destination country to find out what is prohibited. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found in the Country Specific Information for each country.
Customs Restrictions of Foreign Destinations – What You Cannot Take out of Other Countries
A number of countries have restrictions on what items you can export or take with you when departing that country including, but not limited to:
- gold and other precious metals,
- precious and semi-precious stones,
- electronic equipment not declared on arrival,
- firearms and ammunition,
- animal skins,
- religious artifacts and literature, and
- ivory and certain other wildlife parts and products.
Countries may require export permits, which may take some time to process. Travelers who violate foreign customs rules can be detained at the airport, fined, have the items confiscated, and, in some cases, be sentenced to prison.
To be safe, check with foreign embassies and consulates in the United States for your destination country before you travel. You can also find general information about a foreign country’s customs in the Country Specific Information we provide at travel.state.gov.
U.S. Customs Restrictions – What You Cannot Bring Back With You
There are some items that you cannot bring into the United States, or that you can bring in only under certain conditions. For information on U.S. customs regulations and procedures, see the Customs and Border Protection booklet “Know Before You Go.”
Many wildlife and wildlife products are prohibited from import into the United States. You risk confiscation and a possible fine if you attempt to bring them into the United States. For more information see:
Watch out for the following prohibited items (this is an illustrative list):
- All products made from sea turtles
- All ivory, both Asian and African elephant
- Rhinoceros horn and horn products
- Furs from spotted cats
- Furs and ivory from marine mammals
- Feathers and feather products from wild birds
- Most crocodile and caiman leather
- Most coral, whether in chunks or in jewelry
For more information, you may contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, at 1-800- 344-9453, or send an email to the Fish and Wildlife Service at email@example.com.
Driving & Road Safety Abroad
Are you thinking about driving in another country? If so, know that road conditions, laws, and driving norms in other countries can be very different from those in the United States. Poor road maintenance, lack of signs, vehicle safety, and insurance coverage are just some things you should consider. And, remember to buckle up, no matter where you are.
Read about road safety in your destination country before you go and keep these things in mind when planning your trip:
- Potential hazards and dangerous road conditions
- Local roads or areas to avoid
- Availability of roadside assistance
- Need for spare tires, fuel and a map
- Local laws and driving culture — Get information from the country’s embassy or consulates in the United States, foreign government tourism offices, or from a car rental company in the foreign country
- Local emergency numbers
- Vehicle safety considerations, including seat belts
- Documents to carry, including any special road permits
- Insurance and driver’s license (see below)
International Driving Permits
It is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most countries. You should check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit or live in to find specific driver’s license requirements. Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license, but most accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). IDPs may not be valid the whole time you stay abroad and may only be valid with a U.S. or local license.
You can get an IDP before you leave through these automobile associations:
In general, your U.S. auto insurance policy does NOT cover you abroad. However, it may when you drive to Canada and Mexico. Check with your insurance company before you go.
Even if your policy is valid in a particular country, it may not meet their minimum requirements. If you are under-insured, you can usually buy additional auto insurance in the United States or in your destination country.
Car rental companies overseas can usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries the required coverage is minimal. In that case, consider buying insurance coverage equal to what you carry at home.
Road Safety and Security
The Overseas Security Advisory Council provides information about personal security and safety while traveling abroad.
In addition, the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) provides information for U.S. families and business travelers about driving overseas.
Reporting and Resources on International Road Safety
- United Nations Road Safety Collaboration
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, International Programs
U.S. Government Links
- Department of Transportation
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Federal Highway Administration
- National Transportation Safety Board
- Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) – Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
Road Safety Statistics / Databases / Resources
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) – Transport Division: Road Safety Forum
- European Commission Road Safety
- United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific – Road Accident Statistics and Road Safety
- International Road Federation
- Global Road Safety Partnership
International Driving Permit
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) travelers can face unique challenges when traveling abroad. Laws and attitudes in some countries may affect safety and ease of travel. Legal protections vary from country to country. Many countries do not legally recognize same-sex marriage. More than seventy countries consider consensual same-sex sexual relations a crime, sometimes carrying severe punishment.
Research Your Destination
Update Your Passport
Some transgender travelers have reported difficulties entering a country on a passport bearing a name and photo that no longer correspond to their gender identity.
- To change your name only, see Change or Correct a Passport.
- To update the sex marker on your passport, see the Change of Sex Marker page.
- If you were born abroad, follow the instructions on how to Replace or Amend a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) to update gender marker.
Pack Important Documents
LGBTI travelers should take copies of important documents, especially when traveling in countries where legal rights differ from those in the United States:
- Legal and health documents (such as a living will or health care directive).
- Parentage and/or custody documents for accompanying minor children (especially if your children do not share your last name).
- Contact information for your family and/or lawyer in the United States, including someone who has a copy of your itinerary.
- Address and phone number of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, in English and the local language.
Consider Buying Insurance
Travel insurance can cover your costs during emergencies, including in cases where medical evacuation may be required. Some insurance companies have products specifically tailored to LGBTI travelers. Verify that any insurance you purchase will cover all traveling family members.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service for U.S. citizens traveling to, or living in, a foreign country.
- Enter information about your upcoming time abroad so that we can send you current Travel Advisories and Alerts.
- In case of emergency, include an email address or phone number where we can reach you when traveling.
Here are some pointers for staying safe while abroad:
- Remember you are subject to the laws of the country where you travel. In many countries, consensual same-sex sexual activity, public gathering, or dissemination of pro-LGBTI material may be illegal. Read the country information for your destination for more details.
- Be cautious of potentially risky situations.
- Watch out for entrapment campaigns. Police in some countries monitor websites, mobile apps, or meeting places, so be cautious connecting with the local community.
- Be wary of new-found “friends.” Criminals may target or attempt to extort LGBTI foreigners.
- Some resorts or LGBTI neighborhoods can be quite segregated. Be aware attitudes in surrounding areas can be much less accepting.
If You Need Help, Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate
The nearest U.S. embassy or consulate may be able to help if you run into problems overseas, especially if you feel you cannot approach local police or have had difficulties already.
- Consular officers will protect your privacy and will not make generalizations, assumptions, or pass judgment.
- Let them know about any inappropriate treatment or harassment you experience.
- If you are arrested, immediately ask the police to notify the U.S. Embassy.
Cruise Ship Passengers
U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment. In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking. In some cases, local authorities have permitted disembarkation but subjected passengers to local quarantine procedures. While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.
This is a fluid situation. CDC notes that older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships. Passengers with plans to travel by cruise ship should contact their cruise line companies directly for further information and continue to monitor the Travel.state.gov website and see the latest information from the CDC.
Downloadable PDF card to take with you while you travel.
Special Note for Cuba Travel:
- Ensure shore excursions and purchases comply with U.S. regulations.
- U.S. credit and debit cards do NOT work in Cuba. Bring enough cash to cover your stay. This includes hotels, restaurants, taxis, souvenir shops, etc.
If You Choose to Travel:
- Read our Traveler’s Checklist and make sure to:
- Research your destination to learn about important health and safety precautions to take.
- Check our country information for the countries you will be visiting. Make a list of the contact information of the U.S. embassy and consulates there in case of an emergency
- Always bring your passport in case of an emergency, such as an unexpected medical air evacuation or the ship docking at an alternate port in an emergency, even if your cruise says you won’t need it.
- Apply early for your passport, or make sure your current one will be valid at least six months beyond your travel dates and has two or more blank pages.. Your cruise company may also require you to have a passport even if U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not.
- Have the right foreign visas for all stops on your cruise, if required, even if you do not plan to disembark in those locations.
- Check our country information for the countries you will be visiting. Make a list of the contact information of the U.S. embassy and consulates in case of an emergency.
- Sign up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive important safety and security information. Follow @TravelGov on Twitter and/or Facebook for travel and security information as well.
- Have medical, emergency evacuation, and other insurance to cover unexpected travel expenses when abroad. Check with your cruise line, travel agency, health/homeowner’s insurance providers, credit card companies, and other sources to learn what they do and do not cover overseas. Consider buying supplemental insurance.
- Have a plan for returning home if you are removed from the ship and placed into quarantine.
- Make color copies of your passport photo page, foreign visas, and itinerary. Leave one copy with a trusted family member or friend and carry one separately from your actual documents.
Check with your doctor to:
- Find out if traveling abroad is medically safe for you and whether you need any vaccinations and/or assistive deviceson your trip.
- Check with the foreign country’s embassy in the United States to make sure all your medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) are legal in each country you visit and whether there are limits on the quantity or other special instructions for bringing them in. For some medications, you may need a letter from your doctor. Carrying it in the prescription bottle might not be enough “proof.”
- Ensure you have enough of your prescription medications to last a week beyond your trip dates, in case of possible delays. Some countries may not have equivalents of your prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- Carry a written copy of all your prescriptions with you in case a country requires it or you need to replace your medications.
During Your Cruise:
- Remain vigilant and exercise normal precautions aboard a cruise ship and on shore, as you would whenever traveling abroad.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Ensure cabin safety and make sure the door and balcony are properly locked at all times.
- Consider storing your travel documents and other valuables in a secure spot, such as a room or ship’s safe.
- Talk to the security personnel on board if you are the victim of a crime. The cruise ship will have procedures in place for handling a crime onboard.
- When you come ashore, follow local laws and customs. If you break the law, you will be subject to the justice system of the host country
- If you are the victim of a crime on shore, report it to local authorities, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, and to cruise ship security personnel.
- If you lose your passport, report it immediately to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and make arrangements to get a replacement passport, for a fee.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Ask your cruise line about:
- What their procedures are in case of emergency.
- How family members can contact you in an emergency, such as cell or satellite phone coverage and/or an e-mail address for emergencies.
- What types of medical services your ship can provide, such as basic or urgent care, hospitalization, dialysis, etc.
- Check your cruise line’s prohibited items list when considering what to take with you.
If I cruise do I need a passport
We recommend that everyone taking a cruise from the United States have a passport book. Though some “closed-loop” cruises may not require a U.S. passport, we recommend bringing yours in case of an emergency, such as an unexpected medical air evacuation or the ship docking at an alternate port. Also, your cruise company may require you to have a passport, even if U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not.
Will a passport card work for cruise
You can use the passport card to reenter the United States at sea ports of entry from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. However, if you are not able to return on the cruise ship for any reason (e.g., for an emergency evacuation, you will need a passport book to fly back to the United States.
If I am not required to have a passport for my cruise, why should I cruise?
Unexpected circumstances can come up that make it impossible to return to the United States on the cruise ship. Here are some examples:
- Illness or Injury – Depending on the severity of your illness or injury, you may have to be admitted to a local hospital overseas. If you cannot be discharged before the cruise ship is scheduled to depart, the cruise ship may leave without you. In this case, you would need a U.S. passport to fly home upon clearance from your doctor.
- Damage to cruise ship – Occasionally cruise ships are damaged or have mechanical issues that cannot be fixed during your trip. In these cases, you might need to go ashore in a country which requires a passport and/or you would need a U.S passport book to fly home.
Many women travel safely each year without incident. However, when it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to be affected by religious and cultural beliefs of the foreign countries they visit. The truth is that women face greater obstacles, especially when travelling alone.
Before You Go
Know the location of the closest U.S. embassy or consulate for your destination.
Research Your Destination
Visit the U.S. Department of State’s official website, Travel.State.Gov, where you will find Country Information for every country of the world and contact information for the closest U.S. embassy and/or consulate. You will also find information about visa requirements, safety and security conditions, crime, health and medical considerations, local laws, areas to avoid, and more. Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. Some countries may require a woman to have a male escort to leave a country.
Each country that you visit will have different local laws and customs about women’s clothing and appearance. For example, what you wear in a mall in Mexico might not be acceptable in a mall in the United Arab Emirates.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Women travelers should understand the cultural norms of the country they will be visiting. Pay attention to local laws and customs because they can be quite different from the United States, especially if you intend to travel alone. Avoid dark, isolated areas at night.
The safety of public transportation varies from country to country. In many places, informal taxis or mini-buses pose particular threats to people unfamiliar with the local conditions, especially to women traveling alone. Find out from reliable sources, such as local authorities or tourism officials, what is and is not safe.
Be cautious when sharing information about your plans and itinerary with strangers. Don’t feel the need to be overly polite if you are bothered by someone. While it may seem rude to be unfriendly to a stranger, creating boundaries to protect yourself is important. Use facial expressions, body language, and a firm voice to fend off any unwanted attention.
Mobile Passport App? What is it?
Learn more about Mobile Passort
The Mobile Passport app is a touchless solution that provides a fast, safe, and secure way for U.S. and Canadian passport holders to use a mobile device to submit passport and customs declaration information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), then access designated lanes upon arrival in the United States. The app can be downloaded for free and used immediately; it does not require a background check, interview, or pre-approval. Millions of individual and group digital submissions have been securely transmitted to CBP, eliminating long lines, paper forms, and shared kiosks.
An in-app upgrade to Mobile Passport plus is available ($14.99 annually or $4.99 monthly) for those who want to save even more time. Premium features include the automated document scanner for passports, encrypted storage of passports, and a history of previous trips submitted on the app.