Travel is an amazing way to spend your vacation time, summers off from school, or your entire life. But, it’s not all fun and games! Before we leave our home countries, we must take steps to prepare for international travel.
Some destinations will require specific vaccinations to allow you entry through immigration, or maybe your home nation prohibits travel to a certain destination.
These are highly important things to know and account for when we travel!
These 8 steps are a starting point of what everyone should do before they travel abroad to be safe and healthy, so you can have the time of your life!
Note: my advice will be specifically targeted at U.S. citizens, because I am from the U.S. However, you may find them helpful regardless and can likely find the equivalent resources your home nation offers.
Disclaimer: I am not a safety or medical professional. I am merely a traveler who has benefitted by taking these steps to prepare for international travel. For the best health advice, consult your physician prior to leaving the country.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase any of the services from the links below, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend services I love!
1 // Check your destination country’s page on the State Department’s website for travel advisories.
While we shouldn’t avoid destinations due to widespread panic at unverified stories or stereotypes, we should be cautious while abroad and try to minimize safety risks.
I always check the State Department’s travel advisories to see how safe or unsafe my dream destination is according to my home government. They rate countries by this scale:
- Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. (Blue)
- Level 2: Exercise increased precautions. (Yellow)
- Level 3: Reconsider travel. (Orange)
- Level 4: Do not travel. (Red)
These webpages will also tell you if the United States has any local embassies in the country and if the U.S. has any diplomatic or negotiating power in that nation.
Read about your destination on their website, and use their analysis to determine whether or not you should travel there. It is ultimately your decision, and we can’t allow fear to control us.
However, this is a useful source of information and should be considered as you prepare for international travel!
2 // Research your destination country’s page on the CDC’s website.
Once you are aware of any risks associated with the country you plan to visit and have decided to continue planning your trip, go to the CDC’s website and check the country’s page.
It will tell you which vaccines you need before traveling there, and the associated health risks, if any, of visiting that country.
Typically, you need routine vaccinations to travel anywhere abroad.
Some destinations, including some nations in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa, do require proof of a yellow fever vaccination before you will be allowed to enter the country.
Yellow fever vaccinations are offered in limited supply in the U.S., so schedule your appointment far in advance! Typical cost is $75, but that may depend on where you get the vaccine.
3 // Get all recommended vaccines before you depart.
Because vaccines can take a longer amount of time to enter your system, you should use the CDC’s advice and your physician’s to get your vaccines well in advance.
If a vaccine is routine, there is a chance you’ve already received the recommended dosage. Your physician can help you access your immunization record, which will help you determine which ones to get.
If you do need the yellow fever vaccine, don’t leave without your yellow fever card! Immigration will require to see it along with your passport if it is required to enter their country.
4 // Research visa information for your destination country.
As an American citizen, I have high passport privilege. The average American is not required to obtain a tourist visa prior to traveling to most countries in the world.
However, that is not true of every country. This is why it is key to research whether or not you will need a visa, if it can be obtained upon arrival, how much the fees are, and how to get it in advance, if required.
A great tool for this for U.S. citizens is to check the country information page for your destination under the “Entry, Exit, and Visa Requirements” section. This can be found on the same website as travel advisories.
5 // If you need a visa, then either obtain it in advance or have a plan to get it while abroad.
If you need a tourist visa, there are options to obtaining it. If you’re backpacking long-term, you could go to your next destination’s embassy if you’re already abroad and obtain your visa there.
Some countries offer an eVisa, which you can apply for online and show in your email or in a printout.
Others will allow a visa on arrival, but make sure you can pay the visa fee in cash! Some countries will accept US Dollars in cash, or their local currency.
However, in plenty of cases due to your plans or schedule, you must get your visa before leaving home. Each embassy’s website will tell you how to do so, but it usually involves mailing your passport, passport-size photos, payment, application, and any specific, required supporting documents to the embassy.
This process can be long and tedious, so plan well in advance if you’re going to a country that requires you to have a visa before arriving!
6 // Enroll in STEP.
This is a great, easy way to prepare for international travel.
STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, and is a way for the U.S. government to notify its citizens about safety when they travel abroad.
All it takes is your name, some basic questions, and your email address to get started. It’s also a good idea to add an emergency contact, so that the local embassy or authorities can reach your family or a close friend in the unfortunate case of an emergency.
7 // Register your trip with the embassy in your STEP account.
This is key! Once you set up your STEP account, you can register each trip you take. This helps them personalize your safety notifications.
If you register a trip to a country for a specific date range, the embassy will email you if there’s any reason you should avoid specific areas due to a political demonstration, civil unrest, riots, etc.
This is a simple, quick way to access even more information that will assist you when you’re on your trip.
8 // Ensure you have travel insurance and health insurance coverage while abroad.
If for any reason you need medical care while abroad, an emergency evacuation, if your luggage gets lost, or anything major goes wrong, insurance can lessen the stress.
The first step I recommend is to contact your health insurance provider at home and ask if your plan will cover you while abroad. Some will, some won’t. Mine did the last time I traveled out of the country, which is why I’m telling you to ask your current provider first! If I hadn’t called them, I wouldn’t have known this was already included in my coverage.
If they do cover you in the country you’re visiting, ask if your regular insurance card is sufficient. If not, ask them to send you one that will tell local medical professionals you’re covered in their country and where to bill for their services.
For those of us with travel rewards credit cards, many of them offer the perk of travel accident coverage, including hefty emergency medical evacuation bills. Check your credit card’s information and see what they cover before purchasing a supplemental plan!
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You can apply when you’re already abroad, you don’t need to provide specific dates unless you want to, and you’re covered everywhere but the U.S.
Coverage includes travel protection (ie. travel delay compensation, missing luggage) and health insurance (ie. if you get sick while abroad or get in an accident).
While SafetyWing is a startup, their claims are backed and handled by Tokio Marine, an insurance firm that’s been in business for 141 years and has stellar customer reviews. If you’d like to read an in-depth review from a traveler that’s used SafetyWing personally, check out this post.
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Before you step on that plane, these 8 steps will help you get the important things taken care of so you can have some fun!
Travel is an amazing experience, with wonderful times to be had and days that will change you in unpredictable ways.
When you’re covered and you’ve taken the steps to be safe, you can enjoy that destination even more. While it’s good to be diligent and watch your surroundings, don’t let fear hold you back from seeing the world!
Take these 8 steps to prepare for international travel, so you can have the time of your life!