Travel Checklist: What to Bring With You Internationally

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Travel Checklist: What To Bring InternationallyThis summer, whether you’re heading to Belize for a tropical vacation or to Japan for a trip to see the epic orange gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha, we don’t want you to forget any essentials.

Here are the items you simply can’t leave behind for your international vacation:

1. A Valid Passport

If you haven’t renewed your passport since that junior year study-abroad, take another look. U.S. adult passports are only valid for ten years, so renew yours at least nine months before its expiration date. This is important because if you want to go to a hot destination like the Galapagos, Tanzania or Israel, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after your planned return to the States. Check out the U.S. Department of State for the passport requirements for your destination.

2. A Visa

And we’re not talking about the credit card. Want to samba in Rio de Janeiro or attend the ballet at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre? Brazil, Russia and many other countries require visas in advance. Some, including Turkey and Israel, issue visas upon arrival. Although visa requirements vary by destination, be prepared to pay a fee and submit your passport with additional passport photos, a travel itinerary, a blank page for the visa, and even an invitation letter to the consulate of the country.

3. A Visa—Or Two

This time we are talking about plastic. Most MasterCard and Visa credit cards provide currency exchange rates up to almost 8% lower than banks do. But check your card’s exchange rate policies before traveling so you avoid an unpleasant surprise, since most banks charge a 2-3% fee for foreign transactions—on top of the 1% currency-exchange fee automatically tacked on by Visa and MasterCard. Fortunately, an increasing number of banks are offering fee-free cards for international travel. (In particular, Capitol One doesn’t pass along that 1% fee). If you’re looking for a good rewards credit card, check out our top picks.

If you have the option to make your purchase in U.S. dollars, don’t. Some merchants offer something called “dynamic currency conversion,” which should be avoided at all costs. Rather than letting the banks do the conversion, this allows merchants to calculate your bill and charge you in U.S. dollars. Unless you ask, they won’t even tell you the actual rate they’ve given you. This option is offered to merchants so they can pull a little extra coin out of the transaction. It has nothing to do with the consumer whatsoever. Your credit card will still charge you the same fees for the transaction, so don’t choose this option!

Remember to notify your bank before your departure that you’ll be using your card abroad. And bring a backup card with plenty of available credit.

4. Some Foreign Currency

Never exit the airport at your destination without at least enough local currency to take a taxi to your hotel. Pick up that “starter cash” from your bank before you depart, but use foreign A.T.M.s from then on. Despite charging a fee, foreign A.T.M.s will almost always give you the best possible rate of exchange.

If you can find a foreign bank with which your own bank has a partnership, you’ll get the best deal on cash. Even if you can’t find a bank that’s affiliated with yours from back home, A.T.M.s are still your best bet for picking up cash. Because of A.T.M. fees, you’ll generally get the best value if you take out large sums at a time–but of course, don’t take out so much that you’ll feel unsafe walking around with it.

Whenever possible, avoid currency exchange kiosks, both those located in the airport and elsewhere. Exchanging currency at an airport kiosk will generally get you an unfavorable exchange rate and service fees of 5% or higher. “No fee” currency exchanges usually have the worst rates.

5. Insurance

Check your health insurance policy to understand exactly where your international coverage ends. If your policy covers you outside the United States, bring your insurance policy identity card and a claim form.

For many of us, coverage ends the moment we enter international waters or airspace. If you’re one of the many for whom that’s true, consider travel medical insurance. For an additional 5-8% of your trip’s cost, you can have health coverage and maybe even medical evacuation coverage. For more about when to buy travel insurance, read this.

You can buy insurance up to 24 hours before you depart. (Here are some reputable providers; you can compare prices and policies here and here.)

6. Vaccinations

Although the only vaccine required by international health regulations is the yellow fever vaccine (if you’re going certain places in sub-Saharan Africa or tropical South America), we suggest getting all of the recommended shots and boosters for the region you’re traveling to.

7. Medications

Trust us, you don’t want to run around a strange city in the middle of the night looking for the international symbol for the pharmacy (a green cross). Pack all medicines in your carry-on luggage and plan to bring even over-the-counter meds with you. After all, there’s nothing pleasant about struggling to read medical labels in a foreign language, even if you’re just looking for basic aspirin. Keep medicines in their original bottles to avoid customs hassles. If you’re taking prescription meds, carry copies of your prescriptions and a doctor’s note describing your condition, as well as the generic names for your drugs.

8. Voltage Converter

Don’t ask us why, but every country seems to have a different plug containing different amounts of voltage. Our favorite adapters are Conair’s all-in-one adapter plug with surge protection (about $22) and Kensington’s travel plug adapter with USB charger (about $37), which works in more than 150 countries and will keep all your gadgets juiced.

9. Phrasebook

You’re not going to master a foreign language in the two weeks before your trip, but with the right phrasebook you might be able to order Bordeaux for the table without the waiter giving you le stink eye. Lonely Planet offers talking phrasebooks apps for Android and iPhone with about 600 phrases for nearly every language you could come across.

10. VoIP Calling Card

If internet technology and traditional calling cards had a beautiful baby, it would be VoIP. Nowadays, your entire call—whether to a landline or mobile number—can be routed through the Web, which costs less. Pick up a landline, dial a local access number, enter an account and pin number, and then dial home. You can recharge your card online, so just log on before your trip and purchase credit. Here are three of our picks for VoIP carriers:

  • Pingo.com: dependable and affordable Netherlands-operated company with 35 international destinations
  • PennyTalk.com: another top carrier operated out of New Jersey
  • EnjoyPrepaid.com: over 75 international access numbers

For More Travel Tips …

We did serious research to help you figure out the best way to use a phone abroad. Renting an international phone? GSM? Unlocked? Here’s a whole chart.

Check out our guide with tips for international travel. Click here.

Traveling domestically instead? Check out our domestic travel checklist, also from a Condé Nast Traveler editor.

Alex Pasquariello is an editor at Condé Nast Traveler and has traveled widely in his own right.

  • Stephen

    Suggest that you do a little more research on dynamic currency conversion. I used to work for a company that offered DCC, so I do know a little about it. I note that most articles are effectively copy and pasted from old information and not researched very well.

    Firstly, in a non DCC world the bank that issued your credit card will typically charge a margin on the rate for all non US transactions of about 1.75%. In addition to this the credit card scheme will also charge a margin of about 1.5% tottaling 3.25%. If your bank do not say they charge a margin, find out where they get the rate from, because if say they don’t charge a margin it will be built into the margin !!

    Secondly, the card holder should always be offered DCC in accordance with Visa/MasterCard rules. Most DCC companies and merchants will offer the choice, those that dont are breaking the rules. So, with DCC you get choice and can refuse. Without DCC, you do not know what rate you will be charged or margin, regardless if that margin is built into the rate or not.

    DCC simply reverses the charge on the FX from the issuing bank and credit card scheme to the merchant and acquiring bank and nothing else. For those of you that say nobody should charge you a margin, buy a thousand sterling today and see what it is worth tomorrow or in hours time. Yes, the rate fluctuates, and their is risk or in other words it’s the way of the commercial world.

    The question should be, if your bank imposes an additional charge for an international transaction, and few do, what are they charging you for? The transaction will now be posted to them in USD and not the foreign currency. It is your own bank that is profiteering for no good reason …….

    Zachary – NJ

  • Stephen

    Suggest that you do a little more research on dynamic currency conversion. I used to work for a company that offered DCC, so I do know a little about it. I note that most articles are effectively copy and pasted from old information and not researched very well.

    Firstly, in a non DCC world the bank that issued your credit card will typically charge a margin on the rate for all non US transactions of about 1.75%. In addition to this the credit card scheme will also charge a margin of about 1.5% tottaling 3.25%. If your bank do not say they charge a margin, find out where they get the rate from, because if say they don’t charge a margin it will be built into the margin !!

    Secondly, the card holder should always be offered DCC in accordance with Visa/MasterCard rules. Most DCC companies and merchants will offer the choice, those that dont are breaking the rules. So, with DCC you get choice and can refuse. Without DCC, you do not know what rate you will be charged or margin, regardless if that margin is built into the rate or not.

    DCC simply reverses the charge on the FX from the issuing bank and credit card scheme to the merchant and acquiring bank and nothing else. For those of you that say nobody should charge you a margin, buy a thousand sterling today and see what it is worth tomorrow or in hours time. Yes, the rate fluctuates, and their is risk or in other words it’s the way of the commercial world.

    The question should be, if your bank imposes an additional charge for an international transaction, and few do, what are they charging you for? The transaction will now be posted to them in USD and not the foreign currency. It is your own bank that is profiteering for no good reason …….

    Zachary – NJ

  • Stephen

    Suggest that you do a little more research on dynamic currency conversion. I used to work for a company that offered DCC, so I do know a little about it. I note that most articles are effectively copy and pasted from old information and not researched very well.

    Firstly, in a non DCC world the bank that issued your credit card will typically charge a margin on the rate for all non US transactions of about 1.75%. In addition to this the credit card scheme will also charge a margin of about 1.5% tottaling 3.25%. If your bank do not say they charge a margin, find out where they get the rate from, because if say they don’t charge a margin it will be built into the margin !!

    Secondly, the card holder should always be offered DCC in accordance with Visa/MasterCard rules. Most DCC companies and merchants will offer the choice, those that dont are breaking the rules. So, with DCC you get choice and can refuse. Without DCC, you do not know what rate you will be charged or margin, regardless if that margin is built into the rate or not.

    DCC simply reverses the charge on the FX from the issuing bank and credit card scheme to the merchant and acquiring bank and nothing else. For those of you that say nobody should charge you a margin, buy a thousand sterling today and see what it is worth tomorrow or in hours time. Yes, the rate fluctuates, and their is risk or in other words it’s the way of the commercial world.

    The question should be, if your bank imposes an additional charge for an international transaction, and few do, what are they charging you for? The transaction will now be posted to them in USD and not the foreign currency. It is your own bank that is profiteering for no good reason …….

    Zachary – NJ

  • JB

    I suggest being a bit more careful about carrying medicine across international borders.  I am living in a country that has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of anti-histamines such as Benadryl. Not to scare anyone, but just travel smart! Always check with the state department travel site.

  • JB

    I suggest being a bit more careful about carrying medicine across international borders.  I am living in a country that has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of anti-histamines such as Benadryl. Not to scare anyone, but just travel smart! Always check with the state department travel site.

  • JB

    I suggest being a bit more careful about carrying medicine across international borders.  I am living in a country that has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of anti-histamines such as Benadryl. Not to scare anyone, but just travel smart! Always check with the state department travel site.

  • JB

    I suggest being a bit more careful about carrying medicine across international borders.  I am living in a country that has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of anti-histamines such as Benadryl. Not to scare anyone, but just travel smart! Always check with the state department travel site.

  • Mary

    A homeopathic travel kit can be a great thing to have in your carry on luggage. They’re inexpensive and compact and they cover a whole range of first aid situations,common and more exotic illnesses

  • http://twitter.com/leonachan Leona Chan

    I also recommend bringing a travel guidebook and/or reviewing WikiTravel before the trip.

  • http://twitter.com/leonachan Leona Chan

    I also recommend bringing a travel guidebook and/or reviewing WikiTravel before the trip.

  • http://www.tripinsurance.com/flight-insurance Kurt

    Before you travel it is very recommended that you have an air travel insurance . 
    It protects travelers when unforeseen circumstances occur after they’ve booked and paid for their trip.

  • Kc_silver48

    I’d like to add a mobile currency converter. It’s an invaluable tool to know how far your money can go when you are abroad, especially if you have not exchanged your cash for your destination’s local currency before leaving home. Whenever I go on a trip I have my Dollar Currency Converter app (by Rainbow Riders) in my phone so that I know if I’m using my travel money wisely. Other than that, the ones you have suggested in here are definitely a must when traveling. Thanks!