During this time of year, when families are traveling and students are studying abroad, my office regularly receives calls to help constituents who are traveling abroad. Often, this involves assisting individuals with obtaining a passport. But we also get calls from those who are out of the country and suddenly find themselves in a difficult situation. The U.S. Department of State cautions us to take the following ten steps when traveling outside the United States:
1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport. Some countries require that your passport be valid at least 6 months beyond the dates of your trip. Check expiration dates on your passport months before your trip, and remember that children – even infants – do require a passport, and that their passports expire more frequently than adult passports. Check with the nearest embassy or consulate of the countries you plan to visit to find out their entry and visa requirements.
2. Read the Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings available on the State Department’s Travel website for the countries you plan to visit. Consular Information Sheets include information like the location of the U.S. embassy or consulate, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country.
3. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. According to the U.S. State Department, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad each year. Remember, your rights as an American do not translate to foreign countries, and the U.S. Constitution will not protect you in a foreign country. While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The State Department’s Country Specific webpage provides more information specific to each country.
4. Make copies of your passport identification page and your itinerary. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives and carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency. You may also want to keep a copy of your birth certificate with you to facilitate quicker passport replacement.
5. Check your overseas medical insurance coverage. Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance.
6. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.
7. Prior to your departure, register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts may not be released without your express authorization.
8. To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.
9. In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.
10. Know important contact information. Travel with a listing of phone numbers and email addresses for the local U.S. embassy or consulate. If you are a victim of a crime, experience a medical emergency or death, are arrested for a crime, contact the embassy or consulate as soon as possible.
For more information on traveling abroad, please visit travel.state.gov.