Traveling internationally has changed in recent years. While going through customs has remained stable, passport and visa requirements have changed considerably. Make sure you know what is required before buying your plane tickets, so there are no surprises when you get to the airport with your luggage.
All international air travel now requires a valid passport. In most cases, your passport should be valid for several months beyond the dates of your scheduled trip. While requirements vary by country, it is best to renew your passport if it is due to expire within six to nine months.
To acquire a passport, you will need to do the following:
- Fill out an official application form
- Show proof of U.S. citizenship
- Show a valid I.D.
- Submit headshots
- Pay the fee ($135 for adults and $105 for children, as of April 2011)
In addition, you must apply for your first passport in person. This can be done at U.S. embassies and consulates, a passport agency, or other participating facilities. Visit the where to apply page of the federal travel website to find the location nearest you.
When you receive your passport, don't forget to sign it and add complete the contact information before heading to the airport. While the contact information is not required, unsigned passports are invalid. Parents should follow the instructions for signing their children's passports upon issue.
Some countries, like India, require visas regardless of the reason and length of your stay. Other countries allow visitors for short periods of time. To view a list of requirements, check out the federal website on country-specific information for Americans traveling abroad. This website provides important information, including who needs a visa, how long visitors can stay, and where to acquire visas for that country.
In general, visas can be applied for at consulates and embassies. For example, if you want to work in France, you could go to the French embassy that is nearest to your home to apply for a visa. The nearest embassy or consulate may be several states away, so visit the country-specific information page on the federal government's website to find out what you need to take with you. At the very least, you will need to present your passport. You may also have to present several additional documents depending on the type of visa. For example, a work visa will require proof that you have an offer of employment in the country for which you are applying for a visa.
Customs and Passport Control
When you arrive in a foreign country, two things will be checked before you are allowed to leave the airport with your luggage. First, your passport, and visa if applicable, will be checked to ensure that you have the legal right to enter the country. If there are no problems, your passport will be stamped and you will be sent on to baggage claim and customs. If the officer doubts your passport's validity, you could be questioned privately and even denied entrance to the country. In all cases, answer questions truthfully; if you don't know an answer, say so. It also helps to be polite and professional.
Once you have picked up your luggage you will pass through customs. In some countries you may not even realize you are walking past customs officers unless one of them stops you. In other countries your luggage may be thoroughly checked, and you may be questioned to ascertain whether or not you have illegal substances, agricultural items (plants, fruit, etc.), excess cash, or anything that you are intending to sell during your trip. As with passport control, always tell the truth, and be on your best behavior during your customs search.
Tips for Buying Tickets
International plane tickets can be purchased similarly to domestic ones. Either use third-party websites such as Expedia or Orbitz, or purchase directly from the airline of your choice. Other tips to securing the best price on international air travel includes:
- Be flexible about travel time; avoid traveling during the holiday season. Also, flying midweek is cheaper than the weekends. It's a good idea to price out several different dates before purchasing.
- Check nearby airports and fly to and from the cheapest ones.
- Watch ticket prices for several weeks before buying since prices for the same itinerary fluctuate based on how many seats have been sold.
Tips for International Travel
Once all of the details of your trip are in place, you're ready to travel. However, you might notice some of the following symptoms during or after long flights:
- Pain in the limbs
- Poor digestion
To avoid these symptoms, make sure you are well rested before departing on your trip. Also, eat easily-digestible foods leading up to your trip. During time abroad, stay hydrated and reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake. Stick with healthy foods and try to relax and sleep during the flight, so when you arrive you are ready to take on the sights, sounds, and flavors of your destination.
Before leaving home, be sure to alert your bank and any credit card companies of your travel plans. If you do not do this, expect your accounts to get blocked the very first time you attempt to use a card in a foreign country. In addition, it's a good idea to exchange currency prior to arriving at your international destination. This is generally cheaper than converting money at the airport or in cities abroad. Expect to lose money in conversion fees if you exchange money at small boutiques that cater to tourists. The cheapest route is to use your bank card at an ATM, but always have a second source of money available should your ATM transaction get blocked by your bank.