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International Travel Checklist

Planning a Trip Abroad

Last Updated: August 24, 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • You may need certain documents, depending on where you're traveling to and why.
  • Gather important contact information and inform people of your trip.
  • It's essential to research customs, laws, and medical requirements in advance.

Many people partake in international travel at some point in their lives, but few realize the amount of preparation it takes, especially if they have families, jobs, and homes to think of.

To really experience the awe and enjoyment of a lengthy vacation, as well as having your affairs in working order upon your return, it's important to consider all aspects of your life and how your travel will affect them.

Here are some of the tasks that should be taken care of before you depart.

Important travel documents to have

Passport: A passport is an official government issued document that certifies your identity and citizenship. It allows you to travel to and from foreign countries and is required for international travel.
Photo Identification: Although your passport does include a photo, it's still a good idea to travel with your government issued photo identification as well. This could be a license, or if you don't have one, a regular photo identification card. You shouldn't use your passport as an ID unless you have to, as it increases the chances of it becoming lost or stolen.
Travel Visa: A travel visa is a document issued by the country you wish to travel to. Different countries have different requirements for travel visas. It may only be required if you plan to stay in a foreign country for more than six months, or it might be required if you plan to work there, even temporarily. You may not need a visa to travel, but it's something that you should research before planning your trip.
Proof of Relationship: When traveling internationally with children, it's important to ensure that you have proof of your relationship to the child, especially if you are not related or have a different family name than the minor. This could be in the form of a long-form birth certificate, adoption certificate, or a Child Travel Consent letter.
Child Travel Consent: If you are traveling with a child, and you are not their primary guardian, or you share joint custody with another parent, you will need proof that you are allowed to travel with that child. This is especially important with international travel. A properly executed Child Travel Consent letter can be used to prove that you are permitted to travel with the minor in your care.
Child Medical Consent: If you are traveling with a minor child who you are not a parent of or share joint custody of, not only will you need an executed Child Travel Consent letter, but you will also need a Child Medical Consent as well. This is a document that allows you to make medical decisions for the minor on the behalf of the parent or primary guardian in the event of an emergency.
Power of Attorney: A Power of Attorney document is what allows an agent, or personal representative, to make financial, legal, business, and real estate decisions on your behalf while you are away. If you are traveling for an extended period of time, name someone who you trust to pay your bills, handle your business, and collect any rent on your behalf. If there is a possibility that your trip may be extended, or you may face delays in your return, an agent will be able to make sure that you don't come home to unpaid bills and uncashed checks.
Health Care Directive: A Health Care Directive is a document that outlines your personal medical care preferences in the event that you become incapacitated. This includes situations such as terminal illness, serious injury, a vegetative state, and permanent or temporary comas. You can name a representative to execute your preferences for you, in the event that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.
Last Will and Testament: A Last Will and Testament is a document that allows you to allocate your assets to beneficiaries in the event that you pass away. Many people create one prior to traveling in case something happens while they are abroad, especially if they are traveling to a dangerous or unstable destination. Preparing your Last Will before you travel can help to give you, and your family, peace of mind.
End-of-Life Plan: An End-of-Life Plan is a document that lets you detail your wishes regarding your remains, funeral, obituary or death notice, and more. Like a Last Will, creating an End-of-Life Plan when traveling ensures your relatives and family know how you would like to be laid to rest and remembered, in case anything doesn't go as planned on your trip.
Travel Documents for Pets: If you are traveling with an animal, such as a support dog or a family pet, you will need to ensure that you have the proper documentation to bring the animal into the country you are traveling to. Different countries have different requirements, but examples would be a rabies vaccination certificate and proof of ownership.
You may require other documents, depending on where you are traveling to and the purpose of your visit. Check with a local embassy to confirm what paperwork you will need.
Scan and email copies of all important documents to yourself in case you lose the originals. This way, you will always have a digital copy to use.

Important contact information to have

You may have all of the contact information you need in your cell phone, but if you lose your phone, it's likely that you won't remember all of the numbers in it. Email yourself the contact information for the following so that you are never left in a situation where you can't reach the people or businesses that you need to, such as:
  • Family and friends
  • Your country's embassy
  • Bank and insurance agency
  • Doctor (both local and your family doctor)
You may also want to have contact information for:
  • Your local hotel/resort
  • Local transportation
  • Vet (if you're traveling with a pet)
  • Your travel agency or airline
  • Your landlord or tenant

Who to inform of your vacation

Of course, you should inform your family and friends that you will be going away, as well as your employer, but those aren't the only people who should be aware of your travels.
You should also notify your:
  • Cell phone provider
  • Country of residence (this can be done on most government websites)
  • Bank and credit card companies
  • Post office
  • Alarm company
  • Landlord/tenant
Don't forget to reschedule any appointments, or notify anyone that you meet with regularly. That way, instead of being worried when you don't attend, they will know that you are away.
You can also inform any bill companies, clients, or other contacts that you think would benefit from knowing when you will be gone. Don't forget to schedule a vacation email for your job, and if you'll be offline for your vacation, think about creating one for your personal email as well.

Customs, laws, medical requirements, and more when traveling abroad

Becoming aware of important customs, laws, and medical requirements prior to your departure can lead to a smoother vacation. Do a bit of research on your destination before you leave so that you don't offend anyone, break any laws, or contract an illness by mistake.
Customs vary greatly between countries. In many places, the standard amount for tipping varies, and even the customs surrounding it. In others, a wave might mean something entirely different than what it does in your own country. Look into the social customs for the country you are traveling to so that you can avoid offending anyone.
Try to learn at least a little bit of the language as well. You should be able to ask for a taxi, directions, or help. Learn how to ask if someone can speak your native language, so that you can be directed to someone who you can speak with easily.
Not all emergency numbers are the same, so make sure that you know how to contact the appropriate authorities in the country you are visiting, in case of an emergency.
While something might be legal in your country, it may not be in another. Be sure to research what you should watch out for or avoid while traveling. Being charged with something in another country can become a long and arduous process, so you can save yourself a lot of grief by being prepared.
Some countries have a higher risk of transmitting certain infections and diseases than your own. Your doctor will be able to recommend vaccines and other medications prior to traveling once you let them know where you are traveling to.
Learn about the local currency and its value. Have some money exchanged before you go, so that you are prepared. Learn what each coin or bill is called and what its value is so that you can successfully manage your own spending while you are on your trip.

Travel alerts and warnings

Your own government website will be able to tell you where current travel alerts and warnings are. This can mean warnings from weather to politics, and it's best to look into this early on in your planning. If there are no alerts or warnings, it's still important to look after your own safety by:
  • Checking out the area you will be traveling in, and learning which areas to avoid.
  • Talking to other travelers to see what safety precautions they took when traveling to the same country.

International travel item checklist

You need to prepare for any trip, but international travel requires a more definite plan, with many more details. Before you depart, pack the following items with you:
  • Copies of important documents (both physical and digital)
  • Personal prescriptions
  • Medication (both what you need for the trip, and extra in case of a delay)
  • Travel checks/foreign currency
  • Phrase book
  • Emergency cash (keep this somewhere secret, and don't carry it around)
  • Roundtrip tickets (some countries will require this)

Preparing to travel abroad

International travel can be an amazing experience, but it's also something that requires preparation and careful planning. By taking the time you need to really understand where you are traveling to, and what your trip entails, you can be sure to come home when you are meant to, with nothing but a great experience and new stories to share.
By following the steps above, such as informing others, and having someone you trust look after your real estate, business, and financial affairs while you are away, you can be sure to find peace of mind in your preparedness.