Preparing yourself for international travel: What you need to know

March 05, 2024 | Anne Purcell

You’re taking a trip abroad – good for you! Whether it is your first time traveling abroad or your 50th, the logistics of everything can easily get out of hand. From the pros and cons of flight insurance to tips on how much money to bring, here is a short guide to help prepare you for your international trip.

Passports and visas

For international travel, you will need a valid passport to both enter and leave. Additionally, most countries require your U.S. passport to be valid six months after your return date. If you need a new passport, the process will take six to eight weeks. If you need it quicker, you can pay extra to expedite it. Processing times can change, and you can find the most updated information here.

While not all countries require visas, some may. Before you travel, check whether you will need a visa or not. If you do need a visa, you must apply for a tourist visa (a short-term visa only valid for three months) either online or at the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit. There will be a fee, and you will have to attach documents such as your passport, vaccination requirements, health insurance coverage, etc.

It is also a good idea to have a copy of your passport and other IDs at home or on your phone in case you lose it while traveling.

Global Entry

At the airport, there are two different lines: TSA precheck and general boarding. If you have TSA precheck, you know the benefits, like not having to take off your shoes and keeping electronics in your bag. While TSA precheck doesn’t work abroad, you can apply for Global Entry, which can speed up your entry into selected airports abroad.

To apply for Global Entry, you will have to go through an application process and pay $100. While Global Entry isn’t something you have to have while traveling, it is very much a nice to have, especially if you are traveling through multiple countries.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can be expensive, often between 4% and 8% of the price of your trip, and it doesn't cover everything. While you don't always need travel insurance to travel abroad, it can help if something goes wrong, such as a medical emergency.

If you are on the fence about purchasing travel insurance, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you confident in your plans? If you book a flight and can anticipate the potential of something going wrong, such as traveling with young kids and one getting sick, you should consider insurance.
  • Can you afford trip interruptions? If you're traveling to multiple places during one trip and think something could happen necessitating different flights or there being luggage issues, travel insurance could help.
  • Does your health insurance cover where you are going? If you're traveling abroad, there is a high chance your U.S. health insurance will not work overseas. Travel insurance can help cover costs if something happens, such as an illness or injury while traveling.

Not all travel insurance is the same, and some insurance providers will allow you to build your policy in a way that will make sense to you. Do your research and make the best choice for you and your budget.

Currency exchange and credit card processing fees

When traveling abroad, it is good practice to have multiple payment options, such as credit cards and cash. When bringing cash, be sure to have currency for both the country you’re traveling to and USD. Here are some tips on using cash and your card in a foreign country and what to look out for.

Currency exchange and exchange rates:
While exchanging money at the airport or hotel is convenient, the transaction fees are often higher, and the exchange rates are less favorable. To avoid this, plan ahead and look into options to exchange your currency before traveling. Different financial institutions will have different fees for exchanging currency, so shop around before exchanging.

Credit cards and foreign transaction fees:
Credit cards are also an excellent option to use when you travel, and they have many benefits. Depending on your card, some have zero foreign transaction fees, like Alliant Credit Union’s Visa® Signature Credit Card, while others have a 3% foreign transaction fee. Credit cards also provide fraud protection and typically provide better exchange rates compared to ATMs and currency exchanges.

Before traveling, it is also always a good idea to let your financial institution know you will be out of the country so that they won't flag your card as being used for fraud when they start to see foreign transactions.

Mobile phones

Depending on your service and where you are traveling, your mobile device may not work at all or using it will include different fees. Prior to your trip contact your service provider to see:

  • International roaming arrangements: Check to see whether your phone is compatible with the networks in the country our visiting. It is possible your phone may work for something likes, like calls, but not texting. Or, it might be possible that your phone will work over Wi-Fi only.
  • Roaming rates: The price of rates may vary depending on the country, but if you’re willing to pay you can check beforehand what these are. They will vary from country to country and network to network.
  • SIM card: If your mobile phone is compatible with networks in the country you are visiting, another option is purchasing a SIM card to use while traveling. Before you go, ask your service provider how you can unlock your device to use a SIM card. You can purchase a SIM card before you leave or when you arrive at the country you are visiting.

Confidently travel abroad in 2024








With these international travel tips, you can travel abroad confident you’re prepared. From ensuring your passport or visa is ready to go to taking advantage of credit card benefits, you can ensure your next international trip will be a great one.








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