There’s no worse feeling than getting on the plane for a long-haul international flight when the realization strikes: You forgot something.
Whether you’re embarking on your first international jaunt or are a seasoned traveler, this isn’t a weekend trip in the U.S. You need to be prepared.
This isn’t an exhaustive packing list, but here are some must-haves for your wallet, bag, and mindset as you head overseas or down south.
“Passport” and “international travel” are nearly synonymous. You can’t have one without the other.
You won’t be allowed into a foreign country – or allowed back into the U.S. – without one. These are issued by the U.S. Department of State, with a $145 charge for adults and $115 for children 16 and under. They generally take four to six weeks from the time of application until you receive it in the mail. Need it faster? Check out the State Department’s page on expedited service, but keep in mind it will cost you an extra $60.
And while passports generally last 10 years, there are some other restrictions to keep in mind. Many countries require three or more months validity before your passport expires to allow travel, and others require a blank page or two of passport stamp entries.
To play it safe, make sure your passport is good for at least six months after you depart the country and that you’ve got at least two empty pages.
Do you need a visa for your international trip? It depends where you’re heading.
U.S. passport holders can get into 165 countries visa-free, making it among the most powerful passports in the world. Many tourist hotspots like the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Caribbean, Italy, and many, many more don’t require tourists from the U.S. to get a visa for stays of 30 to 90 days.
But then there are countries that require at least a visa on arrival, which you’ll find on a visit to Egypt, Cambodia, and a few dozen more countries. And then there are notoriously difficult countries like China, Vietnam, and Brazil, which require a visa (or eVisa) outright before entering the country.
As you’re making travel plans, plug your potential destination into the State Department’s travel website to see what you’ll need. Just be sure to start that process long before your flight.
A Credit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
There are three important reasons to carry a credit card on your trip.
First, you’ll earn more points and miles by using a card whenever possible rather than cash. Second, you’ll limit your exposure to fraud – or having a checking account drained – by charging your expenses to a credit card rather than a debit card. No one wants to deal with that on vacation.
And third, the right card will allow you to avoid those pesky foreign transaction fees, which can quickly rack up depending on what you’re buying. Luckily, this is a popular feature on more and more credit cards hitting the market. Still, we have some favorites.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has been a mainstay in traveler’s wallets because it offers 2x points on all travel and dining purchases, along with a 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 within three months. It carries a $95 annual fee, which is not waived in the first year. But you could easily save more than that by avoiding foreign transaction fees – not to mention all that free travel.
Click Here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Another popular option is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Much like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can get 50,000 miles after spending just $3,000 in three months. But you’ll earn 2x miles on every single purchase – except for through Hotels.com, where you’ll earn an astounding 10x miles per dollar. And in addition to the no foreign transaction fee perk, you’ll also get up to $100 in credits to cover an application with Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
Click Here to learn more about the Capital One Venture Credit Card.
Stop Paying ATM Fees Worldwide with the Charles Schwab Debit Card
It might sound like an overstatement, but getting this card changed my life.
No need to worry about horrible ATM fees for trying to get your own money. No more getting ripped off by local exchange stations on the ground. No more carrying foreign currency around in a goofy belt or whatever fix you might have come up with.
Seriously, put a stop to all that nonsense and put this card in your wallet before your next international trip. It’s free to open an account with Charles Schwab, so there’s no reason not to.
Read our guide on opening an account. Two things to beware of: Charles Schwab will pull your credit score when you apply for the account which will result in a minor ding to your credit score – much like a credit card application. And this process requires you to set up a brokerage account with Charles Schwab.
But there’s no need to fund that brokerage account or trade any stocks. And given how much money and heartburn you’ll save yourself, it’s well worth it.
An International Power Adapter
You’ve got devices to charge on the road. And not every country uses the same power outlet to make that possible. So yes, you’ll need an adapter.
But long are the days when you needed a four-piece system to stay plugged in across the globe. There are plenty of single-unit options that allow you to charge your devices no matter where you rest your head. My favorite is the RXSQUL Universal Power Travel adapter, a compact cube that offers not just a power port, but four USB ports as well. Unless if you’re traveling with heavy-duty electronics, this can be the one-and-done solution for staying powered up on international travels.
Buy it on Amazon for $17.99
Global Entry or Mobile Passport
The last thing you want to do after getting off a long flight is sit in a long line to clear immigration and customs. Great news: You don’t have to.
This is where Global Entry comes in. This government-run trusted traveler program is your pass to a dedicated lane when arriving back in the U.S. It’s gotten me through immigration at even hectic airports like Los Angeles (LAX) within just two minutes. Even if you only travel internationally once a year, it’s easily worth it. And as a bonus, Global Entry will get you through airport security faster too, as it also includes TSA PreCheck enrollment.
Global Entry normally costs $100 for a five-year membership, but it can be yours for free. Check out the list of our favorite travel rewards credit cards cover the application fee for Global Entry.
So if you can’t get signed up before your next trip or don’t want to spring for a membership, check out Mobile Passport. This smartphone app will also get your own dedicated lane to get through immigration and customs faster at nearly every major U.S. airport with international service. You simply download it, take a selfie, enter your passport information and it’s good to go.
When your flight back to the U.S. lands, boot up the app and enter some information about your trip. Get your receipt and head straight through the dedicated line for Mobile Passport users and to an agent. It’s that simple.
A Good Carry On
Just because you’re heading to a different country doesn’t mean you should pack your entire wardrobe.
Packing in a carry on will save you money, time, and stress on your next trip. No more fees for checking baggage. No more waiting at the baggage claim. No more worrying about your bag being lost – or scrambling for alternatives if your airline loses it. It might take some practice to break your packing habits and travel lighter. We promise you’ll love the freedom and ease that comes with the carry-on life.
But you need the right gear. Check out the list of our favorite carry-on bags, where we’ve got a great option for almost any budget.
You’ve probably heard of one of our absolute favorites: Away. This chic brand was started by former executives from the glasses company Warby Parker. The carry-ons are stylish yet durable, come with a rechargeable and removable battery pack to keep your devices charged, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. The entire Thrifty Traveler team swears by these bags.
Buy it from Away for just $205 ($20 off!) with our link
Hold Your Mail
If you’re leaving the country, odds are this isn’t your typical long weekend away. You don’t want to come home to a mailbox stuffed full after your trip.
The U.S. Postal Service will hold your mail for up to 30 days, delivering the lot of it on whatever date you schedule after you’ve returned. Just be sure to schedule the hold at least a day in advance, and keep in mind you can’t schedule it more than a month ahead of time.
The best part? This essential service for travelers is absolutely free. Add it to your traveling repertoire on your next trip.
Whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran of international travel, preparing for long trips in foreign countries can be stressful. Add some of these items, services, and strategies to your checklist, and it can be seamless.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
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