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Embarking on an international adventure is an exciting and enriching experience, but it takes careful planning and preparation to ensure a fun and smooth travel experience.

That’s where I’ve got you covered!

I’ve traveled to Europe many times and have learned a lot from my visits. so I’ve put together a list of 20 essential tips for traveling internationally from the US because I want you to be as prepared as possible.

Whether you’ve traveled abroad before or going on your first international trip, this guide will get you to where you need to be to feel confident on your trip!

Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

1. Pay with a credit card that has travel protection

Using a credit card with travel protection for booking any travel, especially international trips, provides peace of mind. These credit cards offer features like trip cancellation insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and emergency medical assistance.

The credit card I use with travel protection is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or you can get the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which are both known for travel protection benefits.

Some other credit cards with travel protections include the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express, but other credit cards offer great travel benefits. You can explore some of these travel rewards credit cards here. Make sure you review the travel benefits carefully to make sure they align with your needs.

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2. Consider Travel Insurance

Credit card travel protections are definitely great to have, but depending on your situation even if you do have that protection you may want to consider supplemental travel insurance.

If you don’t have travel protections through a credit card then travel insurance offers financial protection and assistance in case of medical emergencies, trip cancellations, lost baggage, or other unforeseen circumstances.

VisitorsCoverage: Visitors Coverage is a travel insurance provider offering peace of mind whether you are seeking international travel insurance, visitors insurance, visa insurance, trip cancellation, cruise insurance and more. You can compare insurance plans and they make the claims process simple.

InsureMyTrip: InsureMyTrip is a travel insurance aggregator that compares travel insurance plans from multiple providers in one place. It’s user-friendly and makes the process of finding the right travel insurance coverage for your specific needs simpler. You can quickly compare prices, coverage options, and benefits from various insurance companies.

SafetyWing Insurance: SafetyWing is a popular travel insurance provider known for its comprehensive coverage and affordable pricing. They offer insurance plans designed specifically for digital nomads, long-term travelers, and remote workers.

SafetyWing’s policies typically provide coverage for medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation, travel delays, personal liability, and other essential benefits. Their insurance plans can be purchased on a monthly subscription basis, allowing flexibility in coverage duration to match your travel needs.

When considering travel insurance, please carefully review the policy terms, coverage limits, and exclusions. Different insurance providers may offer varying levels of coverage, so make sure to select a plan that aligns with your specific travel requirements.

Passengers at an airport currency exchange booth with a Global Exchange sign, next to an ATM marked 'Retrait' indicating cash withdrawal services
Don’t exchange currency at these desks. The exchange rate is not going to be good.

3. Don’t exchange currency ahead of time

It’s generally not the best idea to exchange currency before you leave for your trip. You can usually get cash out of the ATMs at the airport upon arrival, but you’ll want to do some research on this in advance so there aren’t any surprises.

Here are some reasons why you should wait:

Unfavorable Exchange Rates: Currency exchange rates can fluctuate significantly over time. You may not want to exchange currency too far in advance for this reason.

Hidden Fees and Commissions: Exchanging currency at home or in your home country can involve hidden fees and commissions. Currency exchange providers may charge inflated rates or add additional fees, reducing the value of your exchanged currency.

Accessibility to ATMs and Local Banks: Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll probably have easy access to ATMs and local banks where you can withdraw cash in the local currency. This can often give you better exchange rates.

While waiting to exchange currency is generally the better option, it’s still a good idea to have a small amount of local currency on hand for immediate expenses upon arrival. So you should plan and make sure you’re prepared for when you arrive.

An HSBC bank branch entrance with two ATM machines marked for cash withdrawals and deposits, alongside a glass door leading inside the brightly lit interior.
Take cash out of bank ATMs

4. Get an ATM card that doesn’t charge fees

When you’re traveling abroad, having an ATM card that won’t charge you fees worldwide can save you from incurring unnecessary charges during your trip. For example, Charles Schwab is an online bank that not only doesn’t have any minimums or monthly fees, but they also don’t charge any ATM fees worldwide. They will refund 100% of any withdrawal fees worldwide.

I’m with Chase Private Client which also provides ATM fee reimbursement worldwide, but if I didn’t already have that benefit I like knowing that Charles Schwab is another great option. There are also other online banks out there with similar benefits as well.

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5. Always pay in local currency

If you’re traveling abroad and you have the option to pay in the local currency or US dollars, you always pay in the local currency.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Paying in the local currency helps you avoid dynamic currency conversion fees imposed by merchants or ATMs, which can be costly. It’s another way for them to get you on hidden fees by making it seem like it’s the more convenient option for you.

It’s not, it’s the more expensive option.

6. Bring a money belt or travel wallet

You probably think that bringing a money belt is a touristy thing, but it’s how to keep your money secure while traveling abroad. There are so many pickpockets and the last thing you want to do is make yourself an easy target.

Money belts are convenient and discreet. I always have one with me with my passport, cash, and credit cards. So if my purse does get stolen or lost, I still have what’s important. I also stash a little extra cash and a credit card in my hotel room that way not everything is in one place.

7. Get a local eSIM card

When traveling abroad it can be expensive to stay connected. Some cell phone carriers may offer you international plans, but those can get pricey. One thing you should consider is getting a local eSIM card.

Easy Activation and Flexibility: With a local eSIM card, you can conveniently activate a local data plan on your smartphone without the need for physical SIM cards.

Cost Savings: Using a local eSIM card can often be more cost-effective than relying solely on international roaming services provided by your home carrier.

No Need to Change Your Phone Number: The best part is that you don’t need to change your phone number.

Airalo is a trusted provider of local eSIM cards, offering coverage in numerous countries worldwide. They have a user-friendly app and website where you can easily browse available plans, activate your eSIM, and manage your data usage.

This may not work for everyone. Before purchasing a local eSIM card please check the compatibility of your device with eSIM technology and ensure that it is unlocked to accept eSIM cards. I made the mistake of purchasing an eSIM for my brand-new cell phone. Although it was eSIM compatible, I was unable to unlock the phone until after 60 days after purchasing it. Don’t make that same mistake!

A visitor wearing a black beret and patterned poncho posing beside a classic painting of two figures in a wooded landscape, displayed in a golden frame in a museum.
I alternate between using my wrist strap and neck lanyard to secure my cell phone

8. Protect your phone

Besides getting your wallet stolen or lost while traveling, the next worst thing that could happen is a stolen or lost phone. Your phone is your everything it’s your camera, navigation device, communication hub and so much more.

So to keep it safe, you should consider purchasing a Lanyard Adjustable Neck Strap and Cell Phone Lanyard Wrist Strap. The last thing you need is for your phone to get swiped while you’re trying to take a picture or you get bumped into on a train and your phone gets lost.

9. Use Points to pay for airfare and hotels

If you’re not already using points and miles to help you pay for travel, you’re missing out! By leveraging points earned on everyday purchases and understanding loyalty rewards programs you can save a lot of money especially when traveling abroad.

Check out my blog for posts about using points for travel to find out if earning points and miles is right for you and grab my Free Budget Travel Cheatsheet.

10. Check your Passport Expiration

Checking the expiration date of your passport before an international trip is the most important thing you can do. Some countries require at least six months of validity beyond your intended departure date.

Renewing a passport takes time, so check it well in advance of your travel. You’ll also want to make sure you have sufficient blank visa pages too. By staying proactive you can prevent totally avoidable travel disruptions and give yourself some peace of mind.

couple wearing sunglasses and hats take a selfie with a sweeping view of a city and coastline from a mountain summit in the background.

11. Get Global Entry

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that expedites entry into the United States for pre-approved travelers. It offers benefits such as streamlined customs processing and includes TSA PreCheck.

The Global entry application costs $100 and is good for 5 years. Certain credit cards offer reimbursement for the Global Entry application fee. Examples include Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

If you don’t have Global entry, check out the free Mobile Passport Control app. It allows digital customs declaration and expedited entry via designated lanes at participating U.S. airports.

Investing in Global Entry saves time and offers a smoother customs experience. The fact that it also includes TSA PreCheck for domestic airport security makes it even more worth every penny.

12. Research Public Transportation

Before you embark on your international trip, consider researching the local public transportation options. It’s cost-effective, reliable, and provides an authentic cultural experience. Public transportation helps you avoid traffic and parking hassles, reduces your environmental impact, and saves money.

Make sure you gather information on routes, schedules, payment methods, and safety guidelines. When I’m planning out my transportation for a trip, I like using Rome2Rio. It gives me all of the transportation options available in one place.

13. Download offline maps

The cell phone reception may not be as good at your destination and you’ll want a backup plan in case your navigation isn’t working. Offline maps eliminate the need for an internet connection and provide reliable navigation in areas with limited coverage.

Downloading Google Maps offline can also save battery life, and allow you to plan, and mark points of interest. With offline maps, you can confidently explore new destinations without relying on data or Wi-Fi connections.

A person making a mobile payment using a contactless card reader at a cafe, with a coffee cup and glass of water on the table.

14. Learn how to tip

When traveling abroad from the US, it can be a little confusing to know how you should tip. Do some research on the tipping etiquette of your destination country before you travel. Also, while you’re traveling be aware of any service charges that may already be included in your bill at restaurants or hotels and therefore additional tipping is not required.

15. Register with the U.S. Embassy

Registering with the US Embassy when traveling abroad can be a wise decision. By registering, you can receive important safety updates and travel advisories specific to your destination, helping you stay informed and prepared for any potential risks or emergencies.

In the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest, or other emergencies, the embassy can reach out to registered US citizens and provide assistance, evacuation plans, or consular services. Registering also enables the embassy to locate and contact you or your designated emergency contacts more easily in case of an unforeseen situation.

It’s a simple and proactive step that can enhance your safety and peace of mind while traveling overseas.

It’s important to note that registering with the U.S. Embassy does not guarantee specific protections or privileges but serves as a means of communication and access to support in case of need. Please also review the U.S. Department of State’s guidelines and recommendations for travelers to your destination country.

16. Learn Basic Local Etiquette

This may seem basic, but you’d be surprised how important it can be to understand and respect the customs and cultures of the countries you visit. Knowing and practicing local customs, such as greetings, table manners, dress codes, and communication styles can help you avoid unintentional offenses and fosters a sense of mutual respect and appreciation.

A passenger asleep on a train with their head resting on a plush toy, with a blurred view of trees and buildings passing by the window.

17. Be Prepared for Jet Lag

Jet lag can cause fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and a general sense of disorientation. If you want to start enjoying your trip as soon as possible you’ll want to do whatever you can to get ahead of jet lag.

Try these:

  • Download apps that can help like Timeshifter.
  • Try adjusting your sleep schedule a few days before you leave by gradually aligning with your destination’s time zone.
  • Stay hydrated! I know it can be challenging while traveling or on vacation but don’t overdo the alcohol or caffeine.
  • When you arrive at your destination try to get in some natural sunlight as soon as possible (if not arriving in the evening).
  • Adjust your meal times to the local schedule as soon as possible.
A traveler in an airport carrying a large backpack and holding a teddy bear, waiting in a busy terminal area

18. Pack a Portable Power Bank

Packing a portable charger when traveling abroad from the US is one of the best things you can do. You’re phone and devices do a lot for you and the last thing you need is for them to die without any hope of recharging.

You may also not realize how much of your battery you use when you’re traveling. And what’s great about a portable charger is that you don’t have to worry about finding an available outlet.

19. Bring a universal outlet adapter

Even if you have a portable charger with you, you still need to charge it eventually. So bringing a universal outlet adapter when traveling abroad is very important. Different countries have varying types of power outlets and voltage standards, which may differ from those in the US.

A universal outlet adapter allows you to plug your devices into foreign outlets, regardless of the socket configuration. They are compact and lightweight so they won’t take up too much room in your luggage.

20. Bring Credit Cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees

Don’t make the mistake of bringing credit cards that charge you unnecessary fees. There are plenty of great credit cards out there. Some of these credit cards not only don’t have annual fees, but also don’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Here are my recommendations:

  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

21. Bring more than one Credit Card

When I travel internationally, I always bring a handful of credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. But I don’t keep all of these credit cards on me.

If for some reason I lose a credit card or it gets stolen, I stash my credit cards in different places.

I keep a credit card hidden in my suitcase in my hotel, in the safe, and in my money belt. I never keep my passport, wallet, or anything valuable in my purse. This way if my purse gets stolen, I’m not losing anything of value.

Do I need a visa to travel internationally from the US?

Yes, in some cases, you will need a visa to travel internationally from the US. The requirement for a visa depends on the country you plan to visit and the purpose of your trip. Some countries have visa exemption agreements with the US, allowing US citizens to enter without a visa for a certain period.

However, many countries do require US citizens to obtain a visa before arrival. You’ll want to research the specific entry requirements of your destination country by visiting the embassy or consulate website.

How far in advance should I book my international flights?

For the best cash fares and availability, you want to start looking at international flights 10-12 months in advance. You want to book international flights starting at 8 months out, but no later than 3 months out (unless you find a last-minute deal). The key to booking any flight is to be flexible, but once you find the price you’re willing to pay, book it.

If you want insight into how I like to search and book flights check out the YouTube video below.

If you’re looking to book award flights, I’d recommend checking for award availability as far out as possible and being prepared to be flexible. Each airline loyalty program has its nuances and you’ll want to do some research and familiarize yourself with the program before you book your flight.

I recently booked a flight to Spain on Iberia using Chase Ultimate Rewards, I filmed a YouTube video of my award booking process!

For more tips check out my posts about mistakes to avoid when booking flights and how to decide if you should book directly or through an OTA.

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