There are a lot of firsts in all our lives - first car, first house, first kiss. So, there is no shame in having questions or anxiety the first time you are traveling internationally. It may not even be your first time, but maybe a lot of time has gone by and a lot of changes in travel procedures have occurred. You want to know what to expect so that you are prepared. After all, being prepared just may take a bit of the stress out of the travel process. Here are some tips and recommendations that should alleviate any uncertainties and help you be ready to experience an amazing trip filled only with good memories!
1. Purchasing tickets. If you are not going to use a travel professional to assist you with your flights, please make sure your international tickets are purchased in your name as listed on your passport. If you don't have a passport yet, please purchase the tickets in your full name as listed on your birth certificate. Honeymooning? The ticket as well as passport will be in the maiden (current) name of the bride-to-be. Don't worry, if you request a name change within one year of issuance, the new bride can get her passport name changed after she gets home from the honeymoon. Guys, remember to add any "Jr., II" if applicable.
2. Passport book vs. Passport Card! If you have been to the Travel.State.gov site and investigated passports and still aren't sure which one you should get, you're not alone. Here is a simple answer: if you are traveling via an airplane and landing in another country, a passport book is required. If you are taking a cruise that ports out of a U.S. city, a passport card or Enhanced license (only offered in Michigan, New York, Vermont & Washington) will suffice, but a passport book is recommended. Why? Well, if you happen to get ill or have a family emergency that requires you to "abandon ship" and fly home from St. Lucia, a passport book will be required to enter the U.S.A. via air.
3. Security and carry-on packing rules. There is a lot of good information on what is allowed in your carry-on from the TSA. All liquids should be 3.4 oz or less and in a quart sized Ziploc bag. In regards to security, once you check in with your airline, you will go through a line that requires a passport check to ensure it is real. Once you go through that, you will be in line to go through the screening process. Take off your shoes, your belt, your coat or light sweater, empty your pockets, put all items in a bin (or two), place your carry-on suitcase (if you have one) on the belt and wait for them to signal you through. Sometimes you will randomly be chosen to do a full body screen where you put your hands up over your head with your feet separated and they do a scan. This is random...don't worry!
4. Packing. I recommend keeping your valuables on you - cameras, jewelry, medications etc. If you take a medication that is a matter of life or death, please take more with you than you need and have a new prescription written up as a back-up. You can never be too safe. Don't take jewelry that you can't live without! Make sure you find out what the dress code requirements are for restaurants of your resort (if applicable). For example, some will require dress pants and close-toed shoes for men. Pack two days of essentials in your carry-on luggage if you have a connecting flight.
5. Customs & Immigration. On your flight to your final destination, you will be given a form to fill out. Generally, the flight attendants will make an announcement and give some pointers or tips on how to fill them out (depending on where you are going). The basic information you will need is your name, passport number, flight numbers, dates of travel, reason for travel and where you are staying. It will request the address of where you are staying...it is okay to just put the name of your hotel as you most likely won't have the address.
6. At the airport in your vacation destination! Almost there...just a few more steps and you'll officially be on your vacation! Once you arrive in the country you are visiting, you will be required to go through the immigration line. Here you will show your passports and the form you filled out on the airplane. Once your passport is stamped (woo-hoo!), you will head to the luggage area, get your luggage and then head to Customs. This is generally really simple in most airports and may require a screening of the luggage or random search and then you're off!
7. Heading back home! Can't resist the duty free liquor at the airport? Let's face it, a good bottle of rum is like a household staple. So, you can't help buying Appleton Rum at $12 a bottle and you know several friends and family who would appreciate it as well. As long as you are 21 or older, you can purchase 1 liter of duty free liquor. So, once you purchase this at your vacation destination airport, you will carry it on your flight. If you have a non-stop flight, then you are good to go. If you have a connecting flight, then after you are admitted back in through the U.S. Immigration screening, you will proceed to get your luggage. Before going through Customs with your luggage, you will need to securely place your newly purchased liquor in your checked bag. This is because once you clear Customs, you will then go through another security screening where you have to comply to the TSA requirements for carry-ons. Remember: liquids must be 3.4 oz or less and in one quart sized Ziploc bag.
8. Customs & Immigration coming back to the U.S.A. If you read #7 then you are semi-prepared for this. On your flight back to the United States, you will fill out the Customs and Immigration form. Upon arrival in the U.S. you will first go through Immigration for admittance back into the good ole USA. Following that, you will get your luggage from baggage claim and proceed to the Customs line. This is generally quite simple as well. P.S. The form is very easy and much like the form described in point #5. Please do not feel that you have to write down ever souvenir you purchased as a separate item. So your list might have something like coffee, souvenirs, liquor or food listed. After Customs, you will go through another screening like in #3...shoes off, pockets emptied etc. As a side note, for those of you purchasing your own flights, make sure you have enough time to go through Customs & Immigration plus make your connecting flight! A good rule of thumb is 1.5 hours or more. Once you clear Customs, follow the signs and drop your luggage back off to be re-checked on your next flight out. This area for luggage is clearly marked and generally has a customer service area for your airline near it.
· A few miscellaneous tips:
o Leave your hotel information and travel itinerary with a family member.
o Give your travel professional the name and phone number of an emergency contact.
o Call your bank before you leave the country.
o Purchase an international calling card.
o Lock all valuable items in your in-room safe.
o Check-in online for your flight 24 hours prior to departure.
o Do not use your cell phones while in any Immigration line.
· Resources you may want to check out:
Transportation Security Administration (TSA): www.tsa.gov
Passport info: http://travel.state.gov/passport//