Traveling abroad for work or pleasure can be a great experience. But, it can also be a costly one, and even a risky one, if you aren't prepared in advance. Before getting on a plane, it's important to take a few key steps to ensure you've got your financial affairs in order and you're protecting your personal safety. Here are five things to check off your to-do list prior to leaving the United States for distant lands.
1. Make sure you can communicate without paying a fortune
When you're away, you may want to use your cellphone to look up directions or to call your Airbnb host when you cannot find where the keys are. You may also want to call home, or send a text message to let your family know you've arrived safely. Unfortunately, roaming charges for making calls or for using data while abroad can be very expensive. Depending upon your cellphone carrier, you may be able to avoid these charges by signing up for an international plan.
AT&T, for example, offers International Day Pass. This service allows you to pay just $10 daily to make calls, send texts and use data without paying roaming fees while traveling in eligible countries. Both calls and texts are unlimited, and you'll use your regular data allowance from your plan. Once you have International Day Pass activated on your account, your $10 daily charge is activated automatically whenever you use the data or make a call while abroad.
Sprint, by contrast, includes both international data and texting for free in unlimited plans with global roaming services, while calls made in qualifying countries will cost you $0.20 a minute .
2. Photocopy your important documents
When you're traveling, you need to bring your passport, driver's license and a credit card or two. Unfortunately, if your ID or your cards get stolen, you could be in a world of trouble. To make sure you're not at risk of being kept out of the country without proper identification, and to ensure you can call your credit card issuer promptly to report a lost or stolen card, make photocopies of all of your important documents and payment methods before you go abroad.
The State Department recommends you leave one copy with a friend at home and carry an additional copy with you in case you need it . If your wallet is stolen or your passport gets lost on your journey, your photocopies -- which prove who you are and show your passport number -- will allow the U.S. embassy to quickly assist you. You can also reference your copied credit card info to easily obtain phone numbers for creditors and to have the card numbers handy.
3. Check out what your credit card company will charge you
Paying with a credit card is convenient when traveling since you don't have to carry cash, you'll have fraud protection, and you may be covered for things like damage to rental cars. But, unfortunately, there could be a price to pay for using your credit card abroad. Some creditors charge you foreign transaction fees, which usually total around 3% .
There are plenty of cards that don't hit you with fees when traveling, so check with your card issuer to find out if you'll be charged a fee for using your card abroad. If one of your credit cards assesses this fee and another doesn't, you'll know exactly which card to use and which card to leave at home.
4. Exchange some currency
When you land in a foreign country, you may have to take shuttle transportation to your rental car agency or take a bus to your hotel. You'll likely want to tip the drivers of these vehicles or tip the bellmen at your hotel when you arrive. You may also want to grab a snack as soon as you arrive from a vendor who takes cash only.
To ensure you have cash when you need it, try to exchange some funds before leaving the U.S. You can visit AAA to get currency at a favorable exchange rate . Depending upon your destination, you may have to order your money several days before your departure to have it ready for you to pick up and take with you.
5. Check with the state department for travel advisories
Don't assume the country you're traveling to is necessarily a safe one, even if it is a common destination for U.S. visitors. Before heading abroad, always check with the State Department to find out if there are any travel advisories or warnings. You can learn about threats like an elevated terrorism risk or Zika so you can be prepared for what you'll encounter.
You can also register your trip with the Bureau of Consular Affairs -- an important step to take if you're traveling somewhere high-risk -- so you can more quickly get help or receive notifications of problems while you are traveling. While it's important to be prepared for financial issues like foreign transaction fees, protecting your safety should always be your top priority.
Ready to pack your bags?
Once you've registered and you've got your foreign cash and credit cards at hand, your calling plan in place, and copies of your key documents, you're ready to have an awesome -- worry free -- trip. Just one more thing -- don't forget to take lots of pictures!