THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE GOING SOMEWHERE NEW
Passport and Visa Requirements
One of the most important things to do before you travel abroad is to check your destination's passport and visa requirements. Every country has different rules, and it can take several weeks or months to obtain the proper documentation, so advance planning is crucial.
First rule of thumb: Having a passport is not always enough. Many countries require that your passport be valid for up to six months beyond the end date of your vacation. For example, if your Singapore vacation ends in September, your passport must be valid until March of the following year. Be sure to check the U.S. Department of State's website for detailed country-specific information about your destination's passport requirements. Some countries will not admit you unless your passport has a very specific number of blank visa pages at the end. If your itinerary includes multiple nations, make sure to check the blank-page requirements—either one blank page or two—for each country. If you need to add extra pages to your passport before your trip keep in mind that it takes approximately four to six weeks for applications to be processed. After making sure your passport is up to snuff, find out whether your destination requires a visa in order to gain entry. The State Department's website allows you to search by country for your destination's entry requirements. You can also check the country's U.S. embassy website for detailed information about entry and exit requirements for American visitors. While some countries do not require a visa at all, others have a more difficult process that involves obtaining a visa in person from your nearest consulate.
Seasonal Closings, Festivals, and Holidays
Accidentally booked a trip with your grandma to Brazil, only to be greeted by half-naked ladies and drunken revelers? You should have checked this year's Carnival dates. Didn't realize that much of Italy shuts down over the Easter holiday? It's important to know about seasonal closings, holidays, and festivals in your destination before you book your trip.
In some places, restaurants and tourist sites operate on shorter schedules or even close completely during the winter months (and also in August, due to workers' vacations). Be sure to do your research before booking your travel or risk being met with a ghost town upon arrival. And while it can be great fun to partake in holiday celebrations and festivals in a different country, you should expect the logistics of travel to be a bit more difficult, the crowds to be bigger, and many local businesses to be closed.
Before booking your travel, familiarize yourself with the health situation in your destination. The first step is learning about any health risks related to your country on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) destination page, which has health information for more than 200 international destinations. Next, check the CDC's travel notices page as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) for any travel health notices or warnings that apply to the country or countries in question. The CDC then recommends that you visit a doctor, who will answer your questions and administer vaccines and medication according to your personal health, your medical history, and the requirements of the country you plan to visit. Vaccines for travel can be separated into three categories: routine, recommended, and required. Make sure you're up-to-date on routine vaccinations, talk to your doctor about vaccines specifically recommended for your destination, and be sure to get any required vaccines. (The only required vaccines at this time are yellow fever for travel to some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America, and meningitis for travel to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj.) Beyond vaccines, the CDC website provides additional health information, such as food and water safety measures and country-by-country malaria information, including whether antimalarial drugs are recommended for your destination.
Travel Warnings And Advisories
Before departing, find out whether the country or countries you intend to visit are under any severe travel warnings or alerts. Do this by checking the State Department's website for current warnings (for long-term conditions, like armed conflicts or security threats) and alerts (for short-term conditions, like regional sports events or mass demonstrations). But try not to judge an entire country by just a few regions, or by its reputation alone. If the travel warning only advises against visiting a certain city or region, use your best judgment as to whether you still wish to visit that country—making sure to stay away from the area in question. Likewise, a country with a bad reputation might actually be in the midst of a revival, moving on from a legacy of violence or unrest and focusing on making cultural, social, and economic strides. (And that often translates to discounts on hotels and airfare as incentives for tourism.) By all means, don't ignore warnings, but don't make false assumptions about a place.
Local Laws and Customs
It's every traveler's nightmare: pulling a Claire Danes and accidentally getting thrown in jail in another country, where you don't speak the language or know your rights. And while you'd really have to step over the line in order for that to happen, it's worthwhile to brush up on local laws before embarking on your trip, if only to learn something new. You might be surprised at how quirky and unexpected some laws can be. In addition to learning the laws in your destination, make an effort to understand the customs and traditions by which people live, as well as the reasons behind them—be they religious, political, or otherwise. It's simply a matter of respect. So when in Japan, slurp to your heart's content, but don't wear your shoes inside of someone's home. You don't want to be rude, so make sure to study up before you go, lest you end up looking like an annoying American tourist.
Before you leave, call both your credit-card company and your bank to let them know that you will be traveling abroad in order to avoid getting your account flagged for suspicious activity. While you have your bank on the phone, find out if it charges a foreign-transaction fee and, if so, how much it is. Depending on the answer, you might want to look into using a credit card that doesn't add this surcharge. You'll want to have some local currency in your pocket when you arrive in your destination, but we don't recommend changing money at the airport. The exchange desks usually charge the highest transaction fees since their last-minute customers don't have any other options. So shop around and make sure you find the best exchange rate (usually your local bank) before you go. Once you arrive, make big purchases with a credit card but withdraw local currency (from an ATM within your bank's global network) with a debit card.
Arrival Or Departure Tax
Beyond passport and visa requirements, some countries have an additional requirement for visitors: an entry or exit tax. Check the State Department's country-by-country entry requirements to see if your destination is on the list. The amount of the fee and how and when it’s charged vary by destination. Indonesia, for example, charges a 150,000 Rupiah departure tax at the Jakarta airport—and it must be paid in Rupiah. In Chile, U.S. visitors must pay a $160 "reciprocity fee" when they enter the country via Santiago International Airport. You don't want to be short on the required cash on your way in or out of the country, so hit up the ATM before you go.