Travel Easy - Simple Planning for Required Documents
Way to go! You’ve chosen a destination, booked your transportation and accommodation, scheduled your itinerary, and are counting down the days until your upcoming adventure. Now let’s make sure you have all your important documents and paperwork in order to make your trip go as smoothly as possible.
1. Passport & Visa(s)
Traveling internationally? If you haven’t already applied for your passport, you should apply as soon as possible. Processing times for passports can vary and they can also end up getting lost in the mail, as we have experienced. It’s a lot less stressful if you have your passport ready a few months before you have to travel than expecting to receive it a few days before you leave.
If you already have a passport, check the expiration date. As a general rule you’ll want to make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the last day of your trip. Also make sure you have enough empty pages for stamps/visas.
Some countries allow you to receive tourist visas upon arrival and may or may not have a fee. Other countries will require you apply for and receive a visa in your home country or at an embassy and will not allow you into the country if you haven’t already received the visa ahead of time. If you’re not sure if you need a visa before arrival, don’t know how to go about applying for one, or just have questions (and you’re from the US), we used PassportHealth to help us sort out what was needed. We also used them for Immunizations & Medications!
2. Immunizations & Medications
Start with notifying your doctor of your upcoming travel plans as they may be knowledgeable about any immunizations or vaccinations that you will need. However, certain shots are only normally available at travel clinics. While planning our trip to countries in central Africa and South Africa, we needed to get a yellow fever vaccination. We had read that other travelers have been able to get the shot from their doctor or even their local Walgreens, but there was a limited supply available at the time of our planning and our doctors were unable to acquire any for us. We contacted PassportHealth because they are a dedicated Travel Clinic, and they provided us with the yellow fever vaccination as well as detailed information about each country we were planning to visit.
3. Travel, Medical, and Health Insurance
First check to see what insurance your credit cards offer. If you purchase your flights, hotel, or car rental through a credit card, they may offer some type of travel insurance or coverage. Just make sure to keep track of the requirements. There may be stipulations on whether you used the card to purchase in-full or in-part, or how many days you will be traveling. Take the time to read the fine-print and it could save you from having to purchase additional insurance.
We do also recommend purchasing travel insurance for your trip for things not covered by your credit card or if you need additional coverage. Don’t just purchase insurance by going with what’s popular. Figure out what you need coverage for and then do your research. World Nomads is often recommended by travel bloggers and they may be a good choice, but for us they were a bit pricey and provided insurance for things we didn’t need. Maybe that will change in the future, but we ended up getting travel insurance through Berkshire Hathaway and have been happy with the coverage and service they have provided so far. Check out our Travel Insurance Research to see why that made sense to us at the time.
While we found the value in the policy that we chose with Berkshire Hathaway combined with the coverage provided by our credit cards, we also must note that Travel Insurance is not the same as Medical Insurance - and it typically does not include any at all. Most will offer some type of Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense, but do make sure that you check to see what qualifies for that coverage. If you don’t want to take that risk, we recommend considering Seven Corners Insurance - which offers an International Health Insurance plan. This is the company that we are currently considering switching to shortly before our first child is born. If you may have healthcare needs, make sure you search for and select their “International Health Insurance” plans, not just their “Travel Insurance” plans.
We have learned the hard way that getting pregnant without medical coverage could be costly. Luckily, we have found a great place in South Africa to give birth that we could afford without regular Health and Medical Insurance. Our Berkshire Hathaway Travel Insurance policy will cover us under the Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense, but only for unexpected complications during childbirth. This means that we have to pay for the regular maternity, delivery, and hospital costs associated with a regular delivery entirely out of pocket, but we would be covered for costs involved with unexpected complications. While our situation worked out, we are still concerned about our allowable travel visa stay in South Africa and whether we will end up receiving our child’s Passport from the U.S. Embassy in time before we are required to leave the country. We recommend avoiding this situation by checking out the companies we mentioned above.
During our research we found a few different countries that might be suitable to give birth at while you are traveling overseas - based on data we collected concerning maternal & infant mortality rates, and regular vs. C-section delivery cost ranges in both private and state hospitals. Please contact us if you find yourself in this situation and we will share this information with you (for free).
4. Copies of Important Documents
Bringing hard copies of important documents is extremely helpful in case you are not able to access the internet or a printer. However, it can add unwanted weight to your carry-on/luggage so you may just want to bring electronic copies. Please decide what is best for you. You can take photos or use a scanner app to have copies on your smartphone. You may also want to leave copies with a trusted family member or friend back home so they can send them to you - just in case your situation requires originals.
Here is a list of important documents that you will want to make copies of to help you out:
Rental car reservations
Drivers license/International Drivers License*
Travel Insurance cards
Medical & Health Insurance cards
Birth Certificate for your child**
*We had read online that we would need an International Drivers License for our car rentals. But none of the companies we rented from in Europe and the UK asked to see it. I’m not sure if we were exceptions but in our experience as Americans, it was not needed in the EU.
**If you are traveling with children to South Africa, you’ll need to bring the original or a certified copy of your child’s birth certificate. See details here. Also, some airlines may require proof of age if your child is traveling as a lap child.
5. Notify your bank(s)
Do you remember all of those reward credit cards you signed up for? You will want to notify the financial institutions associated with each card about your travel itinerary. Be sure to include layover cities and countries as well. You don’t want your card to be suspended or declined because you tried to use it during your 4-hour layover in Iceland on your way to Switzerland, like what happened to us. If you are bringing any debit cards make sure to also notify those banks. Most banks will allow you to notify them simply by logging into your online account and sending them a secure message. Some even have dedicated travel notification sections. You could also notify them by calling the number on the back of your card.