By Andrew Cannito
Founder & President, Homeland Security Network at American Military University
Planning on that couple’s getaway to Italy next summer, or perhaps a trip to Paris next semester for college graduation? Traveling abroad can be a nerve racking and sometimes a dangerous endeavor, especially if you’re traveling unprepared. Thankfully there are copious amounts of information out there to ease the burden of planning properly and help Americans make it home safely while still enjoying their time abroad. One of the best places to seek guidance and tips regarding overseas travel is the U.S. Department of State website.
There are several important tips to follow when traveling overseas whether it is for vacation, business, education, etc. Following these tips will not only make your travel safer, but also more enjoyable.
First things first, the Passport…
A U.S. Passport is required for all persons regardless of age traveling overseas, with the exception of Mexico or Canada if you have an authorized Enhanced Driver’s License. That said, even if you’re planning to travel to one of these two countries, it still doesn’t hurt to get a passport. A U.S. Passport is your proof of citizenship, and is a highly sensitive document. Once you have been approved and receive your passport, you should protect it at all costs. In fact, treat it the way you treat your Social Security card. When it’s not in use, keep it locked in a fireproof safe. When you are traveling, make several copies. As previously mentioned, this is your proof of citizenship and you will need it to return to the U.S. As for protecting the original document, there are several options that are recommended. A personal preference is to tuck it somewhere on your person; not in a pocket where a thief might be able to make a quick grab. The important thing is that wherever it is, it is secure and hidden. If for some reason your passport is lost or stolen, you should immediately go to the closest U.S. embassy or consulate to have it replaced.
Know where the closest Embassy/Consulate is…
Remember, wherever you are, you’re the foreigner now. You are in a different country, likely with different laws and host nation authorities. As a U.S. citizen you are granted certain protections, but don’t rely on the host nation to readily accommodate those protections. Before you depart the United States, look up where the closest embassy is to your intended travel destination and how long it will take you to get there by car and by foot. If you plan on changing locations during your travels, make sure you look up multiple embassies corresponding to each location. Embassies and consulates are both considered sovereign U.S. territory and granted diplomatic protections. The main difference between the two is that an Embassy is typically a location where an Ambassador (the highest ranking U.S. official on foreign soil) is stationed. A consulate may be thought of as a smaller “substation”.
Share your travel information and do your homework
Prior to leaving, in fact quite a bit before you actually leave, you should have copies of your itineraries printed and give them to responsible, trustworthy parties remaining stateside. You should also do your homework in regards to your travel. Visit the State Department website. Search for travel warnings and travel alerts in the areas you will be visiting and those areas surrounding your destination. You can sign up for updates regarding these warnings and alerts here. Know the difference between the two…a travel alert is when the State Department feels there is an issue in that area that you should be aware of both during your planning and your visit. A travel warning, on the other hand, is a serious issue where the State Department actually wants you to consider very carefully whether or not you should carry on with your travel plans. These warnings are serious and sometimes can lead to involuntary denial for U.S. citizens to travel to that particular location.
Health and medical considerations when traveling abroad
This is yet another incredibly important consideration to take into account. First and foremost, are you healthy enough for travel? While most can answer this question with relative ease, it doesn’t hurt to consult your physician prior to making the trip. Most likely your physician will want you to receive certain vaccinations which are usually specific to a region. Some of these vaccines or preventative medications require a lead time of being on the drug prior to travel. Remember to bring all of your medications with you, and consider asking for advanced refills, especially if the medication you are on is not easily obtainable overseas. Lastly, look up or seek credible advice on overseas medical help. If you find yourself in a pinch needing medical attention, making a hasty decision to find a local provider could put you in a worse spot than you are already in.
Just remember, traveling abroad is not like traveling one state over to visit relatives. Overseas travel is a serious and sometimes risky undertaking. FEMA states that for every single dollar spent on planning and preparation, $4 or more dollars is saved in the aftermath of a disaster. Consider travel in the same manner. For every bit of planning and preparation you do beforehand, it is likely to save your three or four times that amount in trouble down the road. The last thing anyone would want is to be an American stuck in another country without documentation, money, or friends and family. Be smart, plan ahead.
About the Author
Andrew Cannito has been a member of the emergency services community for nearly 10 years, and has served in the United States Army for more than seven years; currently serving in the Military Police Corps. He has worked in various disciplines with the public safety sector, and continues to expand his knowledge diversity in the homeland security field. In April of 2015, Andrew founded and became the first elected President of the Homeland Security Network at American Military University.
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