No matter where in the world you’re traveling to, the rules for international travel might not always be so straightforward. At the request of a good friend, I’ve put together a list of tips that I learned over time. Hope this helps in some way!
First thing to note, I rely heavily on 2 cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve, and my Simple debit card (Simple has announced its closure so I’ve moved over to Capital One 360 banking.) The Sapphire Reserve has gotten really popular in recent years and it’s the only credit card I carry around all the time. It has a 0% transaction fee, $300 travel stipend every year, it covered my $100 application fee for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, I received several years’ access to Priority Pass airport lounges, plus I get 3x the points on food, travel, and simply using Apple pay. Even though the annual fee is steep, I find this card well worth the money. Not to mention, the card itself has metal in it so it feels nice and heavy in my hand. It’s just a sexy card, ok?
Simple is a an online banking service that offers FDIC-Insured checking accounts. The company also partners with another bank, BBVA Compass, which holds the money in your accounts. The user interface is simply amazing and Erik was the one who introduced me to it. The app is so easy to use and I am able to budget my money better than using Mint, in my opinion. The debit card has a 1% ATM fee, and that goes for ANY international ATM. Simple has a select number of free ATMs to use in the United States, but overseas, the fee is only 1%. So if I withdraw $100 outside of the US, I only have to pay an additional $1. That can be better than any exchange rate on the market! So I never use my Simple debit card except for international travel, but I do use the iOS app on a daily basis. If you ever decide to sign up with Simple, please use my referral link: https://simple.com/friends/D2CQMKB and you can get a freebie! It’s currently an extra $20, though in the past they’ve given out mini card wallets.
So now that you understand where my finances are at, we can dive into this list!
- Make sure you have a printed hard copy AND digital copy of your passport and driver’s license. I have a picture of my passport and license on my phone, which I also send to my mom before I leave. I also have a hard copy in my suitcase at all times.
- Notify your bank about your travel dates. Then you won’t have to worry about your card being denied, and most mobile banking apps let you do this directly in the app. Chase, BoA, and Simple all do!
- TSA Pre-Check. If you have TSA Pre-Check like me, you don’t need to take off your shoes or belts or jackets and you can leave your laptop in your bag. You also don’t need to make sure your liquids are all in one quart-sized Ziploc bag. If you don’t have Pre-Check, well then you need to do everything above when going through security. Remember that your liquids must be in containers under 3.4 oz. https://www.tsa.gov/precheck
- Picking seats. You usually get to select your seat when you book your tickets, but some airlines make you wait 48 hours before your flight to let you at no additional cost. If you’re on a larger aircraft like a Boeing-747, that means each row has 10 seats with 2 aisles: 3 seats on each side and then 4 in the middle. If you don’t care for a window seat and prefer the aisle, I would suggest getting the aisle seat in the middle section. Why? Because rather than be obliged to let out 2 people to use the restroom, you only need to worry about the one person sitting next to you!
- 0% transaction fee credit cards or low transaction rates for ATM debit cards. This one was explained above with my trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve and Simple debit card. Capital One 360 Banking has a great debit card with 0% transaction fee and a wide network of ATMs.
- Some currency exchange locations match rates if you know that a bank you don’t use has a better rate. One particular location in downtown Santa Monica, Currency Exchange International, matches rates. They just need to give the bank or another location a call to verify. If you have a good debit card that has low or no foreign transaction fees, then I would just get enough foreign currency to get you out of the airport and then get money from an ATM when you arrive at your destination.
- The 6 month passport rule. You’d think that you’re free to use your passport until the day it expires, but some airlines won’t allow you to book a trip that’s in less than 6 months from your passport expiration date. This is because emergencies can happen while abroad and they want to make sure that you’re prepared if you end up staying longer than intended.
- Medicine and pill containers. I have small pill containers with Advil, Zyrtec, Mucinex, and DayQuil. I want to say that most countries carry the very popular brands, but not always. In France, Advil existed, but for other brands the name on the box of the medicine was simply the most active chemical or ingredient. And I have never heard most of them! So bring your own pills, or at least research what the medicine is called in the countries you’re visiting.
- Data roaming, buying a SIM card, or renting a wifi hotspot. Most plans with T-Mobile have some sort of added international data rates. I’m not sure about the other networks, but if you plan on buying a SIM card, be sure to research the best companies to go with. Some are very obviously aimed at tourists and are therefore super expensive. If you plan on renting a wifi hotspot, never go to the first shop you see at the airport. Browse around if you have time and compare the prices. You’ll want to get these hotspots from the airport because usually you’ll need to return them to the original store location.
- Leaving luggage at the airport. Sometimes you have a lot of suitcases but know that in one particular country, you don’t need everything with you. You can usually leave your luggage at the airport for safekeeping for a small fee.
- Alternatively, most larger European train stations do the same thing so if you have a short layover somewhere by train and want to explore the city for a bit, you can pay a small fee to lock up your bags somewhere.
- Customs! I have Global Entry, courtesy of my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This means that upon returning to the US, I can breeze through Customs and go straight to a kiosk to answer that questionnaire that sometimes gets passed around on your return flight. I scan my fingerprints, take a quick picture, and show the receipt to a Customs agent. When I returned from France, I was out of Customs in less than 10 minutes! Also note that it meant I had to wait longer at baggage claim, but I hate waiting in long lines so this was a good trade.
Do you have any specific questions or other tips to offer? Please comment or message me!