Please note: the following information is provided only as a guide to help you go in the know and avoid problems when checking-in for your flight and with immigration and customs clearance.
Countries have varying rules and regulations that occasionally change, so do your homework, get all your information and necessary documents well in advance of departure to avoid what could be serious problems when you travel. Having proper documentation is always your responsibility.
The United States Department of State offers country-by-country information for US residents: World Travel Information
You can also contact the embassy or consulate of the countries you plan to visit to get the most current information. Google them on the web for addresses and phone numbers.
Almost every country in the world requires visitors and permanent residents to present a valid passport or an approved identity card to enter. Many require at least 1 or 2 blank visa pages and at least 3 or 6 months remaining before expiration.
GETTING A UNITED STATES PASSPORT: If you do not have a passport or if yours will expire soon, order as quickly as you can. During certain times of the year, it may take a very long time to get one. Many post offices accept first-time and renewal applications, and some locations can take your passport photo. You will find the information to get started at this site: Get Your US Passport
BE AWARE: a passport does not guarantee admittance to a country. Authorities can deny entry for many reasons, especially if the passport holder has a criminal record (including DUI).
Each country has their own rules and regulations regarding who and what (including money and medicine) and how much is allowed to enter. Prohibited items usually include plants, seeds, fresh meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and other unprocessed food and materials. Alcohol and tobacco products are often limited to small amounts. Check with the entry country’s authorities for current rules and regulations.
A visa is an endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave or stay in a country for a specified period of time.
Some countries require visas only for passport holders or residents of certain countries. Some visas are free and some require payment of a fee. Some must be obtained directly from an embassy, consulate or agency. Some are available only on the internet while others are available at the arrival airport.
It all depends on what each country requires so you MUST check early with the countries you will visit because if a visa is needed, the processing time for some can be lengthy.
A transit visa is a temporary permit that allows a short stay in a country between connecting flights. Some countries require a transit visa only for passport holders or residents of certain countries and sometimes even when the passenger remains airside and does not pass through immigration. If you do not need a visitor visa to enter a country, you do not need a transit visa when connecting through it.
Some countries such as Mexico require a Tourist Card instead of a visa for passport holders from certain countries. Tourist cards are sometimes free and can be obtained by one or more of the following ways:
on the internet*
directly from an embassy or consulate
from some airlines when checking in
at the arrival airport
* – for faster entry processing, Mexico encourages getting the Tourist Card online
IMPORTANT: Please note that even if your destination country requires only a Tourist Card to enter, you will still need a passport to return to the United States.
Check with the countries you will visit to see if you will need a visa or a tourist card or neither.
TSA PRECHECK and GLOBAL ENTRY (for participating countries)
With a 5 year, $85 membership, TSA PRECHECK lets you speed through special security lanes at participating US airports without having to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. I have used it (as a Global Entry inclusion). Last time I sped through security at Orlando airport in 3 minutes instead of the more than 25 minute wait in the regular lines. You can apply online: TSA Precheck
GLOBAL ENTRY is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival into the United States. I have used it, and it is quite fast–no more standing in long processing lines! The cost is $100 for 5 years and includes TSA PreCheck. You apply online: Global Entry
Both programs save you time and stress, but which is the better deal? For my money, especially if traveling internationally and for only a few dollars more, GLOBAL ENTRY wins because it has almost the same application process as TSA Precheck, but includes the features of both programs.
(That being said, I have experienced a Global Entry exception: if your boarding pass for a US domestic flight is issued by a non-participating airline [usually an international carrier] and does not show “TSA Precheck” on it, you can not go through the special security lanes.)
DRUGS AND CONTRABAND ARE A DEFINITE NO-NO: Some countries have very harsh penalties up to and including huge fines, long prison sentences and even execution for carrying contraband, especially banned drugs.
If you or any members of your party need special arrangements such as for a wheelchair, special meal or handicapped facilities you should make your requests to the airlines, hotels and other providers at the time of booking or as soon as possible thereafter. In some cases, special arrangements can only be requested and not confirmed or, because of limited availability, are only considered in the order received.
Please do not show up at the airport pet in hand and expect to fly without making prior arrangements. It will not happen (although I have seen it tried).
Animals and birds cannot travel unless they are in an airline approved carrier with required papers that include a current rabies shot. At the destination, they may also be subject to inspection and/or quarantine sometimes for lengthy periods (such as in Hawaii and Great Britain, although their rules have now been somewhat loosened). Before you travel, check with the destination authorities and your airline for current rules and regulations.
Instead of traveling in a heated section of the baggage hold, some airlines allow small pets to travel in the cabin for an extra charge if space is available. Check with your airline for their requirements, fees and availability.
Did you know that in some countries the US dollar (USD) is not only accepted but is also the official currency? Visit these places, and you can forget about calculating exchange rates and paying those annoying and expensive exchange fees. These countries are:
British Virgin Islands
Turks and Caicos
And of course, the United States territories:
Northern Mariana Islands
US Virgin Islands
There are other nations that use the US dollar alongside their official currency. These countries are:
Bahamas (fixed at 1 US dollar = 1 Bahamas dollar)
Barbados (fixed at 1 US dollar = 2 Barbados dollars)
Belize (fixed at 1 US dollar = 2 Belize dollars)
Panama (fixed at 1 US dollar = 1 Panama balboa)
(To make things easier when visiting these countries, use newer 1, 5 and 10 dollar bills [no coins]. Your change may be in the local currency.)
Additional countries widely accept US dollars, but the exchange rate is not fixed. Here are several of these nations:
(Again while there, use newer 1, 5 and 10 dollar bills [no coins], and your change may be in the local currency.)
You can see the most up to date currency rates for every country by going to: World Currency Rates