International Travel: The Easy Way

Technology has made running international companies from home almost a matter of routine. Even so, entrepreneurs may find that even cyber-clients occasionally want face-to-face time. This means traveling abroad – an adventure when all goes right, a disaster when things go wrong,

Whether a veteran globe-trotter or a travel novice, just about anyone doing business outside the United States can benefit from current information. This is particularly true when it comes to customs, passports, visas, emergency resources, high-risk travel and communications.

International Customs: A Challenge to American Tradition

When journeying abroad, new business travelers are inclined to feel more comfortable when they know what to expect after arrival. So here is a tour guide, of sorts, that sums up the international customs experience:

  • In-flight forms: Carefully complete all paperwork prior to landing. International in-flight magazines typically include instructions; or ask your flight attendant.
  • Immigration and passport control: Visitors must present passports, visas and additional paperwork completed during the flight. Photos and identification information should be visible and ready for inspection. To facilitate matters in case of a lost passport, travel professionals suggest carrying a photocopy separate from the actual document.
  • Customs: In most countries, agricultural inspectors can take more than an hour to go through declared articles, so leave flowers, plants, selected packaged foods, unwrapped food and produce behind. If you are unsure as to an item’s status, declare it.
  • Courtesy: International airports are packed with travelers and language may be an issue. Both these factors may well contribute to long, frustrating waits. To avoid a secondary screening or other unpleasant delay, stay calm and polite. Use the lines as a good time to peruse the foreign phrasebook and dictionary.

Passports: All about the Protocol

Obtaining a passport – a document verifying the identity and nationality of the bearer – can take weeks during peak summer travel times. What’s more, new federal regulations stipulate that certified birth certificates presented in the application process must list the full names of the applicant’s parents as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship. What’s more, many countries require that U.S. passports have up to six months validity remaining for entry. For these reasons, new entrepreneurs with international clients would do well to apply now, even if they don’t plan to travel anytime soon.

The U.S State Department’s travel division (www.travel.state.gov/passport) offers some practical guidelines to facilitate the application process.

  • Fill out Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport, available online at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html. You must apply in person if this is your first U.S. passport; you are under 16; or your previous U.S. passport was issued before age 16. You also must apply in person if it was lost, stolen, or damaged; was issued more than 15 years ago; or your name has changed since the most recent issuance, and the change is not legally documented.
  • Submit completed Form DS-11 to a nearby Passport Application Acceptance Facility. These include many clerks of courts, post offices, some public libraries and a number of state, county and municipal offices. More than two dozen passport agencies serve individuals traveling within 14 days or who require their passport within four weeks in order to obtain a foreign visa (by appointment only).
  • Required documentation during the passport application process mandates one personal photograph, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver’s license. Bring a photocopy of the front and back of each ID document you will present when you apply. This must be on plain white, 8 1/2 x 11 inch standard paper stock, showing the front and the back of your ID. A fee schedule is available online.
  • Renewal by mail is an option when the most recent passport is undamaged and available to submit; when it was obtained within the past 15 years; when the applicant was 16 or older upon issuance; or when the applicant’s name is unchanged or a name change has been legally documented. Passport renewal application forms are available for download on the State Department’s Web site.
  • When a passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it immediately to the local police and to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. A global list of these agencies, along with individual websites, is available at http://www.usembassy.gov/.

A Word about Visas

In addition to a passport, U.S. citizens traveling abroad also may need a visa, depending on the country of destination. Because requirements vary, the State Department provides a comprehensive list of nations (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html), with details on their individual visa application processes.

Other vital information on this site includes the locations of all U.S. Embassy and Consulate offices, crime and security information, health and medical conditions, drug penalties and localized hot spots.

In Case of Emergency: The Right Resources Help

Proverbial wisdom says the savvy business traveler plans ahead for any emergency that might come up during a trip abroad. But unexpected things do happen, so a back-up plan is equally important. The U.S. State Department has addressed both sides of the questions.

Official recommendations follow, with a few more added.

  • Register travel plans with the State Department through The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/step.html) or STEP. A free service provided by the federal government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to or living in a foreign country, STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip so the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency, as well as notify family members.
  • Carry a signed passport with a completed emergency page.
  • Leave copies of the itinerary and passport data page with family and friends.
  • Check into overseas medical insurance. Ascertain whether coverage applies abroad and whether emergency expenses are included. If not, consider supplemental insurance.
  • Become familiar with local conditions and laws. Details for specific countries are available on The State Department’s Web site at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html.
  • Avoid becoming a crime victim. Do not wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry, and do not carry a lot of cash. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in airports, stores, tourist attractions, offices and other public areas. Never accept packages from strangers.
  • Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad and in the U.S. are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates is listed on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. http://www.usembassy.gov/.

Mobility /Communications: Making the Connection

With cell phones and laptops probably the most valuable communication tools for American entrepreneurs, businesspersons traveling overseas should do advance research so that they will be able to stay in touch:

  • The Internet. Better hotels in major foreign cities offer some online availability (including WiFi technology for laptops) if not in individual rooms, then in the lobbies or designated business centers. The number of Internet cafes abroad likewise is growing, with relatively low rates for computer/Internet usage.

    Free hotspots are on the rise, too. The Wi-Fi-FreeSpot™ Directory (http://www.wififreespot.com/) provides a comprehensive list of cafes, airports, public facilities and hotels that offer free Wi-Fi. Coverage includes Europe, Asia, Central and South America, Mexico, Caribbean, Middle East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, as well as the U.S. and Canada.

  • Laptops. Most laptops have power systems capable of converting voltage from 110 to 240 automatically, but make sure to pack an adaptor so you can plug in your power cord and your surge protector. A back-up battery will ensure continued access in countries where electrical power is unavailable or unreliable. Invest in a surge protector with a telephone jack to protect your laptop if dial-up Internet access is the only option.
  • Phone system. If your laptop lacks a built-in modem, you may need to invest in an external modem to access the Internet via phone lines where wireless capabilities are inadequate. Local dial-up service is usually available, often with low-cost prepaid access cards from the providers.
  • International calling cards. These prepaid cards are a practical way to make long-distance (domestic or international) calls, and there are no monthly bills or detailed statements. Available abroad at electronic, phone and some convenience-type stores, the card’s prepaid balance is reduced with usage.
  • International mobile phones. Check with your mobile phone provider to see if your current phone can be used abroad, either with full or selected features. Make sure you understand the roaming rates so you are not surprised when you receive the bill. Similarly, when using your smartphone, try to download or upload data at WiFi hotspot locations to avoid roaming charges. You can use also your smartphone to make calls over Voice over Internet Protocols, like Skype, and to avoid roaming charges.
  • SIM cards. A “SIM” card is a removable data card with a local number, turning your cell phone into a local phone. You can purchase these, as well as inexpensive handsets, in the foreign country you are visiting.
  • World phone. For frequent overseas travelers, it may be worthwhile to invest in a “world phone,” a cellular service that allows subscribers to use their cellphone even when abroad. World roaming capabilities vary from carrier to carrier, depending largely on the kind of mobile phone standard in use. Some world phone packages feature preconfigured handsets, global travel adaptors and mobile numbers insuring clear, reliable call transmission and reception. For business persons traveling in areas with no cellular coverage, satellite telephones provide access in all ocean areas, air routes and landmasses, the Poles included.

Travel Tips and Resources: More Tricks and Links for Foreign Trips

The tidbits of useful information and list of excellent Internet sites offered here answer a multitude of questions concerning the complexities of foreign travel:

  • Immunizations. Some nations require inoculation against diseases that no longer exist in the U.S. To learn global immunization requirements, visit the State Department’s Country Specific Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html.
  • Driving. Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license, though some will accept an international driver’s permit. Check with the appropriate embassy to learn more about license requirements. Every state’s Department of Motor Vehicles can provide information about international licenses.
  • Time. When making business calls from a foreign country to the United States, take note of time differences and adjust schedules accordingly.
  • Money. Investigate international ATM capabilities with the issuing company. Exchange American cash for other currency in the destination city rather than at the airport or hotel. Rates are usually better. A word of warning – toting big wads of bills may tempt that pickpocket lurking just around the corner.
  • Health and safety. In Third World and developing nations, it’s important to be scrupulous about personal hygiene and physical health. Use these guidelines to keep you in peak condition:
    • Avoid drinking tap water and eating dairy products and fresh fruits, as well as vegetables that cannot be peeled.
    • Transport prescriptions in the original, clearly-labeled bottles, packed in hand luggage. Stow back-up medications in your checked luggage.
    • If you wear eyeglasses, take along an extra pair in a carry-on bag.
    • Wear a “medical alert” bracelet if you suffer from allergies or reactions to certain medications, foods or insect bites, or live with a unique or chronic condition.
    • If you have a preexisting medical problem, carry a letter from your primary care physician describing the medical condition and any prescription medications you’re taking, including the drugs’ generic names.
    • Upon arrival at the hotel, obtain a list of local doctors, as well as directions to health care facilities. A U.S. consular officer likewise can assist in locating medical services and informing family or friends should an emergency arise.

Online Help

The following websites provide a wealth of information targeting the international business traveler:

U.S. Airports, arrival and departure schedules, parking, airport amenities, etc.

http://www.flightstats.com/

International Airport Websites

http://www.flightstats.com/

Currency Converter

http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/

Weather

http://www.internationalweather.net/

Travel Health

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/

U.S. State Department Travel Resources

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html

Food, Lodging, Attractions

http://www.fodors.com/

The World Clock

http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/

International Dialing Codes

http://countrycode.org/

Business Travel News

http://www.businesstravelnews.com/