Having grown up as the child of diplomats and later moving to three countries with my own children as a Foreign Service Officer, I know firsthand how fun and exciting international family travel can be. My experience has also taught me the value of being prepared before taking a trip.
What can you do to get your family ready to travel abroad? Follow our Traveler’s Checklist (travel.state.gov/travelerschecklist) and take these four steps:
1. Read up on your destination
Pay close attention to our safety and security information to decide if traveling there is right for you, especially if someone has special health needs.Some countries have no car seat or seat belt requirements and very dangerous driving conditions.Reading our tips on road safety abroad will also help you find out if you’ll need an international driving permit. If you’re taking a family cruise, check out travel.state.gov/cruise.
2. Make sure you have the right documents
Apply for a U.S. passport several months in advance. If you need visas from the foreign countries you’re visiting, allow additional time. Already have passports? Check that they will still be valid six months or more after returning home and have at least two blank pages – maybe more depending on your destination. Check children’s passports closely! Their passports are valid only five years, not ten years like adult passports. If you’re traveling alone with children, some countries require birth certificates, custody documents and/or notarized consent from the other parent. LGBT families may face additional challenges abroad.
3. Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
It’s free and easy to sign up via your smartphone. You get up-to-date safety and security messages, and we can reach you more easily in case of an emergency while you’re overseas. While you travel, stay connected with us and local media on Twitter and Facebook @TravelGov.
4. Get overseas medical and evacuation insurance coverage
Prepare for the unexpected. Kids get sick, heads get bumped, falls happen. We recommend buying supplemental insurance to cover medical expenses abroad if your U.S. health care policy does not – it’s easy, it’s not expensive and it’s worth the peace of mind. Foreign medical providers often require cash up front, and a medical evacuation back to the States can cost $100,000 or more.
Even with good planning, natural disasters and other crises can occur. Be prepared by reading What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad? Be aware of your surroundings at all times and have an exit plan wherever you go. In the event of an emergency, follow instructions from local authorities, monitor local media and let loved ones back home know you are okay.
Careful planning and research can help you avoid most problems overseas, but U.S. consular officers are available worldwide to help in case of an emergency. If you need help, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Traveling the world with your family can be a wonderful adventure. Be smart, plan ahead and have a great time. Bon voyage!
Michelle Bernier-Toth, Managing Director of Overseas Citizen Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, [email protected]