YOUR TRIP ABROAD
Whether you are traveling overseas for business,
pleasure or study, the best way to ensure a carefree and relaxing trip
is to prevent problems before they happen. The more you learn about
passports, visas, customs, immunizations, and other travel basics, the
less likely you are to have difficulties during your travels.
We have written this guide to help you organize and
take a pleasant, trouble-free trip. In the back of the book, we refer
you to other sources of travel information covering such matters as
customs regulations, agricultural restrictions, visa requirements, U.S.
embassy addresses, foreign country information, and more. For your
convenience, the addresses of the U.S. passport agencies are listed at
the end of the pamphlet.
The Department of State in Washington, D.C., and its
more than 250 U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, as well as other
U.S. Government agencies, are ready and pleased to offer assistance
whenever possible. This is your trip. Make it an enjoyable one.
YOUR TRIP ABROAD
BEFORE YOU GO
There is much that you can do to prepare for your trip
abroad, depending on where you are going, how long you are staying, and
your reasons for traveling.
LEARN ABOUT THE COUNTRIES THAT YOU PLAN TO VISIT
The following suggestions and sources may be useful:
- Read as much as possible about the countries in
which you plan to travel. Informing yourself about a nation's history,
culture, customs and politics will make your stay more meaningful.
Such information can be found in most libraries, bookstores and
tourist bureaus. Although English is spoken in many countries, it is a
good idea to learn what you can of the language of the country in
which you will be traveling.
- Travel agents can provide brochures and tourist
information about the countries that you wish to visit.
- Most international airlines can supply you with
travel brochures about the countries that they serve. Many countries
have tourist information offices in main cities in the United States
where you can obtain travel brochures and maps.
- Foreign embassies or consulates in the United
States can provide up-to-date information on their countries.
Addresses and telephone numbers of the embassies of foreign
governments are listed in the Congressional Directory, available at
most public libraries. In addition to their embassies, some countries
also have consulates in major U.S. cities. Look for their addresses in
your local telephone directory, or find them in the publication,
Foreign Consular Offices in the United States, available in
many public libraries, or on the Internet http://www.state.gov
- The Department of State publishes Background
Notes on countries worldwide. These are brief, factual
pamphlets with information on each country's culture, history,
geography, economy, government, and current political situation. The
Background Notes are available for approximately 170
countries. They often include a reading list, travel notes and maps.
To purchase copies, you can contact the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, or
call (202) 512-1800. Select issues are also available from the
Department of State's Bureau of Public Affairs, fax-on-demand, by
calling (202) 736-7720 from your fax machine or on the Department of
State's home page on the Internet at http://www.state.gov.
- The Consular Information Program provides
pertinent information for travelers. The U.S. Department of State
issues fact sheets, known as Consular Information Sheets,
on every country in the world. You should obtain the Department of
State's Consular Information Sheet for any country that
you will visit. The sheets contain information about crime and
security conditions, areas of instability, and other details
pertaining to travel in a particular country.
The Department of State also issues Travel
Warnings and Public Announcements. Travel
Warnings are issued when the Department of State recommends
deferral of travel by Americans to a country because of civil unrest,
dangerous conditions, terrorist activity and/or because the United
States has no diplomatic relations with the country and cannot assist an
American citizen in distress. Public Announcements are
issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist
threats and other relatively short-term and/or transnational conditions,
which would pose significant risks to American travelers.
If the Department of State has issued a Travel Warning
or Public Announcement for any country that you plan to visit, you
should obtain this information. Instructions on how to access the
Consular Information Program follow.
How to Access Consular Information Sheets, Travel
Warnings and Public Announcements
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and
Public Announcements may be heard at any time by dialing the Office of
Overseas Citizens Services, American Citizens Services and Crisis
Management, Bureau of Consular Affairs, at (202) 647-5225 from a
touchtone phone. The recording is updated as new information becomes
available. Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public
Announcements may also be obtained from any regional passport agency,
from most airline computer reservation systems, from U.S. embassies or
consulates abroad, or by sending your request, (indicating the desired
country on the lower left corner of the envelope), in a self-addressed,
stamped envelope to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau
of Consular Affairs, Room 4811, U.S. Department of State, Washington,
From your fax machine, dial (202) 647-3000,
using the handset as you would a regular telephone. The system will
prompt you on how to proceed.
Information about travel and consular services is
available on this site. Visitors to the
site will find Travel Warnings, Public Announcements, Consular
Information Sheets, passport and visa information, travel publications,
background on international adoption and international child abduction
services, and international legal assistance.
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board - CABB
If you have a personal computer, modem and
communications software, you can access the Consular Affairs Bulletin
Board (CABB). This service is free of charge. To view or download the
documents, dial the CABB on (301) 946-4400, setting your software
to N-8-1. The login is travel and the password is info
(lower case required).
Tips for Travelers Series
The Department of State publishes a series of
brochures on travel to specific regions of the world. The brochures
cover a variety of topics such as import and export controls, customs
and currency regulations, dual nationality, crime information, health
precautions, and photography restrictions. The publications are
available for $1.00-$1.50 each from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C. 20402.
(Availability and prices are subject to change without notice. Please
check with the GPO before ordering at telephone 202-512-1800.)
Travel document requirements vary from country to
country, but you will need the following: a U.S. passport or other proof
of citizenship, plus a visa or a tourist card, if required by the
country or countries that you will visit. You may also need evidence
that you have enough money for your trip and/or have ongoing or return
A Valid Passport
Who Needs a Passport?
A U.S. citizen needs a passport to depart or enter the
United States and to enter and depart most foreign countries. Exceptions
include short-term travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada,
and some countries in the Caribbean, where a U.S. birth certificate or
other proof of U.S. citizenship may be accepted. Your travel agent or
airline can tell you if you need a passport for the country that you
plan to visit. Information on entry requirements is available from the
booklet Foreign Entry Requirements, for 50 cents from the
Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colorado 81009; telephone
719-948-4000; Internet http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/ The
embassy or consulate of the country where you plan to travel can also
advise you about its entry requirements.
Even if you are not required to have a passport to
visit a foreign country, U.S. Immigration requires you to prove your
U.S. citizenship and identity to reenter the United States. Make certain
that you take with you adequate documentation to pass through U.S.
Immigration upon your return. A U.S. passport is the best proof of
U.S. citizenship. Other documents to prove U.S. citizenship include an
expired U.S. passport, a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate,
a Certificate of Naturalization, a Certificate of Citizenship, or a
Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States. To prove
your identity, either a valid driver's license or a government
identification card that includes a photo or a physical description is
With the number of international child custody cases
on the rise, several countries have instituted passport requirements to
help prevent child abductions. For example, Mexico has a law that
requires a child traveling alone, or with only one parent, or in someone
else's custody, to carry written, notarized consent from the absent
parent or parents. No authorization is needed, if the child travels
alone and is in possession of a U.S. passport. A child traveling alone
with a birth certificate requires written, notarized authorization from
Beware of a Passport That Is About to Expire!
Certain countries will not permit you to enter and
will not place a visa in your passport, if the remaining validity is
less than 6 months.
All U.S. Citizens Must Have Their Own Passport.
Since January 1981, family members are not permitted
to be included in each other's passports. Even newborn babies need their
own passports to travel.
When to Apply
Every year, demand for passports becomes heavy in
January and declines in August. You can help reduce U.S. Government
expense and avoid delays by applying between September and December.
However, even during those months, periods of high demand for passports
can occur. Apply several months in advance of your planned departure,
whenever possible. If you need visas, allow additional time -
approximately two weeks per visa.
How to Apply for Your Passport in Person
For your first passport, you must appear in person
with a completed Form DS-11, Passport Application, at one
of the 13 U.S. passport agencies or at many Federal and state courts,
probate courts, at some county/municipal offices, or at U.S. post
offices authorized to accept passport applications. The addresses of
passport acceptance facilities in your area are available on the
Internet at http://travel.state.gov or by calling 1-900-225-5674 (or
1-888-362-8668 with a credit card.)
Applicants who are age 16 and older must appear in
person when applying for a passport, if they are applying for the first
time. Minors who are ages 13, 14, and 15 years must also appear in
person, and be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Applicants ages 16 and 17 years may apply on their own IF they have
acceptable identification. The parent or legal guardian may be
contacted by the Passport Agency to ensure that they are giving
permission for issuance of the passport. If the applicant does not have
identification, then the parent or legal guardian must accompany the
applicant. For children under age 13, a parent or legal guardian may
appear on their behalf. The children do not have to appear in person.
If you have had a previous passport and wish to obtain
a new one, you may be eligible to apply by mail.
For more information on obtaining a U.S. passport, you
can obtain a copy of the publication
Passports: Applying for Them the Easy Way.
This pamphlet provides basic information about applying for a U.S.
passport, and it is available for 50 cents from the Consumer Information
Center, Pueblo, Colorado 81009; telephone 719-948-4000; Internet
What to Bring When You Apply for a Passport in Person
1. A properly completed, but unsigned, passport
application (DS-11). Do not sign it!
2. Proof of U.S. citizenship (a, b, or c):
a. Use your previously issued passport
or one in which you were included. If you are applying for your first
passport or cannot submit a previous passport, you must submit other
evidence of citizenship.
b. If you were born in the United States, you
should produce a certified copy of your birth certificate.
This must show that the birth record was filed shortly after birth and
must be certified with the registrar's signature and raised, impressed,
embossed, or multicolored seal. Certified copies of birth records can be
obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the city, state, county,
or territory where you were born. (Notifications of Birth
Registration or Birth Announcements are not
normally accepted for passport purposes.) A delayed birth certificate
(one filed more than one year after the date of birth) is acceptable,
provided it shows a plausible basis for creating this record. If it does
not, you will need to submit the best secondary evidence possible.
If you cannot obtain a birth certificate,
you may submit a notice from a state registrar stating that no birth
record exists, accompanied by the best secondary evidence possible. This
may include a baptismal certificate, a hospital birth record, notarized
affidavits of persons having personal knowledge of the facts of your
birth, or other documentary evidence such as an early census, school
records, family Bible records, and newspaper files. A personal knowledge
affidavit should be supported by at least one public record reflecting
birth in the United States.
c. If you were born abroad, you can use:
- A Certificate of Naturalization
- A Certificate of Citizenship
- A Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United
States of America (Form FS-240)
- A Certification of Birth (Form FS-545 or DS-1350)
If you do not have any of these documents and are a
U.S. citizen, you should call the National Passport Information
Center at 1-900-225-5674 for assistance.
3. Proof of identity.
You must also establish your identity to the
satisfaction of the person accepting your application. The following
items are generally acceptable documents of identity, if they contain
your signature and if they readily identify you by physical description
- A previous U.S. passport
- A Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship
- A valid driver's license
- A government issued (Federal, state, municipal)
The following are not acceptable:
- A Social Security card
- A learner's or temporary driver's license
- A credit card of any type
- Any temporary or expired identity card or document
- Any document that has been altered or changed
If you are unable to present one of the first four
documents to establish your identity, you must be accompanied by a
person who has known you for at least 2 years and who is a U.S. citizen
or a permanent resident alien of the United States. That person must
sign an affidavit in the presence of the same person who executes the
passport application. The witness will be required to establish his or
her own identity. You must also submit some identification of your own.
You must present two identical photographs of yourself
that are sufficiently recent (normally taken within the past 6 months)
to be a good likeness. Passport Services encourages photographs where
the applicant is relaxed and smiling.
The photographs must not exceed 2x2 inches in size.
The image size measured from the bottom of your chin to the top of your
head (including hair) must be not less than 1 inch nor more than 1-3/8
inches with your head taking up most of the photograph. Passport
photographs may be either black and white or color.
Photographs must be clear, front view, full-face, and
printed on thin, white paper with a plain, white or off-white
background. Photographs should be portrait-type prints taken in normal
street attire without a hat and must include no more than the head and
shoulders or upper torso. Dark glasses are not acceptable except when
worn for medical reasons. Head coverings are only acceptable, if they
are worn for religious reasons.
Applicants may use photographs in military uniform
only if they are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and are
proceeding abroad in the discharge of their duties.
Newspaper, magazine and most vending machine prints
are not acceptable for use in passports.
5. The correct fee for applying for a passport in
Applicants age 16 and over, who are required to appear
in person, must pay $60 for their passport. This includes a $15
execution fee. The passport is valid for 10 years. Applicants age 15 and
under must pay $40 for their passport. This includes a $15 execution
fee. The passport is valid for 5 years.
You may pay by check, bank draft, or money order,
payable to Passport Services. You may also pay in cash (exact change
only) at a passport agency and at some, but not all post offices and
clerks of court.
How to Apply for a Passport by Mail
You may apply by mail if you meet the following
- You can submit your most recent passport.
- Your previous passport was issued on or after your
16th birthday and was issued within the past 12 years.
- You use the same name as that on your most recent
passport or you have had your name changed by marriage or court order,
and can submit proof of the change in name
How to Proceed
Obtain Form DS-82, Application for Passport by
Mail, from one of the U.S. passport agencies, from a Federal or
state court, from a U.S. post office that is authorized to accept
passport applications, from your travel agent, or from the Internet at
http://travel.state.gov Complete the information requested on the
reverse side of the form.
(1) Sign and date the
(2) Include your date of
departure. If no date is included, passport agents will assume that your
travel plans are not immediate, and you will receive your passport
within 25 working days from receipt of the application at the passport
(3) Enclose your previous
passport. (Your previous passport and other documents that you may have
submitted will be returned to you with your new passport.)
(4) Enclose two identical
(5) Enclose the $40
passport fee. (The $15 execution fee is not required for applicants
eligible to apply by mail.)
(6) If your name has
changed, submit the original or certified copy of the court order or
marriage certificate that shows the change of name.
(7) The person that you
list to be notified in case of an emergency should be someone who could
act on your behalf. The person should be someone to whom you have given
or could give a power of attorney.
(8) For processing, mail
the completed application and attachments to the National Passport
Center, listed on the application form. An incomplete or improperly
prepared application will delay issuance of your passport.
(9) If requesting
Expedited Service, include the $35.00 expedite fee.
How to Pay the Passport Fee
The following forms of payment are acceptable when you
apply by mail:
- A bank draft or a cashier's check
- A check: either a certified check, a personal
check, or a traveler's check (The check should be made out for the
- A money order: either a U.S. postal money order, an
international money order, a currency exchange money order or a bank
- Checks must be made payable to Passport Services.
When You Receive Your Passport
Sign it right away! Fill in page 5, the personal
notification data page. (For the emergency contact, do not include the
name of your traveling companion; instead, write in pencil the name,
address, and telephone number of someone who is not traveling with you.)
Your previous passport and other documents that you may have submitted
will be returned to you with your new passport.
Other Passport Information
It normally takes 25 business days from receipt
of the complete application by a passport agency to return your
passport. If you wish or need to receive your passport sooner, you may
request expedited service for processing of the passport within 3
business days from receipt of the application by a passport agency. The
fee for expedited service is $35.00 per application, which is in
addition to the regular passport fee.
If you request expedited service, your departure
date should be clearly shown on the application. Anyone who pays the
$35.00 expedite fee and submits a complete application will be given
If you plan to travel in more than two weeks, but need
a passport urgently, it is strongly recommended that you arrange for
two-way overnight delivery of the passport to prevent delays. If you are
leaving within two weeks, it is recommended that you go to the
nearest passport agency to apply.
For additional details, you may check with the
National Passport Information Center.
If you plan to travel abroad frequently or if you stay
overseas for long periods of time, your relatives or associates in the
United States should have valid passports as well. That way, if you were
to become seriously ill or involved in some other emergency, they could
travel without delay. Also, you should leave with them your passport
number and the date and place of the passport's issuance.
Diplomatic and Official Passports
If you are being assigned abroad on U.S. government
business and are eligible to apply by mail for a no-fee passport (no-fee
regular passport, official passport, diplomatic passport), you must
submit the mail-in application form, your authorization to apply for a
no-fee passport, your previous passport, and two photographs to the
Special Issuance Agency in Washington, D.C. for processing. The address
is 1111 19th Street, N.W., Suite 350, Washington, D.C. 20522-1705.
Additional Visa Pages
Should you require additional visa pages before your
passport expires, you can obtain them by submitting your passport to one
of the passport agencies listed at the back of this pamphlet. If you
travel frequently to countries requiring visas, you may request a
48-page passport at the time that you apply. There is no additional
charge for extra pages or for a 48-page passport.
Change of Name
If you have changed your name, you will need to have
your passport amended. Fill out Form DS-19, Passport
Amendment/Validation Application, which is available from any
office that is authorized to accept passport applications. The form can
also be downloaded
this site. Submit the DS-19 along with proof
of the name change (a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or certified
court order) to the nearest passport agency. There is no fee for this
service, except if expedite service is requested.
An Altered or Mutilated Passport
If your U.S. passport is mutilated or altered in any
way (other than changing the personal notification data), you may render
it invalid, cause yourself much inconvenience, and expose yourself to
possible prosecution under the law (Section 1543, Title 22 of the U.S.
Mutilated or altered passports should be turned in to
passport agents, authorized postal employees, or U.S. consular officers
Loss or Theft of a U.S. Passport
It is important that you safeguard your passport. Its
loss could cause you unnecessary travel complications as well as
If your passport is lost or stolen in the United
States, you should apply for a new passport and complete Form DS-64,
Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport, which is
available at U.S. passport agencies, or it can be
downloaded from this site.
If your passport is lost or stolen abroad, you should
report the loss immediately to the local police and to the nearest U.S.
embassy or consulate. If you can provide the consular officer with the
information contained in your passport, it will facilitate issuance of a
new passport. Therefore, it is a good idea to make two photocopies of
the data page of your passport. Keep one copy separately from your
passport to take with you on your trip, and leave the other copy with a
relative or friend in the United States. It is also a good idea to carry
two extra passport size photos with you.
Do You Have Other Questions About Passports?
Additional passport information may be obtained from
the National Passport Information Center (NPIC). Callers can dial
1-900-225-5674* to receive passport applications or additional
information about passport emergencies, applying for a U.S. passport,
and to check on the status of a passport application. Automated
information is available 24-hours/day, 7 days/week. Operators can be
reached Monday-Friday, excluding Federal holidays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30
p.m. Eastern Time. Services are provided in English, Spanish and by TDD
* The cost per minute for 1-900 calls is $.35 for
the automated system and $1.05 for live operators. This
service also includes an optional number: 1-888-362-8668 (TDD
1-888-498-3648) for those calling with blocked 1-900 service.
These calls require a credit card for payment of a flat rate of $4.95
How to Obtain Visas
A visa is an endorsement or stamp placed in your
passport by a foreign government that permits you to visit that country
for a specified purpose and a limited time - for example, a 3-month
tourist visa. It is advisable to obtain visas before you leave the
United States because you may not be able to obtain visas for some
countries once you have departed. You should apply directly to the
embassy or nearest consulate of each country that you plan to visit, or
consult a travel agent. Passport agencies cannot help you
Foreign Entry Requirements
The Department of State publication M-264,
Foreign Entry Requirements,
gives entry requirements for every country and tells where and how to
apply for visas and tourist cards. It can be ordered for 50 cents from
the Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colorado 81009; telephone:
719-948-4000; Internet http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/
Please Note: The publication is updated annually, but it may not
reflect the most current requirements. It is advisable to verify the
latest visa requirements directly with the embassy or consulate of each
country that you plan to visit.
Because a visa is stamped directly onto a blank page
in your passport, you will need to give your passport to an official of
each foreign embassy or consulate. You may also need to fill out a form
and submit one or more photographs with the form. Many visas require a
fee. The process may take several weeks for each visa, so it is wise to
apply well in advance of your trip, if possible.
If the country that you plan to visit only requires a
tourist card, you can usually obtain one from the country's embassy or
consulate, from an airline serving the country, or at the port of entry.
There is a fee for some tourist cards.
Proof of Citizenship
Check with the embassy or consulate of each country
that you plan to visit to learn what proof of citizenship is required of
visitors. Even if a country does not require a visitor to have a
passport, it will require some proof of citizenship and identity.
Remember that no matter what proof of citizenship a foreign country
requires, U.S. Immigration has strict requirements for reentry into the
Under international health regulations adopted by the
World Health Organization, a country may require international
certificates of vaccination against yellow fever and cholera. Typhoid
vaccinations are not required for international travel, but are
recommended for areas where there is risk of exposure. Smallpox
vaccinations are no longer given. Check your health care records to
ensure that your measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus,
and pertussis immunizations are up-to-date. Medication to deter malaria
and other preventative measures are advisable for certain areas. No
immunizations are needed to return to the United States.
Information on immunization requirements, U.S. Public
Health Service recommendations, and other health guidance, including
risks in particular countries, are included in the book, Health
Information for International Travel. It may be purchased by
sending a check or money order for $20.00 to the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. Orders by telephone and a credit card (Visa,
MasterCard, Discover) can be made by calling 202-512-1800; fax
202-512-2250. In addition, you may obtain information on health from
local and state health departments or physicians. The information is
also available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
24-hour hotline at 1-888-232-3228, from their automated faxback
service at 1-888-232-3299, or from their home page on the
It is not necessary to be vaccinated against a disease
to which you will not be exposed, and few countries refuse to admit you
if you arrive without the necessary vaccinations. Officials will either
vaccinate you, give you a medical follow-up card, or, in rare
circumstances, put you in isolation for the incubation period of the
disease that you were not vaccinated against. It is a good idea to check
immunization requirements before you depart.
If vaccinations are required, they must be recorded on
approved forms, such as those in the booklet PHS-731,
International Certificates of Vaccination as Approved by the World
Health Organization. If your doctor or public health office does
not have this booklet, it can be purchased for $1.00 from the
Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954;
telephone 202-512-1800, or Government Printing Office bookstores.
You should keep the booklet with your passport.
An increasing number of countries require that
foreigners be tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prior to
entry. Testing is usually required as part of a medical exam for long
term visitors (i.e., students and workers). Before traveling abroad, you
can check with the embassy or consulate of the country that you intend
to visit to learn about the latest information concerning entry
requirements and, particularly, whether or not an AIDS/HIV test is a
Obtaining medical treatment and hospital care can be
costly for travelers who are injured or who become seriously ill
overseas. The Social Security Medicare/Medicaid program does not
provide coverage for hospital or medical services outside the United
States. Before you leave the United States, you should be informed
about which medical services your health insurance will cover abroad.
Senior citizens may wish to contact the American
Association of Retired Persons for information about foreign medical
care coverage with Medicare supplement plans.
If your health insurance policy does not provide
coverage for hospital or medical costs abroad, you are urged to purchase
a temporary health policy that does provide this type of coverage. There
are short-term health and emergency assistance policies designed for
travelers. You can find the names of companies that provide such
policies from your travel agent, your health insurance company, or from
advertisements in travel publications. Useful information on medical
emergencies abroad is provided in the Department of State, Bureau of
Consular Affairs' flyer,
Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad,
available by autofax service at 202-647-3000. In addition to
health insurance, many policies include trip cancellation, baggage loss,
and travel accident insurance in the same package. Some traveler's check
companies have protection policies available with the purchase of
Do You Need Travel Insurance?
You may not need travel insurance, if you are already
adequately covered by other insurance policies.
Depending on the travel insurance plan, travel
insurance usually promises to cover you for cancellation or interruption
of your trip, some form of emergency medical care while you are
traveling, lost or stolen luggage, and various other troublesome
Before you decide on a travel insurance plan, it is
wise to investigate the plan carefully and read the fine print. You
should closely check any agreements with your travel agent, tour
operator, airline, or other companies involved with your travel plans.
The agreements may include written guarantees.
If you have a fully refundable airline ticket, you may
decide that you would not need trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
On the other hand, it may be worthwhile noting that
certain insurance plans can protect you by covering the financial costs
in case of the following situations:
- A sudden, serious injury or illness to you, a
family member, or a traveling companion.
- Financial default of the airline, cruise line or
- Natural disasters or strikes that impede travel
- A terrorist incident in a foreign city within 10
days of your scheduled arrival in that particular city.
The fact that you, a traveling member of your family,
or a traveling companion were quarantined, served with a court order or
required to serve on a jury.
A circumstance in which you were directly involved in
an accident enroute to departure for your trip.
It is a good idea to check your other insurance
policies. For instance, your homeowners or tenants insurance may cover
the loss or theft of your luggage.
Certain credit cards may also provide additional
travel insurance, if you have used them to purchase the ticket for your
Your health insurance may provide certain coverage,
regardless of where you travel. But it is very important to note that
some policies only partially cover medical expenses abroad. Moreover, as
previously explained in the section on Health Insurance,
Medicare/Medicaid will not cover hospital and medical services outside
the United States. (Please see section on
Health Insurance for more details
about health emergencies abroad.)
Your travel agent should be able to advise you about
the right plan for you. Before purchasing travel insurance, review the
plan carefully, and be wary of buying coverage that you may already
How to Bring Money
It is wise not to carry large amounts of cash.
You should take most of your money in traveler's checks and remember to
record the serial number, denomination and the date and location of the
issuing bank or agency. Keep this information in a safe and separate
place so, if you lose your traveler's checks, you can quickly get
Prepare for Emergency Funds
It is a good idea to keep the telephone number for
your bank in the United States with you, in case you run out of cash and
need to transfer money. In some countries, major banks and certain
travel agencies can help arrange a transfer of funds from your account
to a foreign bank. If you do not have a bank account from which you can
obtain emergency funds, you should make arrangements in advance with a
relative or friend to send you emergency funds should it become
necessary. If you find yourself destitute, contact the nearest U.S.
embassy or consulate for assistance in arranging a money wire transfer
from a relative or friend in the United States.
Before departing, you may wish to purchase small
amounts of foreign currency to use for buses, taxis, phones, or tips
when you first arrive. Foreign exchange facilities at airports may be
closed when your flight arrives. You can purchase foreign currency at
some U.S. banks, at foreign exchange firms, at foreign exchange windows,
or even at vending machines in many international airports in the United
Some countries regulate the amount of local currency
that you can bring into or take out of the country; others require that
you exchange a minimum amount of currency. For currency regulations,
check with a bank, a foreign exchange firm, your travel agent, or the
embassy or consulate of the countries that you plan to visit.
If you leave or enter the United States with more than
$10,000 in monetary instruments of any kind, you must file a report,
Customs Form 4790, with U.S. Customs at the time. Failure to comply
can result in civil and criminal proceedings.
Valuables -- Do Not Bring Them!
Do not bring anything on your trip that you
would hate to lose, such as expensive jewelry, family photographs, or
objects of sentimental value. If you bring jewelry, wear it discreetly
to help prevent snatch-and-run robbery.
Other Things To Arrange Before You Depart
Try to Make Lodging Reservations in Advance
Many travelers wait until they reach their destination
before making hotel reservations. Some train stations and airports have
travel desks to assist you in finding lodging. However, when you arrive,
you may be tired and unfamiliar with your surroundings, and could have
difficulty locating a hotel to suit your needs. Therefore, when
possible, reserve your lodging in advance and confirm your reservations
along the way. During peak tourist season, it is important to have a
hotel reservation for at least the first night that you arrive in a
An alternative to hotels and pensions is the youth
hostel system, which offers travelers of all ages clean, inexpensive,
overnight accommodations in more than 6,000 locations in over 70
countries worldwide. Hostels provide dormitory-style accommodations with
separate facilities for males and females. Some hostels have family
rooms that can be reserved in advance. Curfews are often imposed and
membership is frequently required. For more information, you may
contact: American Youth Hostels, P.O. Box 37613, Washington, D.C.
20013-7613; telephone (202) 783-6161.
The majority of private programs for vacation, study,
or work abroad are reputable and financially sound. However, some charge
exorbitant fees, use deliberately false "educational" claims, and
provide working conditions far different from those advertised. Even
programs of legitimate organizations can be poorly administered. Be
cautious. Before committing yourself or your finances, find out about
the organization and what it offers.
Travel Benefits for Students
Students and teachers can save money on transportation
and accommodations, and obtain other discounts if they have one of the
An International Student Identity Card - for
students age 12 and older. You must be a junior high school, high
school, college, university or vocational school student at least 12
years of age. Also, you must be enrolled in a study program leading to a
diploma or degree at an accredited institution.
An International Teacher Identity Card - for
full-time teachers and faculty at an accredited institution.
- Reduced airfares on major international airlines
- Discounts in the United States and abroad,
including transportation, accommodations, international phone calls,
car rentals and museum admissions
- Toll-free, 24-hour, emergency Help Line
- Basic insurance to
cover sickness, accident and emergency evacuation while traveling
outside the United States (only for cards purchased in the
- International student/teacher/youth recognition.
For more details and information about applying for
international identity cards, contact the Council on International
Educational Exchange aas listed above.
Pre-Paid Telephone Card Service
You never know when you may wish or need to telephone
home during your trip. For such purposes, you might consider purchasing
a pre-paid telephone card. You can check with telephone companies about
pre-paid telephone card service. They should be able to provide you with
information about prices, sales locations in the United States and
ordering the service by telephone. If you decide to purchase a pre-paid
telephone card, be sure that the card you choose will work outside the
At the time of publication, U.S. citizens in the
United States, who are traveling abroad, are required to pay a $12
airport departure tax and a $6 federal inspection fee that are included
in the price of the air ticket.
Charter Flights and Airlines
There have been occasions when airlines or companies
that sell charter flights or tour packages have gone out of business
with little warning, stranding passengers overseas. If you know from the
media or your travel agent that an airline is in financial difficulty,
ask your travel agent or the airline what recourse you would have, if
the airline ceased to operate. Some airlines may honor the tickets of a
defunct airline, but they usually do so with restrictions.
It is a good idea to purchase tours only from
operators that guarantee the safety of your money through a consumer
Before you purchase a charter flight or tour package,
read the contract carefully. Unless it guarantees to deliver services
promised or give a full refund, you may consider purchasing travel
insurance. If you are unsure of the reputation of a charter company or
tour operator, consult your local Better Business Bureau or the
American Society of Travel Agents at 1101 King Street, Alexandria, VA
22314, Tel. (703) 739-2782. They will help answer your questions and
tell you whether or not a company has a complaint record.
Driver's License/Auto Insurance
If you intend to drive overseas, check with the
embassy or consulate of the countries where you will visit to learn
about requirements for driver's license, road permits, and auto
insurance. If possible, obtain road maps of the countries that you plan
to visit before you go.
Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver's
license. However, most countries accept an international driver's
permit. Before departure, you can obtain one at a local office of an
automobile association. The U.S. Department of State has authorized two
organizations to issue international driving permits to those who hold
valid U.S. driver's licenses: AAA and the American Automobile Touring
Alliance. To apply for an international driving permit, you must be
at least age 18, and you will need to present two passport-size
photographs and your valid U.S. license. Certain countries require road
permits, instead of tolls, to use on their divided highways, and they
will fine those found driving without a permit.
Car rental agencies overseas usually provide auto
insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When
renting a car overseas, consider purchasing insurance coverage that is
at least equivalent to that which you carry at home.
In general, your U.S. auto insurance does not cover
you abroad. However, your policy may apply when you drive to countries
neighboring the United States. Check with your insurer to see if your
policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or countries south of Mexico. Even
if your policy is valid in one of these countries, it may not meet its
minimum requirements. For instance, in most of Canada, you must carry at
least $200,000 in liability insurance, and Mexico requires that, if
vehicles do not carry theft, third party liability, and
comprehensive insurance, the owner must post a bond that could be as
high as 50% of the value of the vehicle. If you are under-insured for a
country, auto insurance can usually be purchased on either side of the
U.S. Customs Pre-Registration
It is a good idea to be informed about U.S. Customs
regulations. Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are subject to
U.S. Customs duty and tax upon your return, unless you have proof of
prior possession such as a receipt, bill of sale, an insurance policy,
or a jeweler's appraisal. If you do not have proof of prior possession,
items such as foreign-made watches, cameras, or tape recorders that can
be identified by serial number or permanent markings, may be taken to
the Customs office nearest you, or to the port of departure for
registration, before you depart the United States. The certificate of
registration provided can expedite free entry of these items when you
return to the United States.
The ATA Carnet
If you are interested in establishing business
overseas, you may consider obtaining and ATA Carnet, which is an
international Customs document for temporary, duty-free imports. The ATA
Carnet offers many advantages for international business. For example,
it reduces the cost of exporting by eliminating the value-added (VAT).
It also simplifies the extensive Customs procedures by allowing
temporary exporters to use a single document for all transactions and
make arrangements for many countries and many trips in advance at a
predetermined cost. For more information about obtaining an ATA Carnet,
please contact the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue
of the Americas, New York, New York 10036; telephone 212-354-4480; fax
Documentation for Medications
If you go abroad with preexisting medical problems,
you should carry a letter from you doctor describing your condition,
including information on any prescription medicines that you must take.
You should also have the generic names of the drugs. Please leave
medicines in their original, labeled containers. These precautions make
customs processing easier. A doctor's certificate, however, may not
suffice as authorization to transport all prescription drugs to all
foreign countries. Travelers have innocently been arrested for drug
violations when carrying items not considered to be narcotics in the
United States. To ensure that you do not violate the drug laws of the
countries that you visit, you may consult the embassy or consulate of
those countries for precise information before you leave the United
If you have allergies, reactions to certain medicines,
or other unique medical problems, you may consider wearing a medical
alert bracelet or carrying a similar warning.
Information About Physicians and Hospitals Abroad
Several private organizations provide listings of
physicians abroad to international travelers. Membership in these
organizations is generally free, although a donation may be requested.
Membership entitles you to a number traveler's medical aids, including a
directory of physicians with their overseas locations, telephone numbers
and doctors' fee schedules. The physicians are generally
English-speaking and provide medical assistance 24 hours a day. The
addresses of these medical organizations are in travel magazines or may
be available from your travel agent.
U.S. embassies and consulates abroad usually keep
lists of physicians and hospitals in their area. Major credit card
companies also can provide the names of local doctors and hospitals
For detailed information about physicians abroad, the
authoritative reference is the Directory of Medical Specialists,
published for the American Board of Medical Specialists and its 22
certifying member boards. The publication should be available in your
More medical information may be found in the
Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs' brochure,
Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad,
available by autofax service at 202-647-3000.
Places to Receive Mail
If you are traveling for an extended period, you may
want to arrange for the delivery of mail or messages to you abroad. Some
banks and international credit card companies handle mail for customers
at their overseas branches. General Delivery (Poste Restante) services
at post offices in most countries will hold mail for you. U.S.
embassies/consulates do not handle private mail.
Learn About Dual Nationality
Whether you are a U.S. citizen from birth or were
naturalized as a U.S. citizen, a foreign country may claim you as its
- You were born in that country.
- Your parent(s) is or was a citizen of that country.
- You are married to a citizen of that country.
- You are a naturalized U.S. citizen, but you are
still considered to be a citizen under that country's laws.
If any of the possibilities for dual nationality
applies to you, check on your status (including military obligations)
with the embassy or consulate of the country that might claim you as a
citizen. In particular, Americans may have problems with dual
nationality in certain countries in the Middle East, in South America,
and in Africa. Some foreign countries refuse to recognize a dual
national's U.S. citizenship and do not allow U.S. officials access to
Some Things to Leave Behind
Your Itinerary - Leave a Paper Trail
You should leave a detailed itinerary (with names,
addresses, and phone numbers of persons and places to be visited) with
relatives or friends in the United States so that you can be reached in
an emergency. Also, include a photocopy of your passport information
Other Important Numbers
It is a good idea to make a list of all important
numbers - your passport information as well as your credit card,
traveler's checks, and airline ticket numbers. Leave a copy of the list
at home, and carry a copy with you.
While You Are Overseas
How to Deal With the Unexpected
If you change your travel plans, miss your return
flight, or extend your trip, be sure to notify relatives or friends at
home. Should you find yourself in an area of civil unrest or natural
disaster, please let your relatives or friends at home know as soon
as you can that you are safe. Furthermore, upon arrival in a foreign
country, you should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to
register your presence and to keep the U.S. consul informed of your
Protect Your Passport
Your passport is the most valuable document that
you will carry abroad. It confirms your U.S. citizenship. Please guard
it carefully. Do not use it as collateral for a loan or lend it to
anyone. It is your best form of identification. You will need it when
you pick up mail or check into hotels, embassies or consulates.
When entering some countries or registering at hotels,
you may be asked to fill out a police card listing your name, passport
number, destination, local address, and reason for travel. You may be
required to leave your passport at the hotel reception desk overnight so
that it may be checked by local police officials. These are normal
procedures required by local laws. If your passport is not returned the
following morning, immediately report the impoundment to local police
authorities and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Law enforcement records show that U.S. passports are
sometimes used for illegal entry into the United States, or by criminals
abroad seeking to establish another identity. This can cause
embarrassment to innocent U.S. citizens whose names become associated
with illegal activities. To protect the integrity of the U.S. passport
and the security of the person bearing it, consular officers overseas
have found it necessary to take precautions in processing lost passport
cases. These precautions may involve some delay before a new passport is
Safeguard Your Passport
Carelessness is the main cause for losing a passport
or having it stolen. You may find that you have to carry your passport
with you because you need to show it when you cash traveler's checks or
the country that you are visiting requires you to carry it as an
identity document. When you must carry your passport, hide it securely
on your person. Do not leave it in a handbag nor in an exposed pocket.
Whenever possible, leave your passport in the hotel safe, not in an
empty hotel room, and not packed in your luggage. One family member
should not carry all the passports for the entire family.
Financial and Shopping Tips
Local banks usually offer better rates of exchange
than hotels, restaurants, or stores. Rates are often posted in windows.
Above all, avoid private currency transactions. In some countries, you
risk more than being swindled or stuck with counterfeit currency _ you
risk arrest. Avoid the black market --- learn and obey the local
currency laws, wherever you go.
Mail Small Items
When you purchase small items, it is a good idea to
mail them personally to your home or to carry them in your luggage. This
will help prevent misdirected packages, no receipt of merchandise, or
receipt of wrong merchandise. When you mail purchases, be sure to ask
American embassies and consulates abroad cannot serve
as post offices. They cannot accept, hold, or forward mail for U.S.
Items mailed home are not eligible for your
$400 personal exemption. If the item that you are mailing home is less
than $200, duty will be waived. Be sure to write on the outside of the
package that it contains goods for personal use.
Value Added Tax
Some European countries levy a value added tax (VAT)
on the items that you buy. In some places, if you ship your purchases
home, the VAT can be waived. Other places may require you to pay the
VAT, but have a system to refund all of it or part of it to you by mail.
You can ask the store clerk for an application to apply for the refund.
The VAT refund is only for items that you can ship or carry with you. It
does not apply to food, hotel bills, or other services. Because the
rules for VAT refunds vary from country to country, you should check
with the country's tourist office to learn the local requirements.
Beware When Making the Following Purchases:
Be careful when you buy articles made from animals and
plants or when you purchase live, wild animals to bring back as pets.
Some items, such as those made from elephant ivory, sea turtles,
crocodile leather, or fur from endangered cats, and many species of live
animals cannot be brought legally into the United States. Your wildlife
souvenirs could be confiscated by government inspectors, and you could
face other penalties for attempting to bring them into the United
States. Do not buy wildlife or wildlife products unless you are certain
that they are legal for import into the United States.
Beware of purchasing glazed ceramic ware abroad. It is
possible to suffer lead poisoning, if you consume food or beverages that
are stored or served in improperly glazed ceramics. Unless the ceramics
are made by a firm with an international reputation, there is no
immediate way to be certain that a particular item is safe. The U.S.
Food and Drug Administration recommends that ceramic tableware purchased
abroad be tested for lead release by a commercial laboratory on your
return or be used for decorative purposes only.
Certain countries consider antiques to be national
treasures and the "inalienable property of the nation." In some
countries, customs authorities seize illegally purchased antiques
without compensation, and they may also levy fines on the purchaser.
Americans have been arrested and prosecuted for purchasing antiques
without a permit. Americans have even been arrested for purchasing
reproductions of antiques from street vendors because a local authority
believed the purchase was a national treasure.
Protect yourself. In
countries where antiques are important, document your purchases as
reproductions, if that is the case, or, if they are authentic, secure
the necessary export permit. The documentation or export permit may be
available through the country's national museum. A reputable dealer may
provide the export permit or information on how to secure one. If you
have questions about purchasing antiques, the country's tourist office
can guide you. If you still have doubts, consult the Consular Section of
the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In places where Americans have
had problems because of purchasing antiques, the Consular Section is
usually well aware of such situations. Consular officers can inform you
about the local laws and the correct procedures to follow.
It is important that you keep all receipts for items
you buy overseas. They will be helpful in making your U.S. Customs
declaration when you return.
Obey Foreign Laws
When you are in a foreign country, you are subject to
its laws. It helps to learn about local laws and regulations and to obey
them. Try to avoid areas of unrest and disturbance. Deal only with
authorized outlets when exchanging money or buying airline tickets and
traveler's checks. Do not deliver a package for anyone, unless
you know the person well and you are certain that the package does not
contain drugs or other contraband.
Before you think about selling personal effects, such
as clothing, cameras, or jewelry, you should learn about the local
regulations regarding such sales. You must adhere strictly to local laws
because the penalties that you risk are severe.
Some countries are particularly sensitive about
photographs. In general, refrain from photographing police and military
installations and personnel; industrial structures, including harbor,
rail, and airport facilities; border areas; and scenes of civil disorder
or other public disturbance. Taking such photographs may result in your
detention, in the confiscation of your camera and films, as well as the
imposition of fines. For information on photography restrictions, check
with the country's tourist office or its embassy or consulate in the
United States. Once abroad, you can check with local authorities or with
the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
- If someone offers you a free trip and some quick
and easy money, just for bringing back a suitcase...SAY NO!
- Do not carry a package for anyone, no matter how
small it may be.
- Do not let anyone pack your suitcases for you while
you are abroad.
- If the drugs are in you suitcase, you will be
Because you are subject to local laws abroad, there is
little that a U.S. consular officer can do for you, if you encounter
legal difficulties. As stated previously, a consular officer cannot get
you out of jail. What American officials can do is limited by both
foreign and U.S. laws.
Although U.S. consular officers cannot serve as
attorneys nor give legal advice, they can provide a list of local
attorneys and help you find adequate legal representation. The lists of
attorneys are carefully compiled from local bar association lists and
responses to questionnaires, but neither the Department of State nor
U.S. embassies or consulates abroad can assume responsibility for the
caliber, competence, or professional integrity of the attorneys.
If you are arrested, you should ask the authorities to
notify a consular officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Under international agreements and practice, you have the right to talk
to the U.S. consul. If you are denied this right, try to have
someone get in touch with the U.S. consular officer for you.
When alerted, U.S. officials will visit you, advise
you of your rights according to local laws, and contact your family and
friends, if you wish. They will do whatever they can to protect your
legitimate interests and to ensure that you are not discriminated
against under local law. U.S. consuls can transfer money, food, and
clothing to the prison authorities from your family or friends. They
will try to get relief, if you are held under inhumane or unhealthy
conditions or treated less favorably than others in the same situation.
Help From American Consuls Abroad
When to Register With the U.S. Embassy
You should register at the Consular Section of the
nearest U.S. embassy or consulate:
- If you find yourself in a country or area that is
experiencing civil unrest, has an unstable political climate, or is
undergoing a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a hurricane.
- If you plan to go to a country where there are no
U.S. officials. In such cases, you should register at the U.S embassy
or consulate in an adjacent country, leave an itinerary with the
Consular Section, ask about conditions in the country that you will
visit, and ask about the third country that may represent U.S.
- If you plan to stay in a country longer than one
Registration at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate makes
your presence and whereabouts known, in case it is necessary for a
consular officer to contact you in an emergency. During a disaster
overseas, American consular officers can assist in evacuation were that
to become necessary. But they cannot assist you if they do not know
where your are. Registration also makes it easier to apply for a
replacement passport, if yours is lost or stolen.
If you are traveling with an escorted tour to areas
experiencing political uncertainty or other problems, find out if
registration at the U.S. embassy or consulate is being done for you by
your tour operator. If it is not, or if you are traveling on your own,
you should leave a copy of your itinerary at the nearest U.S. embassy or
consulate soon after you arrive.
What U.S. Consuls Can Do To Help You
U.S. consular officers are located at U.S. embassies
and consulates in most countries overseas. They are available to advise
and help you, if you are in any serious trouble.
In the Case of Destitution
If you become destitute abroad, the U.S. consul can
help you get in touch with your family, friends, bank, or employer and
tell you how to arrange for them to send funds for you. These funds can
sometimes be wired to you through the Department of State.
In the Case of Illness or Injury
If you become ill or injured while abroad, you can
contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for a list of local
doctors, dentists, medical specialists, clinics and hospitals. If your
illness or injury is serious, the U.S. consul can help you find medical
assistance and, at your request, will inform your family or friends of
your condition. If necessary, a consul can assist in the transfer of
funds from the United States. Payment of hospital and other expenses is
your responsibility. U.S. consular officers cannot supply you with
During an emergency, if you are unable to communicate,
the consul will check your passport for the name and address of any
relative, friend, or legal representative whom you wish to have
notified. Because the U.S. Government cannot pay for medical
evacuations, it is advisable to have private medical insurance to cover
U.S. diplomatic and consular officials do not have the
authority to perform marriages overseas. Marriage abroad must be
performed in accordance with local law. There are always documentary
requirements, and in some countries, there is a lengthy residence
requirement before a marriage may take place.
Before traveling, ask the embassy or consulate of the
country in which you plan to marry about their regulations and how to
prepare to marry abroad. Once abroad, the Consular Section of the
nearest U.S. embassy or consulate may be able to answer some of your
questions, but it is your responsibility to deal with local civil
A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or
parents generally acquires U.S. citizenship at birth. As soon as
possible after the birth, the U.S. parent or parents should contact the
nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to have a Report of Birth Abroad
of a Citizen of the United States of America prepared. This
document serves as proof of acquisition of U.S. citizenship and is
acceptable evidence for obtaining a U.S. passport and for most other
purposes where one must show a birth certificate or proof of
If you plan to adopt a child overseas, you should be
aware that the U.S. government considers foreign adoptions to be a
private, legal matter within the judicial sovereignty of the nation in
which the child is residing. U.S. authorities have no right to intervene
on behalf of American citizens in the courts of the country where the
adoption takes place. But there are a number of ways in which U.S.
embassies and consulates can assist prospective parents.
The U.S. embassy or consulate can provide you with
information on the adoption process in that particular country. Consular
officers can inquire on your behalf about the status of your case in the
foreign court, and they can assist in clarifying documentary
requirements, if necessary. Consular officers will also try to ensure
that, as a U.S. citizen, you will not be discriminated against by
foreign courts, and they will provide you with information about the
visa application process for your adopted child.
Because children in foreign adoptions are considered
to be nationals of the country of origin, prospective parents must
comply with local laws. One way to accomplish this is by dealing with a
reputable international adoption agency, experienced in handling
adoptions in the particular country in which you wish to adopt the
child. In the case of a private adoption, you should hire a local
attorney with expertise in adoptions.
Further information on adoption procedures can be
obtained by requesting BCIS Form M-249, The Immigration of Adopted
and Prospective Adoptive Children. You may also write for the
Please send a self-addressed, triple-stamped 9"x12" envelope to: Office
of Children's Issues, Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular
Affairs, Room 4817, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818. If
you are planning to adopt from a particular country, you should mention
that in your request, because the Office of Children's Issues has specific
information on the adoption procedures in countries around the world.
Information is also available by autofax service on 202-647-3000.
International Child Custody Disputes
There are limits on the assistance that U.S.
authorities can provide to parents involved in a child custody dispute.
When an American child is abducted overseas by a parent, the U.S.
Government's role is to help the remaining parent locate the child,
monitor the child's welfare, and provide information about child custody
laws and procedures in the country where the child has been taken.
Consular officers overseas can issue a U.S. passport to a child involved
in a custody dispute, if the child appears in person at a U.S. embassy
or consulate, and if there is no court order from the foreign court of
that country, which bars the child's departure from the country.
Parents who are involved in a custody dispute overseas
should find out whether that country is a party to the Hague Convention
on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Under the Hague
Convention, a child who has been wrongfully removed from a parent may be
returned to his or her place of habitual residence. For further
information on international child abduction and the Hague Convention,
please contact the Office of Children's Issues, Overseas Citizens
Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 4817, Washington, D.C.,
20520; telephone 202-647-7000. This office also has copies of the
International Parental Child Abduction,
which contains helpful information on what U.S. citizen parents can do
to prevent their child from becoming a victim of parental child
abduction. (The booklet is also available by autofax service at
202-674-3000. If you are overseas and would like information on this
subject, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for
A Variety of Non-Emergency Services
Consular officers provide non-emergency services as
well. These include information about Selective Service registration,
travel safety information, absentee voting, and the acquisition or loss
of U.S. citizenship. They arrange for the transfer of Social Security
and other Federal benefits to beneficiaries residing abroad, provide
U.S. tax forms, and notarize documents. Consuls can also provide
information on how to obtain foreign public documents.
What U.S. Consuls Cannot Do
U.S. consular officers will do their best to assist
U.S. citizens abroad. However, they must devote priority time and
energies to those Americans who find themselves in the most serious
legal, medical, or financial difficulties.
Because of limited resources, consuls cannot
provide routine or commercial-type services. They cannot act as travel
agents, information bureaus, banks, or law enforcement officers. U.S.
Federal law forbids a consular officer from acting as your lawyer.
Consular officers cannot find you employment; get you visas,
residence permits or driving permits; act as interpreters; search for
missing luggage; call your credit card company or bank; replace stolen
traveler's checks; or settle disputes with hotel managers. However, they
can tell you how to get assistance on these matters, as well as other
When You Return
You should confirm your return reservation at least
twice, and at least 72 hours before your scheduled departure. Whenever
possible, obtain a written confirmation. If you confirm your return
reservation by phone, record the time, day, and the name of the agent
who took your call. If your name does not appear on the reservations
list, you have no recourse and may find yourself stranded.
Some countries levy an airport departure tax on
travelers, which can be as high as $50. Please ask the airline or a
travel agent about this tax. Make certain to have enough money at the
end of your trip so that you will be able to get on the plane.
Immigration and Customs
If a passport was required for your trip, have it
ready when you go through Immigration and Customs. If you took other
documents with you, such as an International Certificate of Vaccination,
a medical letter, or a Customs certificate of registration for
foreign-made personal articles, have them ready, also. Have your
receipts handy, in case you need to support your customs declaration.
When returning to the United States by car from Mexico or Canada, have
your certificate of vehicle registration available. It is a good idea to
pack your baggage in a way to make inspection easier. For example, pack
the articles you acquired abroad separately, if possible.
Articles acquired abroad and brought back with you are
subject to duty and Internal Revenue tax. U.S. Customs currently allows
each U.S. citizen to bring back $400 worth of merchandise duty free,
provided the traveler has been outside the United States for at least 48
hours, has not already used this exemption within the preceding 30 day
period, and provided the traveler can present the purchases upon his or
her arrival at the port of entry. The next $1,000 worth of items brought
back for personal use or gifts are subject to duty at a flat 10% rate.
(Your duty-free exemption may include 100 cigars, 200 cigarettes, and
one liter of wine, beer or liquor.)
There are two groups of destinations from which the
duty-free exemption is higher. These are a group of 24 countries and
dependencies in the Caribbean and Central America from which the
exemption is $600, and a group of U.S. insular possessions (the U.S.
Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam), from which the exemption is
$1,200. For details, you can consult your travel agent or the U.S.
Customs Service publication, Know Before You Go, listed below.
Additional Sources of Information
The publication, Know Before You Go, Customs
Hints for Returning U.S. Residents, contains information on key
U.S. Customs regulations and procedures, including duty rates. Single
copies of the publication are free from any local Customs office or you
may request copies by writing to: U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box
7407, Washington, D.C. 20044.
Restrictions on the Entry of Products from Overseas
into the United States
Fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, plants in soil, and
many other agricultural products from abroad are prohibited entry into
the United States because they may carry foreign insects and diseases
that could damage U.S. crops, forests, gardens, and livestock. Other
items may also be restricted, so it is advisable to be informed about
such details before you return to the United States. The restrictions
also apply to mailed products from overseas. Prohibited items
confiscated and destroyed at U.S. international postal facilities have
almost doubled in recent years. Further information can be found in the
pamphlet, Travelers' Tips on Prohibited Agricultural Products,
obtainable from the Agricultural Affairs Office at the nearest U.S.
embassy or consulate, or you may contact the Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 4700 River Road,
Unit 51, Riverdale, Maryland 20737; Internet http://www.usda.gov
Wildlife and Wildlife Products
If, while abroad, you purchased any articles made from
endangered animals and plants or any live wild animals to bring back as
pets, you must be aware that according to U.S. laws and international
treaties, it is a crime to bring many wildlife souvenirs into the United
States. Some prohibited items include those made from sea turtle shell,
most reptile skins, crocodile leather, ivory, furs from endangered cat
species, as well as items made from coral reefs. So you should not buy
wildlife souvenirs, if you are unsure about being able to bring them
legally into the United States. The penalties that you risk are severe,
and your purchases could be confiscated. To learn more about endangered
wildlife and guidelines governing restrictions on imports into the
United States, consult the pamphlet, Buyer Beware! You can
request a free copy from
TRAFFIC (U.S.A.), World
Wildlife Fund -- U.S., 1250 24th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037;
telephone 202-293-4800; Internet http://www.worldwide.org
Glazed Ceramic Purchases
The article, An Unwanted Souvenir, Lead in
Ceramic Ware, explains the danger of lead poisoning from some
glazed ceramic ware sold abroad. For a free copy, contact:
Office of Consumer Affairs, U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville,
MD. 20857; telephone 1-800-532-4440; Internet
Addresses for U.S. Embassies and Consulates
Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts: Guide for Business
Representatives gives the names of key
officers and the addresses, telephone numbers and fax numbers for all
U.S. embassies, consulates, and missions abroad.
Other Important Publications
The publications listed below are available on this
If you would like to request copies or inquire about
price and availability, contact the Superintendent of Documents,
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; telephone:
202-512-1800; fax: 202-512-2250.
A Safe Trip Abroad contains
helpful precautions to minimize the chance of becoming a victim of
terrorism and also provides other safety tips for Americans traveling
Tips for Americans Residing Abroad
provides useful information for U.S. citizens who are considering
residency abroad, as well as for the more than three million U.S.
citizens who are currently residing overseas. Many details need to be
considered before the decision is made to reside abroad. This brochure
will inform you about the wide range of services provided to American
citizens by U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.
Travel Tips for Older Americans
provides general information on passports, visas, health, currency, and
suggestions for elderly U.S. citizens planning a trip abroad.
Tips for Travelers
pamphlets provide advice prepared by the Bureau of Consular Affairs on
travel to specific areas of the world. Depending on the region
discussed, a Tips pamphlet will cover such topics as currency and
customs regulations, entry requirements, dual nationality, import and
export controls, vaccination requirements, restrictions on use of
photography, and warnings on the use of drugs.