About the Author: Michelle Bernier-Toth serves as the Director of American Citizens Services in the Office of Overseas Citizen Services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Like the First Family, many of you may be planning to travel this holiday season. About 41 million people are expected to fly from December 17 to January 16, according to the Air Transport Association, and many more holiday travelers will be out on the roads. Whether you are packing your bags for the sunny beaches of the Caribbean or headed to the snowy slopes of Switzerland, we hope you will read the following tips to help make your holiday travels safe, smooth and stress-free.
Sign up so the State Department can better assist you in an emergency: Record your travel plans with the State Department through a free online service at https://travelregistration.state.gov. This will help us contact you if there is a family emergency in the United States, or if there is a crisis where you are traveling. You’ll also receive updated travel information for countries you plan to visit. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts will not be released to others without your express authorization.
Sign your passport, and fill in the emergency information: Make sure you have a signed, valid passport, and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport. Most passports are valid for ten years. Write the contact information in pencil so you can change it as needed over time.
Leave copies of itinerary, passport data page, and credit card: What happens if there's an emergency back home? Leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends so you can be contacted in case of an emergency. Leave a copy of your credit card too; in an emergency, the credit card company can help your family locate you.
Check your overseas medical insurance coverage: Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance. Medical treatment and evacuations can cost thousands of dollars – some countries won't allow you in through customs unless you can show proof of medical insurance!
Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws: While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The State Department website has useful safety and other information about the countries you will visit.
Take precautions to avoid being a target of crime: To avoid being a target of crime, practice the same safety tips you would in any place you aren't familiar with: do not wear clothing or jewelry that would attract attention and do not carry excessive amounts of money. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in public areas and do not accept packages from strangers.
Contact us in an emergency: We are here to help you. Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad and in the United States are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates appears on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at http://travel.state.gov, or you can call the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs for assistance with emergencies at 1-888-407-4747 (if calling from the U.S. or Canada), or 202-501-4444 (if calling from overseas).
Happy holidays and safe travels from the U.S. Department of State!