Today marks five days until the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. Many U.S. citizens will be attending the Games, and I had the opportunity to engage with some of those individuals last week during a Twitter Q & A. I received many thoughtful questions, and much of what we discussed also applies to any U.S. citizen traveling abroad. Here are 10 useful tips for travelers:
• Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so the State Department can better assist you in an emergency: Let us know your travel plans through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free online service. This will help us contact you if there is a family emergency in the U.S., or if there is a crisis where you are traveling. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts will not be released to others without your express authorization.
• Download the Smart Traveler App for iPhone: When you sign up, you will automatically receive the most current information we compile about the country where you will be traveling or living. These notifications will be sent directly to your iPhone as soon as they are available. You will also receive updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts (where appropriate).
• Sign 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. Check if the country you are traveling to requires a certain length of validity on your passport or has other requirements such as available funds or a return ticket in order to enter your country of destination.
• Leave copies of itinerary and passport data page: Leave copies of your itinerary and accommodations contact information with family or friends so you can be contacted in case of an emergency. Also, leave copies of your passport data page and visas with family and friends. Consider carrying a copy of your passport data page when you are out and about, so you can leave your passport in the hotel safe.
• 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.
• Take precautions when bringing prescription medications: A traveler going abroad with a preexisting medical problem should carry a letter from the attending physician, describing the medical condition and any prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs. Any medications being carried overseas should be left in their original containers and be clearly labeled. Travelers should check with the foreign embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure any required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics.
• 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, do not wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in public areas and do not accept packages from strangers.
• Know what items you can and cannot bring back into the United States: Some items may not be brought into the United States, or may only be brought in under certain restrictions. For information on U.S. customs regulations and procedures, see the Customs and Border Protection booklet "Know Before You Go."• Contact us in an emergency: 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. Also note that the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs may be reached 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.
As the Games approach, we'll be tweeting these and other travel tips from @TravelGov. I encourage you to follow @TravelGov for updates on travel to the Games as well as other information for those going abroad. You can also find more information on travel.state.gov, as well as on our embassy's website. Our embassy has prepared a series of videos on the 10 most frequently asked questions they receive from U.S. citizens visiting the United Kingdom. You can view these videos here.
Whether you're attending the Olympics in person or viewing them on television, I hope you enjoy the London Games. I know I'm certainly looking forward to them, and will be cheering for Team USA!