International Travel: The Easy Way
Technology and the Internet have made running international companies from home almost a matter of routine. Still, entrepreneurs are finding that even cyber-clients want face-to-face time occasionally. This means traveling abroad -- an adventure when all goes right, a disaster when things go wrong,
Whether new to international travel or a veteran, just about anyone traveling on business outside the United States can benefit from the wealth of new information available every day. This is particularly true when it comes to customs, passports, emergency resources and communications -- areas prone to frequent change.
International Customs: A challenge to American Tradition
When journeying abroad, novice 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 and produce behind. If you are unsure as to any item's status, declare it.
- Courtesy: International airports are packed, just like their American counterparts, and language may be an issue, with both these factors contributing 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.
Passport Information: All About the Protocol
With the new federal travel regulations, obtaining a passport -- a document verifying the identity and nationality of the bearer -- can take as long as three months during peak summers travel times. For this reason, new entrepreneurs with international clients would do well to apply now, even if they don't plan to travel anytime soon. In any case, these suggestions from the U.S. State Department can help speed up the process. Visit www.travel.state.gov/passport for additional information:
- First-time applicants should go in person to one of many nearby Passport Application Acceptance Facilities. These include many clerks of courts, post offices, some public libraries and a number of state, county and municipal offices. Twenty four regional 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 requires two personal photographs, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver's license.
- Apply in person for a first-time request or when an expired passport is lost, stolen, misplaced or in another's possession; when the expiration period was more than15 years ago; or when a previous passport was issued before age 16.
- 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 consul usually can issue a replacement passport within 24 hours.
In Case of Emergency: The Right Resources Help
Proverbial wisdom says the savvy business traveler plans for any emergency that might come up during a trip abroad -- and this makes sense. 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. The official recommendations follow, with a few more added.
- Register travel plans with the State Department through a free online service at travelregistration.state.gov. This allows government officials to contact travelers in case of a family emergency in the United States, or if there is a crisis in the countries visited.
- 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 overseas and whether emergency expenses are included. If not, consider supplemental insurance.
- Become familiar with local conditions and laws. Details for specific countries are available at The State Department Web site at http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.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, 7 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 Web site at travel.state.gov.
- Emergency assistance likewise is available through the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs at 1-888-407-4747, if calling from the U.S. or Canada, or 202-501-4444, if calling from overseas.
Mobility /Communications: Making the Connection
With cell phones and laptops probably the most valuable communication tools for American entrepreneurs on the move, experts point out that businesspersons traveling overseas should do their research before leaving so that they will be able to stay in touch:
- The Internet: Better hotels in major foreign cities offer some online availability (including Wi Fi technology for laptops) if not in individual rooms, then in the lobby or designated business centers. The number of Internet cafes abroad likewise is growing, with rates as low as 10 dollars (American) per half-hour of computer/Internet usage. Newer laptops have power systems capable of converting voltage from 110 to 240 automatically, but make sure you have plug adaptors so you can plug in your power cord and your surge protector. An extra battery is a wise purchase to ensure continued access in countries where electrical power is often unavailable or unreliable.
- Phone System: Most new laptops do not have a built-in modem, so if you are in a country where broadband or WiFi is not available, you may need to invest in an external modem to access the Internet via a phone line. Local dial-up service is usually available, often with low-cost prepaid access cards from the providers. Invest in a surge protector with a telephone jack to protect your laptop.
- 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: Before leaving, check with your mobile phone provider to see if your current phone can be used abroad, and if all its features are available. Make sure you understand the roaming rates that will be charged 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, likes Skype, and avoid roaming charges. Alternatively, you can purchase a "SIM" card for your phone in the country you are traveling, which is a removable data card with a local number, turning your phone into a local phone. You can also purchase an inexpensive handset in the foreign country you are traveling in. For frequent overseas travelers, it may be worthwhile to invest in a "world phone" that can operate at home and abroad. Some world phone packages start as low as $130 and 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
- 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 usually are better. Keep in mind, though, carrying big wads of bills may tempt that pickpocket lurking just around the corner.
- Jet lag: To avoid the twilight state of jet lag, take a few precaution: Get some sleep on the plane: drink plenty of water and limit alcohol consumption; eat non-spicy food; and try to get in sync with new bed and wake-up times directly upon arrival. Keep in mind, feeling "normal" again may take a couple of days.
- Health and safety: Be aware of immunization requirements, particularly in third world or developing nations. In these countries, 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. Eyeglass wearers should take along an extra pair in a carry-on bag, as well as back-up medications in checked luggage.
Those suffering from allergies or reactions to certain medications, foods or insect bites, or are living with a unique or chronic condition would do well to wear a "medical alert" bracelet. All travelers with preexisting medical problems should carry letters from their primary physicians describing the medical condition and any prescription medications, 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.
The following Web sites provide a wealth of information targeting the international business traveler, and are well worth a visit:
List of U.S. Airport Web sites
Check arrival and departure schedules, parking, airport amenities, etc.
List of International Airport Web sites
Find out about vaccination recommendations and health information for specific destinations.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides up-to-date information about disease outbreaks and vaccine requirements for specific counties and regions
State Department Travel Resources
Food and Lodging
Fodor's site provides news and information about all forms of travel, destination cities, hotels, restaurants and travel books.
The World Clock
Current local times around the world.
International Dialing Codes
Table listing of country codes and prefixes.
Business Travel News
Getting Through Customs
A digital version of the well-known series, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. Provides E-content and training for international travelers.