Travelers should familiarize themselves with their destinations, both to get the most enjoyment out of the visit and to avoid known dangers. Travelers should also be aware of restrictions on items that may be taken overseas (see “Bringing Medications or Filling Prescriptions Abroad,” below) and even on items that may be brought into the U.S. upon return (see “Customs and Import Restrictions,” below). More information resources follow:
The Consular Information Program
The Consular Information Program consists of three main components that provide information to the American public about travel to specific countries: Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. The U.S. Department of State issues fact sheets called Country Specific Information on over 200 countries. The sheets contain information on entry requirements, crime and security conditions, areas of instability, road safety and other details relevant to travel.
The Department of State also issues Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Travel warnings are issued when the State Department recommends deferral of travel by Americans to a country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity and, in some cases, because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country and may have great difficulty in assisting Americans in distress. Travel Alerts are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term or transnational conditions that could pose significant risks to American travelers.
How to Obtain Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts
Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts are updated regularly and are accessible through the State Department's travel information website at http://www.travel.state.gov. For specific questions regarding an emergency involving an American citizen overseas, contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225.
There are three ways to access Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts:
- On the Internet: http://www.travel.state.gov .
- By Fax: on a fax machine, dial 202-647-3000 and follow the voice prompts.
- By Telephone: dial (888) 407-4747 from within the U.S., or, from overseas, (202) 501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
Background Notes are factual publications that contain information on countries with which the United States has diplomatic relations. They include facts on each country’s land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy, and relations with other countries and the United States. Background notes can be accessed via http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn.
Customs and Import Restrictions
Customs Restrictions of Foreign Destinations – What You Cannot Take to Other Countries
Many countries have restrictions on what may be brought into the country, including food, pets (see “Taking a Pet Overseas” under “Passports and Other Travel Documents,” below), and medications. Even over-the-counter medications may be prohibited in some countries. Check with the embassies of your destination countries as to prohibited items. A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
U.S. Customs Restrictions – What You Cannot Bring Back With You
Some items may not be brought into the U.S., 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,” available at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg. For further information, see http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/prohibited_restricted.xml on the same website.
There are special rules for products made from endangered wildlife. Many wildlife and wildlife products are prohibited either by U.S. or foreign laws from import into the United States, and you risk confiscation and a possible fine if you attempt to bring them into the U.S. when you return. Watch out for the following prohibited items:
- All products made from sea turtles
- All ivory, both Asian and African elephant, and rhinoceros
- Furs from spotted cats
- Furs from marine mammals
- Feathers and feather products from wild birds
- Most crocodile and caiman leather
- Most coral, whether in chunks or in jewelry
You may import an object made of ivory if it is an antique. To be an antique the ivory must be at least 100 years old, and you will need documentation that authenticates the age of the ivory. You may import other antiques containing wildlife parts under the same conditions: they must be accompanied by documentation proving they are at least 100 years old. Certain other requirements for antiques may also apply.
For more information, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA 22203-3247, or call 800-358-2104, or visit http://www.fws.gov/.
Taking a Pet Overseas
If you decide to take your pet with you when you go abroad, you should check with the embassies of the destination countries as to specific requirements that must be met before a pet may be brought into the country. Many countries have strict health, quarantine, agriculture, wildlife, and customs requirements and prohibitions. A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
Note: In a crisis in which chartered or military aircraft or ships are used to evacuate Americans from a danger area, pets will not normally be permitted on the carrier. The pet owner will need to make other arrangements in order to remove the pet from the area. (Service animals, such as guide dogs, are not considered pets and will be accommodated if possible.)
Places to Receive Mail
If you will be abroad for an extended period, you may want to arrange for the delivery of your mail. Some banks and international credit card companies handle mail for customers at their overseas branches. In addition, post offices in many countries will hold mail for travelers under their General Delivery (Poste Restante) services. U.S. Embassies and Consulates do not handle private mail. Check with the embassy of your destination country to see if that will be possible there. A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
Health: What You Need to Know in Advance of Travel
All travelers should familiarize themselves with conditions at their destination that could affect their health (high altitude or pollution, types of medical facilities, required immunizations, availability of required pharmaceuticals, etc.). While some of this information may be found in the documents listed above, the key resource for health information is the Travelers’ Health page of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. The CDC website also provides general guidance on health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect-bite protection. The CDC also maintains an international travelers' hotline at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or, by fax, at 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299). See also the resources listed below.
Vaccination, Infectious Diseases, Pandemic Influenza, Foot & Mouth Disease, Chemical/Biological/Nuclear Incidents
General guidance on vaccinations and other health precautions may be found on the Travelers’ Health page of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
Fact Sheets on foot and mouth disease, responding to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents and other health issues, including pandemic influenza, may be found at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.
For information about pandemic influenza, see http://www.pandemicflu.gov or the website above. Information about infectious diseases abroad may also be found on the website of the World Health Organization at http://www.who.int/en, and further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
Insurance, Medicare & Medicaid, Medical Evacuation
Obtaining medical treatment and hospital care abroad can be expensive, and medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost more than $50,000. Note that U.S. medical insurance is generally not accepted outside the United States, nor do the Social Security Medicare and Medicaid programs provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States.
If your insurance policy does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy that does. There are health insurance policies designed specifically to cover travel. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations. The names of some of the companies offering short-term health and emergency assistance policies are listed on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.
Bringing Medications or Filling Prescriptions Abroad
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. (A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.)
If you wear eyeglasses, take an extra pair with you. Pack medicines and extra eyeglasses in your hand luggage so they will be available in case your checked luggage is lost. To be extra secure, pack a backup supply of medicines and an additional pair of eyeglasses in your checked luggage.
If you have allergies, reactions to certain medications, foods, or insect bites, or other unique medical problems, consider wearing a “medical alert” bracelet. You may also wish to carry a letter from your physician explaining required treatment should you become ill.
Information on filling a prescription abroad and other health issues may be found at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.
Doctors and Hospitals
If an American citizen becomes seriously ill or injured abroad, a U. S. consular officer can assist in locating medical services and informing family or friends. If necessary, a consular officer can also assist in the transfer of funds from the United States. (Note, however, that payment of hospital and all expenses is the responsibility of the traveler.) For more information, go to http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1215.html.
Special Planning Considerations
Student TravelersMany college students travel during school breaks. While most students will have a safe and enjoyable adventure, for some the trip will become a nightmare with a serious impact on the rest of their lives. Students planning travel may want to review http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/safety/safety_2836.html. American students planning travel to Mexico may want to review the following as well: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/spring_break_mexico/spring_break_mexico_5014.html.
Seniors should review the information contained in the section Planning Your Trip: Learn About the Places You Will Visit, consider the following tips, and discuss the trip with a physician:
- Local conditions: Be aware of any effects the local topography or climate may have on you: If you are sensitive to altitude or to humidity, or to other attributes of your destination, consult with your physician.
- Don’t over-program: The additional physical activity undertaken during travel can be quite strenuous, and sudden changes in diet and climate can have serious health consequences for the unprepared traveler.
- Pack wisely: Don’t pack so much that you will end up lugging around heavy suitcases. Dress conservatively—a wardrobe that is flashy may attract the attention of thieves or con artists, while clothing that is very casual may result in being barred from some tourist sites overseas. Include a change of clothing in your carry-on luggage.
Traveling With Disabilities
Individual countries have their own standards of accessibility for disabled travelers. Some countries have nondiscrimination laws that help to protect travelers with disabilities, while other countries do not. Preparation before you go can help ensure that your planned destination will be accessible, safe and enjoyable. Travelers with disabilities should review the Department of Transportation pamphlets New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability and Plane Talk: Facts for Passengers With Disabilities . Both of these publications are available at the Department of Transportation’s website http://www.dot.gov. In addition, travelers with disabilities should review the information contained in the section above entitled Planning Your Trip: Learn About the Places You Will Visit, consider the following tips, and discuss the trip with a physician:
- Research in advance: Learn about planned stops and ask questions about services available. Consider the level of health care available, as well as local transportation needs to and from the airport, luggage assistance, and whether other help will be needed to leave the airport terminal. When making reservations, inform the travel agent or carrier of your disability and the equipment you use, and, if necessary, request a wheelchair be brought to the gate upon arrival and any other assistance needed while flying and at the airport. In all cases, ask that your needs and requests be documented as part of the reservation, and take down the name of the agent. That way, if there is a problem, you may be able to quickly show that you are entitled to the service you requested.
- Seek medical advice: Talk to your physician about the activities you have planned and your general physical condition, any immunizations that might be needed, and medications, whether prescription or over the counter, that you might need for your trip. Carry a letter from your attending physician, describing your medical condition and any prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs.
- Your medications: If you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough to last the duration of the trip, including extra medicine in case you are delayed. Pack your medication in your carry-on bag, since checked baggage is occasionally lost. Always carry your prescriptions in their labeled containers, not in a pill pack.
- Documentation of immunizations: Take with you proper documentation of immunizations.
- Health and Evacuation Insurance: Make sure you have adequate health insurance coverage while abroad, including coverage of medical evacuation (not covered by most domestic policies). Note that U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
- Service dogs: Some countries have restrictions on service dogs. If you intend to travel with a service dog, be sure to check on possible restrictions with the embassy or consulate of each country you will visit. (This and other country information may be found on each country’s Country Specific Information at http://travel.state.gov). If service dogs are permitted, learn about quarantine or vaccination requirements. Find out what documents are needed, including international health certificates and rabies inoculation certificates, and if the documents need to be translated. Talk with your vet about tips for traveling with a dog, and how travel will affect the animal. You may also want to ensure that hotels will accommodate your service dog, and that there will be an adequate area for the dog to relieve itself.
- Maintenance on equipment: Have a maintenance check done on any equipment you will take with you, to ensure that everything is in working order before you leave. You may want to research the availability of wheelchair and medical equipment providers in the areas you plan to visit.
- Carry written plans: Carry with you your written itinerary and directions of where you wish to go. These can be shown to people who might be able to help you if you are lost. Another useful tool is a point-and-conversation guide.