We all know that the holiday season is peak travel time. Although airports will be crowded, that doesn’t have to ruin your holiday travel experience. 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 take advantage of the following tips to help make your holiday travels safe, smooth, and stress-free.
Enroll in STEP
Record your travel plans with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free online service that allows us to better assist you if there is a family emergency in the United States or 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.
Apply early for your passport
Did you know that a U.S. passport book or passport card is now required for land and sea travel to Mexico and the Caribbean? If you do not have a passport and you plan to travel outside of the United States this holiday season, apply for your passport now. Our current commitment for passport processing time is four to six weeks for routine service and two to three weeks for expedited service. There are 26 passport agencies and more than 8,800 passport acceptance facilities across the United States. Passport application forms are available on our website.
Once you receive your passport, sign it 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
Sure, you’ve enrolled in STEP so that your family and the State Department can contact you in an emergency, but you should also leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends at home. Leave a copy of your credit card too; in an emergency, the credit card company can help your family locate you. E-mail yourself and your family a scanned copy of your passport biopage as well as all the foreign visa pages. This information and access to copies will be invaluable should your passport become lost or stolen. Think of it as a cyber-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. 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. Our website has useful safety and other information about the countries you will visit. You can also download the Smart Traveler iPhone app to have the country information at your fingertips.
Find the closest U.S. embassy or consulate
Take a moment to locate the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your destination country. This can come in handy if you need the assistance of a consular officer.
Take precautions to avoid being a target of crime
Practice the same safety tips you would in any unfamiliar place: do not wear clothing or jewelry that would attract attention and do not carry excessive amounts of money; do not leave unattended luggage in public areas; do not accept packages from strangers; and do not travel with anything you’d hate to lose.
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 our website, or you can call the Office of Overseas Citizen Services 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).
From the Bureau of Consular Affairs to you, we wish you good cheer this holiday season and safe travels!