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July 15, 2016

Stay safe while on vacation — International travel safety checklist

If your summer vacation plans include international travel, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

International vacations should be relaxing, but not so relaxing that you let your guard down. 

If you are visiting an unfamiliar place, it is easy to become lost, confused, and vulnerable to thieves and scammers. Here are a few common-sense precautions that can make for a safer vacation and less hassle if something unexpected does occur.

Before You Go

  • Educate yourself on your destination. Research in advance any specific  visa requirements, local laws, unique customs, and medical care in the countries you are visiting. Online sites like offer helpful information about many of these topics.
  • Be aware of any travel warnings or alerts for your destination country. Check the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will be traveling for the latest security messages.1
  • Find out about health precautions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide recommendations for vaccinations and other travel health precautions for your trip abroad.
  • Check with your bank and credit card companies about policies for replacing ATM and credit cards at your destination. Some issuers can replace the cards within 24 hours — others will only send replacement cards to your home address, which will not help you if you’re traveling.
  • Create a list of emergency phone numbers in a separate place from your credit cards. You should include these phone numbers:
    • U.S. embassy or consulate in every country you will be visiting, in case you lose your passport.
    • Emergency numbers for reaching your bank and credit card issuer from wherever you will be. Note that U.S. toll-free numbers may not work from abroad.
    • Local phone numbers for your credit card issuers.

At Your Hotel

  • Make sure the desk clerk at the hotel doesn’t say your room number aloud. Consider asking for an alternative room if they do as a precaution.
  • When you get to your room, check to make sure all the windows and door locks are functioning. Check corridors and know where fire exits and fire extinguishers and alarms are located.
  • Place valuables in your hotel room safe or with hotel security.

On the Street

  • Use a “dummy wallet.” Carry an old wallet with $50 or less in local currency. Keep the rest of your money stashed in a safe place that’s not visible.
  • Avoid distractions. Thieves may ask you for directions or stage a scene to grab your attention while someone else steals your wallet or electronic devices.
  • Make sure to stay back from the curb while standing. Thieves on a scooter, bicycle, or on foot can easily grab your handbag and be gone in a split second.

In a Vehicle

  • Understand whether your personal insurance will respond if you are in an accident, or if you need to purchase coverage through the rental agency.
  • When renting a vehicle, make sure your vehicle is in good working order with a proper spare. Be sure to ask the rental agent for the emergency number for the local police as a precaution in case of an accident or you get lost.
  • If you are stopped for a traffic violation, ask to call the local consulate or embassy. Sometimes these stops are scams. If the authority insists on a payment immediately, make sure you get a proper receipt. 

Watch for Scams 

  • Beware of strangers approaching you and do not drink from bottles that are already open. In some countries, thieves use a drug that can render you unconscious.
  • Another trick thieves may use is to spill food or drop change in front of you with the hope you will put your bags down to assist them. This is a common scam at airports or train stations, and then the thief takes off with your bags.
  • Beware of fake porters offering to assist you with your bags. Ask for an I.D. before agreeing to their assistance. 

No one wants to spend their vacation worrying about what can go wrong, but a few precautions can ensure a worry-free vacation.


1 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs