US State Department website can help you prepare for travel
Most travelers turn to the Internet and/or a travel agent while planning for a vacation. A very useful but often overlooked resource is the US Department of State (more commonly referred to as State Department). The State Department offers a wealth of information for vacationers of all experience levels. (Incidentally, the State Department has a website dedicated to passports and a few other issues. You can find that here: www.travel.state.gov. The full gamut of topics is covered inside the Travel section of the Department’s website. It is that section I reviewed while writing this post.)
For this column, I wanted to focus on a few of the more common issues vacationers face. Perhaps this information will help you someday.
1. What to do if your passport is lost or stolen. Because you’ll need the passport to return to the United States, it’s imperative that you take steps to get it replaced immediately. Contact the nearest embassy or consulate, and ask to speak with the Consular Section. Staff will work as quickly as possible, but understand that the offices generally are not open on the weekends. If you are the victim of a crime, report it to the local police immediately. Ask for a copy of the report, but do not delay your plans further; a report usually is not necessary to process the replacement request.
Some of the items the Consular staff will need to process your request include:
– Passport photo (take one in advance, and pack it with your belongings)
– Identification (driver’s license and expired passport are fine)
– Evidence of US citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of current passport). I keep several photocopies of my passport (actually, the ID page) in my luggage. I also scanned that page and emailed it to myself. As long as I have internet access, I can call up that document.
2. What to do if you need medical attention. If you are seriously injured or ill, consular or embassy staff can assist in finding medical attention. You are responsible for medical expenses, so review your health insurance plan. Carry your insurance ID card for proof of coverage, and the State Department suggests packing a claim form as well. Treatment for a serious incident can cost $10,000 or more, the State Department says.
On a side note: Before leaving home, learn what you can about medical services in the area you are visiting. Does the resort, for example, offer medical aid? Is there a clinic nearby? If you’re not sure, ask as soon as your arrive at your destination. Consider purchasing additional health insurance. Medical expenses are one area that can leave a lasting effect long after you’ve returned home.
3. Being properly prepared. The State Department’s website offers a checklist of suggestions to consider as you plan a vacation. Some of these include:
– Be aware of travel alerts and warnings. Check the Department’s web page for the latest alerts.
– Do you have all your necessary documentation? A passport is nearly a must nowadays, but don’t forget about standard identification. Is your passport within 6 months of expiring? Some nations won’t honor a passport that expires within six months beyond the date of the trip. (Mine expires September 2015. Something to keep in mind for next year.)
Don’t overlook your children. To help curb child abductions, some nations require parents to show proof of relationship. You can learn more at the International Parental Child Abduction website.
– Are you prepared for an emergency? Make sure you have the contact information for the nearest consulate or embassy. Staff can assist 24/ in an emergency. Provide your family members back home with phone numbers of the places you will be staying, as well as the phone numbers for the Office of Overseas Citizens Services. Those numbers and a lot of other good information can be found on the checklist page.
For related reading, see “Packing for a vacation? Here are some suggestions” (Note the other columns referenced inside.)
If you’ve turned to an embassy or consulate for help while traveling, please share your experience (good or bad). Less-experienced travelers will be curious about the incident. Feel free to comment below. And please share this column so others may benefit from what you and I have written. Thanks!
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