Knowing how to prepare for international arrivals, will help you understand what will be expected to enter the country and what is not permitted. There can always be unexpected surprises, but the more prepared you are, the faster you can get to the travel enjoyment part!
CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION – HOW TO PREPARE FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS
When arriving internationally, you will need to fill out all necessary customs, immigration, and declaration papers prior to reaching a point of entry. In many countries, you will be given a portion of your immigration form back. You will likely need to retain this in order to exit the country. Put it in a safe location. If you lose this paper, it is possible you will have difficulty exiting the country and/or you will need to pay a fee to replace it. This fee is like a fine and could be any amount, depending what country you are in.
Know what is permitted and not permitted to bring into the country. Often on your entry forms, there is a page that you retain that provides the rules of what you can enter and leave with, and what you cannot.
Most international arrivals require a valid passport. Always have your valid passport on your person, out and easily available. Carry a secondary form of identification, if there is any question, and in case of theft. Keep your second ID separate from your passport. Get any required visas ahead of travel when possible and have them ready. For a thorough article on preparing documents for travel, read my page, “Get Your Documents.”
Some countries are implementing health requirements. You may need to show proof of vaccination, a negative Covid test, or proof of recovery. In addition, many countries have a required health and/or contact tracing form. Many have a QR code that you will need to have available to scan by the airline to board and/or upon arrival. Check each country’s requirement at their official government travel page.
Get further travel advice from the World Health Organization.
TRAVEL TIP: Be sure your passport is signed. Unsigned passports are unacceptable. Your signature should be on the page where your photo is, in the specified section. Always sign your passport upon receipt and definitely prior to the start of your travel.
PHONE & CAMERA USAGE
Never use your phone in an official area such as immigration points. In most countries this is considered a secure government area and usage is considered a breach of security. Taking photos of customs areas, officers, police, military, and/or other official persons or places is generally forbidden. Abide by posted signs. If you are at all unsure, it is best to refrain. When in doubt, at minimum, ask permission. In many countries breaches of security may be considered a serious offense, punishable by fines, or even imprisonment.
KNOW YOUR DESTINATION – HOW TO PREPARE FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS
Part of the reason for preparing for arriving in a foreign destination is to relieve travel stress. Knowing where you are going when you leave the airport and having the name and address of the place clearly written is very helpful. After a long travel day, you will thank yourself! Know the telephone number of your destination in case you need to reach them prior to your arrival for directions, parking instructions, or to let them know you are late or on your way.
Part of the fun of traveling can be winging it. By this I mean not knowing where you will be day to day and choosing your activities and cities last minute, based on your mood or a recommendation. My rule of thumb is to always have my first night planned and reserved.
There is nothing worse then traveling a really long way, being tired, possibly delayed, hungry, jet lagged, or even sick, and not having a place to go. By booking your first night ahead, I truly feel this relieves stress and allows you to rest and acclimate. This leads to making great decisions in the morning!
Some hotels or hotel programs like this one, allow early check-in when available. This is a great perk if you have been flying all night and arrive to your destination in the wee hours. Be sure to check with your accommodation for their check-in rules.
TRANSPORTATION UPON ARRIVAL – HOW TO PREPARE FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS
Know what mode of transportation you will be taking to depart the airport, train station, ferry port, etc. Have a backup plan. If you have prearranged a private ride, be certain that you are getting into the correct vehicle. If you are taking a ride from the airport, be sure the person is a licensed driver, permitted by the city. Also be sure to always negotiate the total rate you will pay, prior to entering the vehicle.
Be sure that you can communicate in some way with your driver. There needs to be a clear understanding of where your destination is.
There may also be trains or busses available upon arrival. It is helpful to know if public transport options will be available to you. If these options exist, find out the cost and schedules. In case of delays or changes, it is always good to have a back up plan.
A great option is to prearrange a ride through a reputable service. I use them often. If you scroll through all of their deals, you can usually find a competitive price that is hassle free. You pay online, prior to your arrival, so there is no need to worry about foreign money until you are settled at your first night’s destination.
- Often your pre-arranged driver is standing holding a sign upon your arrival. Every time I have used this service, I have found it to be easy, prompt, and safe. After a long travel day, it makes for a hassle free arrival. Many companies offer private as well as less expensive, shared transport. You can usually prepay so you are not fumbling with currency exchange as soon as you land.
MONEY EXCHANGE & FOREIGN CURRENCY
Understanding what forms of currency you will need when you first arrive is an important step of how to prepare for international arrivals. Sometimes you will need cash to tip for your bags, to pay for a visa, or to pay for your transport.
USING CREDIT CARDS
Not everyone will accept a credit card. Some countries are still very much cash based. While major hotel chains and airports will usually be an exception, it can be quite difficult to travel without cash in many destinations. Some countries favor one credit card over another. For example, some countries take Master Card, but not Visa.
If you are counting on using a credit card, be sure that the ones you bring are the generally accepted ones. Be sure to call your credit card companies prior to departure to put a travel notification on your cards. Also ask what the foreign transaction will be per purchase, if any.
CASH IS KING
Arriving with no cash can put you in an awkward or difficult situation. If you do need to purchase an entrance visa, this can almost always only be done in cash, and often in the currency of the country you are entering. Be sure to know this ahead and have cash, in the destination’s currency, on hand.
Now that you are in a foreign country, the cash you have from your point of origin will generally be useless, unless you exchange it. Often there is money exchange or an ATM at your point of entry, but sometimes they offer poor exchange rates compared to in town, or at a bank.
If you must take money at a point of entry, try to find a bank owned ATM machine. This will usually give you the best exchange rate. Privately owned ATMs may charge an exorbitant fee. Most ATM fees are on top of whatever your home bank fees are.
FINDING AN ATM
Some countries accept foreign currency for services, but usually offer a poor rate of exchange. If you choose not to get money at the airport, train, or boat station, it may be easiest to hit the closest bank ATM before traveling further. If there are not any within walking distance, you have too much luggage, or you feel unsafe, there are a few options:
- Use the ATM or Currency Exchange Window at the Port of Entry out of convenience, knowing you may get a less than optimal rate. In this instance, it may be worth only taking a small amount of currency. On the flip side, if your bank, the ATM, or the cash exchange are charging you a substantial fee up to a certain amount exchanged, it may be worth taking the maximum, rather than paying a fee twice for 2 small exchanges.
- Ask your taxi or driver to stop at a bank and wait for you on the way to your destination. Be sure to negotiate this ahead. Be clear that you want an official bank, or you might as well have exchanged upon arrival.
- Or opt for the pre-arranged ride. The advantage here is that you pay online, prior to your arrival, so there is no need to worry about foreign money until you are settled at your first night’s destination. Additionally, after a long travel day, you can relax knowing someone will be waiting to greet you.