5 things to do before you travel outside of the country for the first time


You've booked your flight, planned excursions and looked into Airbnbs for your first trip abroad. But your vacation planning isn't quite over yet — there are a few financial tasks you should take care of before jetting off.

Here are five things to take care of before your first trip overseas.

1. Get your passport

If you don't have a passport, you'll need a new one. And if yours will expire within six months of your departure date, then you'll need to renew it.

You'll want to do this well in advance of your trip: The State Department's website says it takes six to eight weeks to process, or two to three weeks for expedited processing. But leave wiggle room, if you can, in case there are delays.

You should also look up visa requirements for the country you're visiting. For a short trip, you likely won't need one, but if you plan to stay somewhere at least 90 days, you will need a visa. Be sure to check the State Department's website, though: If you're traveling to India, for example, you'll need a visa no matter what.

Cost: $140 for passport card and book for new or renewed adult passports.

2. Research your credit card options

The travel rewards card game has heated up in recent years. Virtually every issuer offers some sort of credit card that lets users build and redeem travel points or miles. The big question is, which, if any, makes sense for you?

If you are traveling to a different country, the most important perk to look for is no foreign transaction fees so that you are not paying an additional 3%, in most cases, to swipe your card for purchases.

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But some travel cards go well beyond that. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, offers perks like trip cancellation insurance and rental car insurance. Others give you lounge access, a free stay in a hotel once a year, airline upgrades and more. But the annual fees on these cards, which can range from $95 to over $500, only make sense if you're an avid traveler and plan to make multiple trips each year.

A good no-fee option is the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card, which has no foreign transaction fees, gives you 3 times the points on travel purchases, offers an annual $100 airline travel credit and charges no annual fee. Because PenFed is a credit union, you do need to be a member to qualify, which is as simple as opening a savings account and maintaining a $5 balance.

And call your issuer before you leave the country to let them know you'll be traveling. Take a picture of your credit card and write down the information in a secure place, just in case it is lost or stolen. Have the international numbers for your card issuer on hand, too. Here are Visa's and MasterCard's.

Cost: $0 to $550, depending on the card.

3. Consider travel insurance

If you've booked a flight from New York to Detroit to visit family, it likely doesn't make sense to pay for travel insurance. But if you've planned a major trip abroad, then it could be worth the peace of mind. The main question to ask yourself is: If something goes wrong, can I cover these costs on my own?

First up: You can typically forego insurance for a flight. If yours is cancelled or delayed, the airline will have to refund or rebook you anyway. You don't need to buy additional coverage.

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Next, double check what's offered by your credit card, so you have an idea of the protections you already have in place.

Then, you can look for an additional plan. Typically, if you're travelling outside of the U.S., it's best to buy what's known as a comprehensive plan as opposed to picking and choosing different types of coverage — such as flight cancellation, lost baggage, etc. — a la carte. These plans will cover a range of expenses, from missing a connection, lost bag fees, disaster evacuations, cancellations if you get sick and more. If you're putting out a lot of money upfront, these plans will safeguard your investment.

Cost: $164, on average, for a comprehensive plan for a week-long trip, according to finance research site ValuePenguin.

4. Exchange currency

You should never travel with just one form of payment. In addition to a credit card, you'll want to have some cash on hand in the local currency.

Don't wait until you get to the airport or your destination to exchange currency — you'll likely face huge fees. Instead, the best place to do it is typically at your bank or credit union, which will offer the best exchange rate and, typically, low fees. This can be done in person or increasingly through an online order, which you can then pick up before you leave.

Call your bank a few weeks out from your trip and ask when you should exchange your currency, or when you will need to order so that you receive the money in time.

If you're already abroad and run out of cash, your bank's ATM is the best option to keep fees low, and you can use the bank's app to find a machine nearby. If that isn't available, use a no-fee debit card to withdraw money at a local ATM. Again, avoid airport kiosks, which are convenient but tend to be expensive. And avoid anything abroad that says you can withdraw money for "free," suggests WalletHub. There's no such thing.

Cost: Varies depending on exchange rate and fees.

5. Lock in your data plan

You might be able to rely on Wi-Fi for much of your trip, but if you're traveling alone or to a place more off the grid, it could be worth investing in an international data plan for your cell phone.

Verizon offers TravelPass, which charges $10 per day per line and lets you "access your domestic voice, text and data plan while traveling in over 185 countries worldwide." AT&T's International Day Pass is similar.

Cost: $10 per day.

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