Planning

What Travel Documents Do You Need for an International Trip?

March 15, 2024

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When planning a trip out of the country, one of the most important things to consider is what travel documents to take with you.

Having the right documents can make your trip much smoother and less stressful. In this post, we'll cover what travel documents you need for an international trip and some tips for packing your travel documents to keep them safe.

What Travel Documents to Take for an International Trip

Documents needed for international travelDepending on where you're going, you might need a variety of international travel documents to enter the country and travel within it.

Here are some of the most common travel documents you need for an international trip:

Passport*

A passport verifies your identity and citizenship. It needs to be valid for at least six months from when you leave the U.S., and some countries require your passport to be valid for 3-6 months from the date you're scheduled to leave that country.

Passport card

A U.S. passport card is a plastic card that fits in your wallet. It's only valid for travel by land or sea between Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries. If you're traveling by air, you need a valid U.S. passport.

Visas*

A visa is a document issued by the country you’re visiting that approves your entry into the country. Depending on the country you’re going to, you may or may not need a travel visa.

Be sure to research the entry requirements of the countries you'll be visiting well in advance of your departure so you have time to check your passport expiration date and obtain any necessary visas.

Other photo ID

Your driver’s license or other US-issued ID can serve as backup identification if you’re traveling internationally. You’ll also have to show a valid driver’s license if you’re renting a car.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance will protect you against medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost belongings.

Check your credit card to see if travel insurance is already provided. If not, be sure to arrange some before you leave

Bring a hard copy of your travel insurance certificate along with instructions on how to contact the company when you’re outside the U.S.  

LEARN MORE >>> How to Choose the Best Travel Insurance for Your Next Trip

Transportation tickets

While it’s handy to have tickets on your phone, bring paper copies as well. What if you lose your phone or the battery needs to be charged?

Itinerary

Print out a copy of your itinerary, including flight times, hotel reservations, and any activities you have planned, as well as reservation numbers and contact information.

International driving permit

If you’re renting a car in another country, visit AAA to find out if you need an International Driving Permit before you go. That way, you’ll be sure you can rent a car and avoid hefty fines if an international permit is required and you don't have one. The permit can also serve as a second form of ID.

Vaccination certificates

Depending on your destination, you may need proof of having been vaccinated for COVID-19, yellow fever, or other diseases. The CDC’s Travelers’ Health website will be a big help here.

List of medications

You may need to provide documentation from your physician for the prescription drugs you're bringing with you.

Some countries prohibit certain drugs, like narcotics, as well as some over-the-counter medicines. So check with your destination’s embassy for details in plenty of time to get an alternate medicine for your trip from your doctor if needed.

Contact information

Print out and email yourself contact information for key family members and friends, your home country’s embassy, your bank and insurance agency, and your doctor.

Other requirements

Different countries may require different documents. For example, if you’re visiting a country in the Schengen Area in Europe that requires a visa, then you need to have proof of accommodation and travel insurance that includes medical coverage. You can check with the U.S. Department of State for specifics for each country you’re visiting.

Traveling with the grandkids? You may need a notarized consent from the parents or other legal guardians. Check the embassy of the country you’re visiting for requirements.

If you're not a U.S. citizen, you’ll also need your U.S. green card showing permanent residence or other re-entry permit in order to get back into the United States once your trip is over.

LEARN MORE >>> 10 Travel Planning Tips to Create the Perfect Trip (See Tip #3 for info on passports and visas)

How to Organize Your Travel Documents

Once you've gathered all of your travel documents, it's time to pack them up. Here are some tips for keeping them safe and organized.

Use a travel document holder or organizer

Wallet-style holder for a passport and other documents for international travel.A travel document organizer is a great way to keep your different types of travel documents in one place.

Look for one with multiple pockets and compartments so you can keep everything organized.

Keep your important documents with you

Never pack your passport, visa, or other important documents in your luggage. These are the most important documents you’ll be carrying. You can use a document holder like the one shown here, but I prefer to keep these documents along with a small amount of cash in a pouch with a strap around my neck.

It so easy to set these down when washing your hands (guilty) or drop them when you’re tired after a long flight, so something around your neck can be a lifesaver. Be sure your pouch has RFID protection to keep your passport and credit card safe from people who want to scan them.

If you're traveling with a partner, I suggest you each have a different-colored holder to differentiate them easily. That way, there's no confusion as to who has whose passport.

Here's why: When we were in Oaxaca, Malcolm noticed his passport was missing when we got to the airport, so we couldn't board the plane. It turns out that I had picked it up at 3:30 AM as we were packing. I thought it was mine because we both had the same holder, but I had already packed mine in my carry-on. (Hey...it was 3:30!)

Anyway, we had a nice extra three days in Mexico City. And I now have a lovely RED passport holder.

Make copies

Leave one copy of your important papers with a contact at home, print one copy to take with you, and photograph a copy for your phone. I usually print a copy of my passport, fold it up, and keep it under the insole of my shoes.

Expert advice

Bring a pen to fill out your entry card. Also bring a small binder clip. In some countries, you'll get an exit card when you enter the country to use when you leave. Use the binder clip to attach this to your passport so it doesn't go missing.

Conclusion

Having the right travel documents is a critical step in preparing for an international trip.

Once you have your passport, visa, travel insurance, and other important documents, and you have them safely organized, you can focus on enjoying your travels.

Remember to do your research ahead of time, have multiple copies of your documents, and keep everything secure. Happy travels! 👋🛫🌏

  1. The tip about RFID protection for passports and credit cards is a really good one. I purchased some paper sleeves on Amazon but have upgraded to a credit card sized hard card that feels more substantial. They make great gifts and stocking stuffers (but that may just be my opinion)..

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