Safe Travel Abroad

U.S. Department of State –
Preparing For The Unexpected While Traveling Overseas

By Karen Christensen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services at the U.S. Department of State

Living in four foreign countries by the time I was 18 years old definitely influenced my choice to become a U.S. diplomat. There’s still nothing quite like traveling to a new country to experience a different language, fascinating culture, and exotic foods. But having helped countless Americans overseas throughout 32 years as a consular officer, I’ve learned the value of being prepared before a trip.

Handy Tools
What can you do to prepare for the unexpected while traveling overseas? Follow our Traveler’s Checklist ( and read up on your destination, its entry and exit requirements, laws, health conditions, and any Travel Warnings or Travel Alerts currently in effect. Pay close attention to our safety and security information to decide if traveling there is right for you. If you’re taking a cruise, check out And don’t forget your medications!

Next, make sure you have the right documents. Get a passport early! We’re issuing a record number of passports in 2017, so make sure you apply at least three months before you travel. Allow more time if you need foreign visas. Already have a passport? Make sure it will be valid at least six months after you return home and that it has at least two blank pages (and maybe more depending on your destination). Traveling with children under age 16? Check their passport expiration dates closely – passports for minors are only valid for five years. If you’re traveling alone with children, some countries require custody documents or notarized consent from the other parent.

Get Connected
Another thing to do before you go abroad is sign up for our free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ( to get up-to-date safety and security messages and to help us reach you in case of an emergency while you’re overseas. You can also connect with us: @TravelGov, on Twitter and Facebook.

Healthcare Abroad
Finally – prepare for the unexpected by having insurance coverage for medical expenses, emergency evacuation, flight delays/cancellations, etc. Medicare and many U.S. healthcare policies do not provide coverage abroad. Foreign medical providers often require cash up front, and a medical evacuation back to the States can cost $100,000 or more.

Even with good planning, you can find yourself in the middle of a natural disaster or political unrest. Read What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad? Be aware of your surroundings and have an exit plan wherever you go. In the event of an emergency, follow instructions from local authorities, monitor local media, and let your family know if you are okay.

Careful planning and research can help you avoid most problems overseas, but U.S. consular officers are available worldwide to help in case of an emergency. If you need help, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (contact info at

Whether you’re an experienced or first-time traveler – from the East Coast, West Coast, or America’s heartland – I hope you’ll visit our website,, and make a plan for exploring this great world of ours. Safe travels!

Safe Travel Abroad