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Travel Tips & FAQ

International Travel

Here are our quick tips for international travel planning…

Airport Security, Follow the 3-1-1 Rule
Pack smart to get through the airport security checkpoint faster. Be sure you're following the TSA's 3-1-1 rule: 3-ounce containers; a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag; one bag per flier).  When in doubt, leave it out. If you're not sure about whether you can bring an item through the checkpoint, put it in your checked bag or leave it at home.

Check Your Passport
Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.  Check the expiration date. Many countries require that it be valid for six months after your return date. You can find out a country's entry requirements by going to travel.state.gov.  Leave copies of your passport data page and visas with family or friends, so you can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Call Your Credit Card Companies
Contact your credit card companies and let them know before you go. You don’t want your credit card frozen or ‘declined’ for suspected fraudulent use while traveling abroad (or even out of state).

Blend In
Blending in will help you avoid being targeted by pickpockets and unethical taxi drivers. Do not wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money.  American travelers are usually identified by their white sneakers.  Keep your wallet and valuables in your front pockets or in a security pouch.  Choose a cab with a meter and make sure it's running, or set the price before you get in.  Do not accept packages from stranger or leave unattended luggage in public areas.

Converter/Adapter Kit
International converter/adapter kits for use on most U.S. travel appliances, usually include a converter and polarized adapter plugs for use in almost any foreign country. Converters keep your 110-volt appliances like a curling iron from burning up in countries that use 220/240-voltelectricity.  Adapters change prongs to fit international outlets.

Simply plug your appliance into the converter and then plug the converter into the wall or use one of the polarized plug adapters ensure a fit on most foreign outlets. Remember: adapter into the wall, then converter/transformer, then the appliance.  Converter/Adapter kits are available at travel stores or online, check it out before leaving on your trip.

What is Value Added Tax (VAT)/Refund?
Value Added Tax (VAT) is a form tax is much like the sales tax paid in the United States.  The European Union, Japan and some South American countries assess VAT at a rate of 15-25 percent.  The main principle of VAT is that governments do not charge the tax on exports of goods to other countries.  They extend this principle to include purchases made by foreign visitors when they take goods back to their country.  Tourists can apply for VAT refunds on merchandise, but not services.  Custom officials must validate this merchandise to prove that the merchandise is indeed leaving the country.

For the tourist, reclaiming a VAT: get documentation when you make a purchase, stipulating the amount of refund due.  Allow extra time at the airport to get your sales tax refunded.   Show the documents to customs officials upon leaving the country to claim your refund. Most countries specify a minimum amount you must spend in a particular shop to claim a refund. 

Another way to reclaim VAT is by purchasing items at stores participating in the Europe Tax-free Shopping program.  When your buy from these merchants you show your passport and get a Tax-Free Shopping Cheque showing the amount of refund owed to you.  When you leave the country, you show your purchases to an appropriate customs official, who stamps your checks.  You then claim your refund from a Europe Tax-free shopping desk on site, or have the refund mailed to you.

Designer jewelry, clothing, handbags, watches and accessories at discount prices?
Most of us know there's no way you can buy a real Hermes scarf for two bucks or a Seiko watch for ten.  Did you know that the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) works tirelessly with intellectual property rights (IPR) owners to prevent such goods from being imported?  The international trade specialists in CBP's Office of Strategic Trade work as a team with other internal offices to prevent counterfeit goods from entering the country.  Beware when buying the $100 Rolex watch.  Customs and Border Protection can seize counterfeit copyrighted and trademarked articles when you come back into the United States.  For more information, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at: www.cbp.gov.  

Register your travel plans with the State Department through a free online service at: https://travelregistration.state.gov  This will help the State Department contact you if there is a family emergency in the U.S., or if there is a crisis where you are traveling.  In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts will not be released to others without your authorization.

Check your overseas medical coverage.  Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation.  If it does not, consider supplemental insurance. 

Airport Departure Tax
Returning home, don’t’ be surprised, be ready to pay a fee at the airport.  In many countries a departure tax and an airport security tax must be paid at the airport.


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