Millions of U.S. citizens travel abroad each year and use
their U.S. passports. When you travel abroad, the odds are
in your favor that you will have a safe and incident-free
trip. However, crime and violence, as well as unexpected difficulties,
do befall U.S. citizens in all parts of the world. No one
is better able to tell you this than U.S. consular officers
who work in the more than 250 U.S. embassies and consulates
around the globe. Every day of the year U.S. embassies and
consulates receive calls from American citizens in distress.
Fortunately, most problems can be solved over the telephone
or by a visit of the U.S. citizen to the Consular Section
of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. But there are less
fortunate occasions when U.S. consular officers are called
on to meet U.S. citizens at foreign police stations, hospitals,
prisons and even at morgues. In these cases, the assistance
that consular officers can offer is specific but limited.
In the hope of helping you avoid unhappy meetings with consular
officers when you go abroad, we have prepared the following
travel tips. Please have a safe trip abroad.
BEFORE YOU GO
What To Bring
Safety begins when you pack. To avoid being a target, dress
conservatively. A flashy wardrobe or one that is too casual
can mark you as a tourist. As much as possible, avoid the
appearance of affluence.
Always try to travel light. If you do, you can move more
quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand. You will
also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage down,
leaving it unattended.
Carry the minimum amount of valuables necessary for your
trip and plan a place or places to conceal them. Your passport,
cash and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel
safe. When you have to carry them on your person, you may
wish to conceal them in several places rather than putting
them all in one wallet or pouch. Avoid hand bags, fanny packs
and outside pockets which are easy targets for thieves. Inside
pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across
your chest are somewhat safer. One of the safest places to
carry valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your
If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Bring them and
any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines
in their original, labeled containers. Bring a copy of your
prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs. If a medication
is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your
doctor attesting to your need to take the drug. If you have
any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into
a country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country
Bring travelers checks and one or two major credit cards
instead of cash.
Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy
of your passport information page to make replacement of your
passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen.
Put your name, address and telephone numbers inside and
outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags
to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality
and if possible, lock your luggage.
Consider getting a telephone calling card. It is a convenient
way of keeping in touch. If you have one, verify that you
can use it from your overseas location(s). Access numbers
to U.S. operators are published in many international newspapers.
Find out your access number before you go.
What To Leave Behind
Don't bring anything you would hate to lose. Leave at home:
-- valuable or expensive-looking jewelry,
-- irreplaceable family objects,
-- all unnecessary credit cards.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at
home in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
A Few Things To Bring And Leave Behind
Make two photocopies of your passport identification page,
airline tickets, driverÕs license and the credit cards
that you plan to bring with you. Leave one photocopy of this
data with family or friends at home; pack the other in a place
separate from where you carry your valuables.
Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers checks
with a friend or relative at home. Carry your copy with you
in a separate place and, as you cash the checks, cross them
off the list.
What To Learn About Before You Go
Security. The Department of State's Consular Information
Sheets are available for every country of the world. They
describe unusual entry, currency regulations or unusual health
conditions, the crime and security situation, political disturbances,
areas of instability, special information about driving and
road conditions and drug penalties. They also provide addresses
and emergency telephone numbers for U.S. embassies and consulates.
In general, the sheets do not give advice. Instead, they describe
conditions so travelers can make informed decisions about
In some dangerous situations, however, the Department of
State recommends that Americans defer travel to a country.
In such a case, a Travel Warning is issued for the country
in addition to its Consular Information Sheet.
Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information
about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and/or
trans-national conditions posing significant risks to the
security of American travelers. They are issued when there
is a perceived threat usually involving Americans as a particular
target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been
issued to deal with short-term coups, pre-election disturbances,
violence by terrorists and anniversary dates of specific terrorist
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public
Announcements are available at the 13 regional passport agencies;
at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad; or by sending a self-addressed,
stamped envelope to: Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811,
Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818. They are also
available through airline computer reservation systems when
you or your travel agent make your international air reservations.
In addition, you can access Consular Information Sheets,
Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 24-hours a day in
To listen to them, call (202) 647-5225 from a touchtone phone.
From your fax machine, dial (202) 647-3000, using the handset
as you would a regular telephone. The system prompts you on
how to proceed.
Information about travel and consular services is available
on the Bureau of Consular Affairs' World Wide Web home page.
The address is http://travel.state.gov. It includes Consular
Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements,
passport and visa information, travel publications, background
on international adoption and international child abduction
services and international legal assistance. It also links
to the State Department's main Internet site at http://www.state.gov
which contains current foreign affairs information.
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board
If you have a personal computer, modem and communication
software, you can access the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board
(CABB). To view or download the documents from a computer
and modem, dial the CABB on (301) 946-4400. The login is travel;
the password is info. There is no charge to use these systems
other than normal long distance charges.
Local Laws and Customs
When you leave the United States, you are subject to the
laws of the country where you are. Therefore, before you go,
learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs
of the places you plan to visit. Good resources are your library,
your travel agent, and the embassies, consulates or tourist
bureaus of the countries you will visit. In addition, keep
track of what is being reported in the media about recent
developments in those countries.