Overseas travel isn’t something you can just get up and do – it requires a lot of planning and organisation. The sheer amount of preparation can exhaust most people, and the list of things to do can seem endless.
Many of us have had that feeling before; the overseas trip was planned months ago, yet all of a sudden, with a few weeks before you depart, there seems to be a million things to do before you leave! So here are some of the things you need to know.
13 things to do before going overseas
Aside from the smaller things, there are some crucial tasks you need to perform before you leave, and completing these tasks ahead of time could greatly alleviate your stress levels. In this travel checklist, Canstar has listed some of the important things you need to do before you go overseas:
- Check sure your passport and apply for a visa
- Get travel insurance
- Get a travel money card, travel debit card, or travel credit card
- Create an itinerary
- Budget for your trip and start saving
- Know the current climate of your destination
- Research your destination
- Make copies of important documents
- Let people know and register your trip
- Set up international roaming on your mobile phone
- Get a health check and vaccinations before you go
- Tie up loose ends
1. Check your passport is current and apply for a visa
Your passport is absolutely essential to travel; you can’t go overseas without one. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months before entering another country, and many travel guides recommend it being valid for 6 months after arriving back home too, to ensure that you don’t get stuck overseas.
Many countries also require a visa for entry. Some countries such as New Zealand have agreements that mean you can travel there on an Australian passport without the need to apply for a visa – but you shouldn’t assume anything.
You can find out whether you will need a visa or not for specific countries by visiting their tourism websites or by using the travel sites linked above, as well as by contacting the nearest embassy. Get more information about travel visas on the DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) website or the SmartTraveller.gov.au page about that country.
You’ll need to apply for a visa more than a month in advance of your trip if you can, since it often requires posting away your passport and waiting for it and the visa to be returned by post.
It’s vital to think about what you’d like to do during your trip when you’re applying for a visa. If you’re applying for a tourist or holiday visa, that’s all you will legally be allowed to do in that country – no working for your keep along the way.
2. Get travel insurance
There’s a common phrase in the travel industry: “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” This might seem a tad drastic, but travel insurance is extremely important to have wherever you go, as it covers you for out-of-pocket expenses in the event of emergencies, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.
We at Canstar highly recommend travel insurance to all travellers, and you can see a snapshot of what’s available on the market in the table below.
To assist you with comparing travel insurance products for couples travelling to USA, we have formulated a table that highlights products that are currently on offer in the market with links directly to the providers website. Sorted by our star ratings (highest to lowest).
In addition to our annual Travel Insurance Star Ratings, Canstar has also written a number of useful guides on travel insurance to help you identify what you need for your next holiday. We encourage you to read these if you aren’t entirely sure on the finer points of travel insurance.
- What is travel insurance? What does it cover?
- How to choose a travel insurance policy
- 5 tips to make claiming easier
- How to buy travel insurance
- Travel insurance exclusions – what aren’t you covered for?
- What does travel insurance cost?
- When to buy travel insurance
- Types of travel insurance
- Would the complimentary travel insurance on my credit card cover me?
3. Get a travel money, debit or credit card
Travel cards in their various forms are now often a preferred method for spending money overseas by many Australians, as they offer easy and secure access to your money without requiring you to carry around wads of cash.
With travel cards, you can convert your money into several different currencies instead of just one like you would with cash.
Travel cards are also designed to have fewer currency conversion fees and international transaction fees than your standard credit card or debit card.
To help you discover which one you should get, consider the following pros and cons:
Advantages of travel money cards, travel credit cards, and travel debit cards
|Travel money cards||Travel credit cards||Travel debit cards|
|· Exchange rate locked in at the time of loading currency on to the card
· Load multiple currencies: some cards allow you to load up to 13 currencies at any given time
· Level of risk: If it gets stolen, thieves can only access the amount of money loaded on the card
|· Good exchange rates: some credit cards offer exchange rates that are very close to the actual exchange rate
· More funds available: you can spend up to your card’s credit limit
· Concierge services available with premium cards may help to book flights, accommodation, etc.
· Credit cards don’t tie up your own money for pre-authorisation payments, and the payments are usually only held on the card balance for a day or a week
· Level of risk: thieves can only spend up to your credit limit, and fraudulent transactions will usually be covered by the lender’s anti-fraud protection policy
|· Cheaper ATM access: it is generally cheaper to withdraw money from an ATM overseas with a travel debit card
· Good exchange rates: debit cards may offer better exchange rates than travel money cards depending on your choice of card
· More control of your own money, less temptation to overspend
Potential disadvantages of travel money cards, travel credit cards, and travel debit cards
|Travel money cards||Travel credit cards||Travel debit cards|
|· Potentially less favourable exchange rates
· Potentially more fees, including purchase fees, reload fees, ATM fees, and more
· Load times: it can take up to 3 days to load money onto a travel money card
· Pre-authorisations: things like hotel bookings and car hire can require authorisation payments to tie up money on the card for up to 30 days
· Inconvenient if stolen: the card will be frozen if reported stolen, potentially leaving you without any travel money
|· ATM fees: It can be extremely costly to withdraw from an overseas ATM using a travel credit card, with a cash advance fee and interest applying
· Temptation to overspend more than you budgeted for Level of risk: thieves may spend up to your credit limit unless you notice your card is missing and cancel the card
|· Pre-authorisations: some businesses might not accept debit cards for pre-authorisations
· ATM fees: some cards come with hefty ATM fees
· No backup: if you lose your debit card, you can be left without travel money for up to 2 weeks before a new one arrives
· Level of risk: thieves can potentially spend all the money on that card
· Inconvenient if stolen: the card will be frozen if reported stolen, potentially leaving you without any travel money
4. Create an itinerary
It’s hard to create a budget for your trip and start saving money for it (the next step) until you’ve decided how you’ll get there, what you’ll be doing, and where you’ll be staying the night along the way.
Do you need a rental car at any point during your trip? It’s cheapest to book this ahead of time.
If you are hiring a rental car, find out whether the country you’re visiting requires you to have an international driver’s licence. Some countries such as New Zealand have an agreement with Australia so that you can use your normal Australian driver’s licence over there.
5. Budget for your trip and start saving
Unless you’re someone who loves numbers, budgeting for your trip isn’t something that you’re going to enjoy, but it is a necessary step. A lack of a budget can leave you short of money halfway through your trip, which can lead to some embarrassing and even scary situations. To avoid being stuck in a foreign country without cash, do a simple budget.
Start with the big things first: plane tickets, accommodation, and insurance. These will take the biggest chunk out of your bank account, so it’s important to know how much you’ll need straight away.
You might not even be able to afford the trip yet until you spend a while saving up for it! Some people rely on credit cards to afford big overseas trips, but this is not a sensible strategy because you can easily over-spend, and the interest charges add up quickly if you’re away for a while. Avoid a budget blow-out by planning ahead.
Pro tip: Need some budget accommodation options? Try the house sitter or pet sitter websites in that country. You might find someone who is willing to give you cheap accommodation if you stay for a few days and take care of their dog so they can go travelling themselves! Other good options include Airbnb, which now operates in many countries.
After doing this, next get a rough idea of your daily expenses. Calculate roughly how much you’ll be spending on food, snacks, drinks, and transport. Once you’ve got a rough estimate, add a little bit more in for optional extras. You never know what you might end up doing, so it’d be good to leave a bit of wiggle room for a museum ticket, tour bus trip, or “I <3 NY” T-shirt.
However much you think you’ll need for your trip, add in more. All of this could cause your trip to be a bit expensive – what overseas holiday isn’t? Saving money any way you can will help you meet your budget goals, allowing you to have a bit more fun while travelling. So while counting down the days, always be asking yourself: do I need to buy lunch today, or would I rather be able to afford to go up the Eiffel Tower?
To assist you with comparing travel credit card products for occasional overseas travellers, we have formulated a table that highlights products that are currently on offer in the market with links directly to the providers website. Sorted by our star ratings (highest to lowest).
6. Know the current climate of your destination
One of the biggest mistakes people make when packing is underestimating (or over-estimating) the weather. Obviously, if it’s winter over there at the moment then pack warm clothes, but don’t exclusively pack one type of clothing – layers are always a winner.
Temperatures can vary, and a summer in Japan or Russia isn’t the same as a summer in Australia. If it comes down to it, you can always buy the right clothes while over there – if you’ve budgeted for unexpected extras, that is!
You will need to do your research on where you’re going to be sure about this, which brings us to our next point.
7. Research your destinations
The current climate doesn’t only refer to the weather. Political landscapes are constantly changing across the globe, and a country that was safe one year might not be safe the next. Make sure you avoid countries and regions labelled “Do Not Travel” by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on the SmartTraveller.gov.au website.
Even if you’re going to a historically safe country like Japan or Fiji, there are countless cultural and political differences between these countries and Australia. You will want to be aware of a few of these basic cultural differences before travelling, otherwise it will take you longer to adjust to the differences between your home and your destination and you may experience “culture shock”. Knowing about things like how modestly to dress in certain countries, or whether it is impolite to talk on the phone while catching public transport, will allow you to have a stress-free and more memorable adventure.
8. Make copies of your important documents
After making sure that they’re up-to-date, be sure to make several copies of your passport, visa, travel insurance policy, and driver’s license, and keep them in several places. Ideally, you want to keep:
- 1 copy with you
- 1 copy at home
- 1 copy online in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, or similar file-sharing services) in case you lose the physical copies
- 1 copy with your loved ones
These documents are your ride home or your hospital budget, so losing them can be catastrophic. Leaving copies in several places and with people you trust will always ensure that you have a backup.
9. Let people know and register your trip
It’s obviously nice to let your loved ones know your itinerary, but you should also register your trip with DFAT online on the SmartTraveller.gov.au website. You can provide DFAT with information about your itinerary, your contact details while you are away, and more.
This means if anything goes wrong while you are away, like a natural disaster, civil disturbance, or a family issue back home, DFAT can contact you to let you know. It also means DFAT can let your emergency contacts know if something happens to you.
10. Set up international roaming on your mobile phone
This can potentially be one of the biggest money savers of all, but it is one that pulls up a lot of people. Data is extremely expensive when roaming overseas using an Australian carrier; there are horror stories on the internet of people returning home to find phone bills of more than $10,000, all because they didn’t set up international roaming.
In 2009, one man was charged $62,000 for downloading Wall-E while overseas! That’s a lot to pay for one movie.
International roaming or global roaming is when you use your mobile phone on an overseas network while still being charged by your current service provider. Without setting up international roaming with your service provider or buying a travel sim, you can be charged $2-3/Mb.
There are plenty of providers that offer international roaming services; visit the Canstar Blue website to find out which. Or if you’re happy with your current carrier’s plans, ask them about how to set up international roaming and how much it will cost.
11. Get a health check and any vaccinations you need
Travel can be difficult on the health of even the fittest among us, so getting a check-up from your doctor beforehand is a wise thing to do. Some countries can forbid certain medications, so if you require regular doses of a prescription, go to your doctor to get a ‘proof of medical authorisation’ letter or script so you can take your meds with you.
Travelling to certain countries can bring specific health risks of their own. Some countries require immunisation shots for diseases like polio, malaria, and yellow fever. The last thing that you want while travelling overseas is to get stuck in a foreign country with an illness.
You should book an appointment to get the vaccinations you need as soon as you decide on your itinerary. Some common vaccinations require multiple shots spread out over a series of weeks, or they may not take effect immediately, so a lot of health professionals recommend seeing them at least 4-6 weeks before setting off.
It may also be a good idea to pack a simple medical kit, especially if you’re travelling somewhere that has poor medical infrastructure. You never know when this might come in handy.
Unfortunately, even if you have health insurance, this does not cover you while you are travelling overseas. This makes travel insurance vital, because it can provide cover for emergency medical treatment in the country you are travelling to. Without travel insurance, you could end up forking out tens of thousands of dollars for treatment in a foreign hospital.
12. Tie up loose ends
People in Australia rarely go on overseas holidays for a few days, since it takes us a plane flight to get off “the island” – chances are you’ll be away for at least a week or two. So what do you need to do before departing for foreign shores?
First off, tell your bank. Failing to do this can cause complications, mainly that they can freeze your credit cards or debit cards if they notice international transactions they didn’t expect. Unfreezing your cards can be a hassle, so giving them a heads-up via online banking, the mobile banking app, or even a quick phone call can easily prevent this issue.
In addition to contacting your bank, here are just a few of the other loose ends you might have to take care of:
- Find someone to look after your pets
- Inform your place of employment of your planned holiday with exact dates
- Put a hold on your mail so that thieves don’t know you’re not at home (and other tips for keeping your home safe while you’re on vacation)
- Download useful apps for your smartphone (check this list and this one as well)
- Cancel your gym membership if your overseas trip is a long one
- Suspend your health insurance if your overseas trip is a long one
- Inform your landlord or real estate agent
- Order some foreign currency including some local cash
13. Pack what you really need
Canstar has a number of travel packing checklists, so you can take exactly what you need for a trip to certain destinations. For example, you should always find out whether you need to pack power adaptors or power converters for the country you are visiting.
Check out the following:
- 10 essentials to pack for any trip
- 13 travel cosmetics essentials to pack for any trip
- What to pack for a beach getaway
- What to pack for your volunteering adventure holiday
In addition, we also have travel guides to what you need to know when travelling to certain destinations:
- Travel Tips for Bali
- Travel Tips for Brazil
- Travel Tips for China
- Travel Tips for Fiji
- Travel Tips for France
- Travel Tips for Japan
- Travel Tips for New Zealand
- Travel Tips for South Africa
- Travel Tips for Thailand
- Travel Tips for the UK
- Travel Tips for the USA
To assist you with your travel planning, consult the Canstar website to look at travel insurance policies, travel money cards, and travel credit and debit cards.