Traveling Internationally? Get Your Tech Travel-Ready
With these tips, stay secure and connected while abroad
Traveling internationally, especially outside of North America can be a challenge, especially in our tech-centered world. My husband and I recently journeyed to New Zealand for the first time.
While trying to leave much of my business responsibilities back home, I was concerned about clients being able to contact me and being able to check in periodically with ongoing projects. What I didn’t expect was the little tech problems that came up at the last minute and also once we were in-country.
From phones to online banking, here are a few tech-oriented tips to think through before boarding your flight abroad, no matter what foreign country you are traveling to.
Make a smartphone plan
While all carriers have different international calling schemes, to use our phones daily in New Zealand through our Verizon plan would have cost $10 per day per phone, or $280 for two weeks.
A friend from New Zealand recommended purchasing a SIM card (the chip that connects your phone to cell phone service) after landing at the airport. For less than $30, I got a SIM card, providing me with a local NZ phone number, unlimited in-country calls and texts and 5Gb of data for accessing the internet and creating a hotspot for my iPad. We put a similar card with 3Gb of data on my husband’s phone for $12.
This worked great for all of our needs in-country. Most places we stayed had an extra charge for WiFi, so we were thankful to have our own hotspot. We did not come close to using our data allowance, even with daily Google Maps and other app use.
The problem was, once our U.S. sim cards were out of our phones, no one could call, text or leave messages on our U.S. numbers. I was able to forward my calls to my Google Voice number, on which I left a custom message to email me or leave a message through WhatsApp or Facebook messenger for the time period we were gone. Note that call forwarding must be set up while your original SIM card is still in your U.S. phone, and you are in the U.S.
However, that did not resolve any business contacts trying to text my U.S. number.
I came up with this solution after the fact: we should have inserted our U.S. SIM cards in old phones we keep around just in case one breaks, is lost or stolen. Text and voice messages can be accessed online through Verizon.
Your carrier might have different pricing and options, but these work arounds should apply to most smartphones.
Completing visa requirements online
Many countries, including the one we were traveling to, have tightened security in the past few years. New Zealand and nearby Australia both require one to obtain a tourist visa before entering the country. This can easily be completed online. For a list of countries and their visa requirements, click here.
Avoid third-party visa processing sites and deal directly with the government for the country you are visiting. Google “(country name) visa requirements.” If in doubt, contact the website administrator and ask if they are a government agency.
Third-party sites charge extra fees and the process might take longer than going directly to the government entity.
Credit card and bank issues
Any credit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo is widely accepted worldwide, and for the most part, we did not have any issues. We did enter alerts with our travel dates to our bank and credit card companies online in advance. This is an important step so that the bank or credit card company does not flag an international purchase as suspicious, preventing you from completing the transaction. I would recommend carrying at least two credit cards, just in case you have an issue with one. We did have one incident where a card wouldn’t swipe, and used the other one.
We also learned that certain high-value transactions were restricted from processing on mobile devices while traveling, including the iPad. Our credit card company required verification by texting an access code, and because we did not have access to text messaging for our U.S. phones, we were not able to complete the transaction. The system would also not allow us to add our New Zealand number to the account. The customer service number did not work outside North America (we did not try the more urgent “lost or stolen card” support number).
If your credit card has an option to be contacted by email, set that as your primary contact method vs phone or text prior to travel.
Register an online will and health care directive
As two healthy mid-age adults, we have been putting off creating a will or health care directive. Traveling internationally does pose additional risks than one would generally run into in day to day life, and prompts one the ponder the “what-ifs.” We wanted to make sure people knew our health care wishes in case of an accident or health care emergency, and who should be in charge of our financial estate if one of both of us should become incapacitated or perish. We also wanted to make a plan for who takes care of our beloved dog.
Putting your estate in order, including creating an online will, is a good idea whether traveling or not. There are many options covering a wide range of circumstances. Since our estate is fairly simple, we chose to download and edit a basic will and health care directive from Law Depot. With a 7-day free trial, we paid nothing for these forms. Also see my related article on Why you Need a Digital Will to address access to your online assets such as investment accounts, social media and photos.
In addition to carefully thinking through your wishes and who you want to make decisions for you if the need arises, you also need to check your state regulations where your primary residence is located. For example, some states require these types of documents to be notarized. Ours only had to be witnessed.
Electric (plug-in) conversions. For many countries outside the U.S. you will need a power adapter to plug in all of your electricity powered items. These relatively small devices can be taken in your carry-on bag.
If you plan on traveling to various countries, you can get an adjustable power adapter that works for multiple places. But these tend to be a bit clunky and might not fit into every outlet. I suggest you also buy a second small adapter for your destination country.
How to pay for things
There are a few things to know when paying for things abroad. First, before leaving home, check to make sure your mileage credit card has no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have such a card, get one! Then, use your credit card, not your debit card, for all purchases. If you need cash, use your banking debit card in an ATM. Avoid using the ATM at the airport, in small villages and tourist destinations, as these places will generally have the highest per transaction fee. If the exchange rate is favorable to the U.S., meaning our dollar is worth more than the foreign country’s dollar, request the cash in the local currency. If the U.S. dollar is weaker, request the cash in U.S. funds.
You likely can order some initial walking around money in a foreign currency in advance through your bank. But if you live outside a metropolitan area, allow at least a month for your bank to receive the foreign bills.
Accessing data while traveling
To access data remotely, the information needs to be cloud-based. Everyone should be backing up their crucial data to both an external drive and the cloud. Frankly, one system is just not enough. If you do not have an off-site backup, all it would take to lose everything is a thief stealing your computer and drive, or a disaster like a fire or flood. Fortunately cloud storage has gotten much cheaper and more secure.
I like iDrive, as a simple and cost-effective solution to back up all devices. The cost is $69.50 per year for 5Tb, ample for most individual users and small businesses (and there is currently a promo making it $3.48 for the first year as of this writing!). With iDrive, or a service like it, you can access, view and share stored files through your Android or iOS device.
Using a password locker
Ok, hate to be dissing on the hubs, but I have caught him more than once carrying a paper list of passwords in his backpack, including our banking and credit card info. Not OK! But it is understandable. Passwords are required for everything nowadays, and human brains are not designed to remember a multitude of complex pass codes. That is where a password locker comes in handy, especially while traveling. I like LastPass, keeping all of our important passwords securely on file. I only have to remember one password—the LastPass one. It’s free for a single user, and still really affordable for premium subscriptions.
Before you embark on your next international journey, sign up for a password locker and stop carrying around passwords.
Accessing insurance coverages
Look up the details of your health insurance policy online, and determine what coverage you have while traveling internationally. I took a cell phone screen shot of the phone number and instructions in case of a medical emergency, and also shared the image to my husband’s phone.
You can also opt to purchase travel insurance. After reviewing our policy and reading through additional travel insurance policies, we decided to decline the additional coverage. According to our regular carrier, as long as we followed the correct procedure, we would be reimbursed for expenses. You may want to purchase travel insurance, however, to avoid paying out-of-pocket for doctor bills while traveling or if your regular health insurance does not cover international travel.
Travel insurance does typically come with some added benefits like trip delay, lost baggage compensation and extra rental car insurance, but we obtained similar benefits by booking with our mileage program credit card. In fact, our mileage credit card company provided a certificate of insurance, protecting us against rental car damage costs.
Another reason to purchase travel insurance is for trip cancellation. Many things in life come up unexpectedly. If you have paid many thousands of dollars in advance for flights and accommodations, this is a really good reason to buy a policy. Many companies, though, let you purchase trip insurance up to the day before you depart, allowing you to purchase the coverage when needed, or in our case, deciding at the last moment to go without.
For a more expensive or complicated trip with stops in multiple countries, we likely would have purchased some form of additional insurance just for the peace of mind, but for our single country destination, we seemed adequately covered.
Use your smartphone as a personal documentation device while in-country
The camera and notes function was handy to save information on the places we visited so we could add it to our digital photo and video sightseeing catalog. Also, we took time-stamped pictures of some damage on our rental van that the vendor did not notice because it was raining when we picked up the vehicle.
Technology is a great asset when planning a trip, and keeps you as connected as you want to be while traveling.