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Whether you're traveling to be with, or maybe get away from, friends and family over the holidays, knowing the laws of the state or country you're traveling to is really important. Ending up on the wrong side of the law abroad can be scary and confusing, doubly so if you're traveling alone or don't speak the language. Before traveling abroad, it is always a good idea to do some research about the legal system and various laws of the country you are traveling to.
At a bare minimum, international travelers should check the US State Department's travel website to see what is recommended for their particular destination and if there are any travel advisories or warnings. Additionally, doing an internet search for commonly-violated laws by tourists for your destination might provide added peace of mind.
In addition to looking up the actual laws of your destination, the following legal tips could just save you from catastrophe.
1. Watch Out for Scams
Scammers are everywhere. Tourists are among the easiest prey for scammers, pickpockets, and con artists. The easiest way to avoid common scams is to know how they work, so that you can recognize and avoid them. Searching the web for your destination plus the phrase "tourist scam" will return numerous results with information about the most common cons.
2. Prep Your Papers
Some countries require travel visas to enter. Each country has different requirements. Some countries like Mexico or Canada do not require tourist visas if crossing the border on foot or in your car, but others like Argentina require you to get a visa in advance of your flight. In addition to travel visas, you may want to make a copy of your passport, or other important travel documents.
3. Credit Card and Cell Phone Preparations
Credit cards can be a fantastic way to pay for everything abroad, but if you forget to advise your credit card company that you will be traveling, you may find yourself getting denied credit. Also, some cards charge large fees for international charges, but may have an option to reduce or avoid the fees if you contact them in advance. Lastly, write down the international travel phone numbers on the back of each card, and the actual card numbers, and put that information somewhere secure and apart from the cards themselves. If your cards are lost or stolen, you will want to deactivate them ASAP.
Like credit cards, you should contact your cell phone service provider to see if you can use your phone abroad and what it will cost. Many service providers have flexible options. If your phone is unlocked, you may be able to get a sim card for a local phone service provider once you land. Make sure you have access to cellular data, as well as phone services, as that will provide access to map applications, language translation apps, on top of being able to call emergency services (most countries have a 911 equivalent).
4. Health Insurance
Are you covered abroad? Knowing your health plan's international policies, while not something you want to use, might be helpful in case of emergency or a needed trip to the hospital or pharmacy. If you discover you are not covered, you may wish to find and purchase supplemental coverage specifically for international travel.
5. International Taxes and Duty Free Shopping
Nickel-and-diming tourists all over the world is a common practice. Also, sales tax, and other taxes and fees, can drive up the cost of travel significantly. Knowing the tax rates can be important when it comes to budget planning, especially if you will be doing some holiday shopping. Duty free shopping can be rather enticing, but be aware of the limits because after a certain point, you will have to pay taxes on even your duty-free purchases.
Lastly, knowing where the nearest US embassy is located could be critical in case of emergency.