Is this your first time traveling out of the country? Never been to a foreign town or village?
Learn what to expect, how to keep yourself safe and what to do if something goes wrong.
You Need a Passport
To travel outside the United States you need a valid passport. This is true for any member of your family including children and infants. This becomes your official ID in a foreign country.
The ONE exception is if you are traveling on a cruise boat – some destinations will allow you to depart and return to the cruise boat with just a valid Birth Certificate. You need to verify this in advance.
If you are traveling to Jamaica, the airlines will not let you board the plane until you prove you have a valid passport that is not expiring within the next 6 months.
Protect that Passport!
A valid passport can sell for several thousand dollars on the black market. You need to protect it!
You should know where your passport is at all times. If you need to take it out, you should immediately put it right back where it belongs so there is no confusion later.
At the resort, you should lock your passport in the room safe as soon as you arrive. Without exception, this should be the first thing you do when you enter your room.
This not only protects you, but also the staff that may be servicing your room. If you were to lose your passport, your first instinct would be to suspect that someone stole it. By locking it in the safe, you protect everyone.
Make a Copy
You should make 2 photo copies of your passport. One copy should be placed in your wallet/purse or in a back pack that will travel with you.
The 2nd copy should be left with a friend or relative just in case you lose everything.
What if I lose it/it gets stolen?
If your passport gets lost or stolen, don’t panic – you will get back home.
However, it will be expensive because you will need to go – in person – to the US Embassy in the country you are visiting to apply for a new one.
Unfortunately, the embassies are not open every day so you will need to figure out the best time to go and this could mean needing to stay a few extra days and/or changing your flight plans home.
It will take a few hours to get a replacement, so you will want to arrive in the morning or very early afternoon.
This process will go a lot smoother if you have a copy of your passport.
In Jamaica, the US Embassy is in Kingston so you will need to pay for a taxi to take you back and forth.
Any time you travel to a foreign country you will need to pass through Customs and Immigration border control.
Immigration officials want to see your passport and verify that you are who you say you are, that you are traveling to the country for legitimate reasons and that you have a place to stay and a departure date/time.
Customs officials are making sure you are not bringing in any contraband items. Illegal drugs are the most obvious but there’s a lot of things on that list that you wouldn’t think would matter.
For example, you may only bring small amounts of cigarettes, cigars and liquor for personal consumption or you must pay a tax on the import of those items.
Customs is also looking for produce that might be carrying diseases or pests so for this reason – do not bring any fruit or produce into the country or it will get thrown out.
*TIP: When flying into Jamaica – they will hand out Customs and Immigration forms for you fill out. Make sure you have a black pen and that you spend an extra minute making sure you filled everything out (make sure to turn the form over!). The reason is that if you mess up the form – they will pull you out of line to make corrections while your fellow passengers go ahead of you.
What do I do about Money?
No matter what country you are going to the question of how to pay for things will always present a problem.
If traveling to Europe the Euro was created to help solve this problem by having a single, universally accepted currency all over Europe. If traveling to a place like this you will be required to convert your currency to Euros.
However, if traveling to the Caribbean this is not always the case as US dollars are accepted at a lot of places and even preferred in other’s.
You should always have some cash for emergencies when traveling to a foreign country.
Read our blog post on how much cash to bring to a Jamaican all inclusive vacation.
These days credit cards are accepted in a lot more places and you should definitely have at least one when traveling out of country – and ideally a 2nd one of a different type just in case of an emergency.
Get a credit card that provides extra travel protections and no international transaction fees and try to always use the same one for any foreign purchases to ease keeping track of spending/fraud.
Check your statement carefully as soon as you get back to be sure no fraud has occurred.
You will find a lot of information online about staying safe in a foreign country and there’s no shortage of tips.
Here are a few tips that I think are essential for staying safe.
Avoid traveling alone
It’s one thing to arrive into a foreign country by yourself and even plan to stay in a hotel by yourself – but – if you plan to travel anywhere outside of a city, village or town then I would plan to hire a private guide and/or driver. This goes for couples too.
Go Straight from Airport to your Resort
Ideally you will want to get you and all your expensive stuff from the airport and straight to your room/safe. This is the one area where splurging and spending some money on private transportation can be an essential way to keep yourself safe.
If you are traveling to Couples Resorts, this is not a problem as you will be transported from the Couples lounge at the airport via a private bus and you have no worries concerning your luggage.
In Jamaica, you pretty much only get around via private taxis and buses so for the most part this isn’t a problem.
If you are traveling elsewhere you’ll want to avoid situations where you need to walk your luggage a long distance or transit with your luggage through large public places.
Leave the jewelry in the safe!
This goes double if you are venturing off the resort. You should not look like an easy target so it’s best to leave everything in the safe. If the only watch you brought is a rolex – leave it too.
Yes, you can wear your jewelry when out at the resort – no problem.
Dress more Local
The tropical shirt might be perfect for the Jimmy Buffet mixer at the resort but if you plan to go off site – looking like a tourist might not be the best idea. In some places, you’re going to stick out anyway but the wrong outfit screams “Naive tourist – please come have your way with me!”… Plain shorts, simple t shirts, very little to no jewelry and you’ll blend in more and be hassled less.
Know where you’re going – and where to avoid
This requires doing some homework before your trip to know which areas to avoid. Having at least some sense of where you will be and what to expect can be essential to staying safe.
In some places venturing just a few blocks in the wrong direction can put you in danger so it’s best to at least know a little bit about your surroundings.
*TIP – if you use Google Maps or other mapping software – make sure to Download the map
Beware the hustle and prepare for it…
In many foreign countries you can literally be swarmed by vendors trying to get you to buy their goods.
They will do little tricks like ask you what your name is – “Ok Michael” – and they quickly carve your name into some wood item hoping that you will feel bad and buy it from them because they personalized it for you.
The worst thing you can do at this moment is whip out a big wallet full of cash and pay them full price for the item.
If you do that, you will be swarmed over and over again and you may now become a target.
Instead – have a few dollars in your pocket. When they hit – you buy whatever item interests you that they will sell for the few dollars in your pocket.
But you literally run out of money right in front of their eyes! “Oh No, this is all I brought – sorry!”
Usually they will see that you spent your money, be happy that you at least bought something and now you’ll be left alone. You can now wander and take a good look at stuff without being swarmed again.
Beware of Pick Pockets
You should never, ever get your wallet out while you are being hassled or haggled by a group of vendors or street people. Pick pocketing is a real threat and you should be very, very wary of any groups that might be standing around you.
The best protection you can have – leave your purse, wallet and passport in your safe and never bring all of your cash with you to a single location.
You should only bring the bare minimum of cash that you think you will need for a given activity – that way if it does get stolen you’re not at a huge loss.
You should also keep any cash or wallets you do have in your front pocket as it is much harder to steal from the front pocket.
*TIP – this is true even in the United States – pick pockets are known to roam tourist locations like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Pike St. Market in Seattle and other places including areas of Atlanta and New York City.
If you are staying at a Couples Resort then this isn’t a problem because you should be locking your wallet/purse in your safe and not needing any cash!
What to do with your Phone/Electronics
Your phone can be a problem – it’s a very expensive and easy target for a criminal but there are many times you don’t want to be without it – especially to take pictures.
If leaving your phone at the resort isn’t an option, the single biggest thing you can do is keep it in your pocket as much as possible and only get it out when you really, really need it.
For example – the worst thing you can do is walk into a busy/crowded area with your phone in your hand while you chat away. A thief can easily just take the phone – or worse – quickly grab it while simultaneously knocking you to the ground – they’ll be gone before you know it. This is also a common problem in Midtown/Downtown Atlanta, GA.
We have never had a problem leaving our electronics in the room or on the beach at Couples Resorts but if you plan to leave your chair/stuff for a while, I would at least toss it in a bag to lower the temptation. I personally trust the staff 100% but you never know what a fellow guest or passing outside contractor/vendor may do as well.
What to do if confronted
If you are confronted by any thief it’s best just to let them have what they want. Fighting back or struggling could end up making things worse and you could end up injured or dead. It’s not worth it – even for a $1000 iPhone.
The best thing you can do is convince the thief they have everything of value and the simplest way to do that is to not have much on you in the first place and be willing to give up what you have.
In case of confrontation, I keep a few dollars in my pocket to quickly give up if I need to. Dropping it on the ground when getting it out can also create a distraction that might be enough for you to walk away or signal help.
Fortunately – I have never had a single problem when visiting Jamaica. I have never had anything stolen, lost, or been confronted in any way.
I feel very safe walking around the Couples Resorts and feel safe walking down the beaches at Negril and Swept Away and venturing next door to Sans Souci and the White River Fisherman’s village.
If we venture any farther off resort, I go with a local guide/driver and my spouse and we have never had issues.
There are areas of Kingston and Montego Bay that I would not venture to but this is true about our home town of Atlanta too.
Staying In Contact
It is important that you have at least some method of communicating with relatives back home.
Your cell phone may not work in the country you are visiting. If you want to be sure, you will need to investigate and purchase a “World” phone and make sure that it will work in the country you want to visit.
If your phone is fine, many phone plans will work in a foreign country, but you will be billed separately for any calls or texts you make and so your existing plan probably does not cover the overages which can be very expensive.
Wi-Fi Calls will work with limitations
At all the Couples resorts the WiFi is pretty good so it is possible to make video calls using face time or other apps.
However – many people tend to call back home at the same times (in the evenings) so there are times when a WiFi call will not work well.
Good Luck getting GrandMa to Use Face Time!
Leaving your kids with relatives and needing something a bit more guaranteed and easier for relatives to use?
If so, try an app like MagicJack. This app gives you a local number for relatives to call that will ring anywhere you are – even in Jamaica!
The calls are made of WiFi so charges are limited or included in the sign up fee.
Coming Back to the US
When returning to the US, you will again pass through Customs and Immigration. Depending on the international airport, this can be a breeze or a bit of a pain.
There are some things you can do to make your arrival smoother.
Nothing to Declare
If you want to the Customs process to go smoother then you should know the laws and limits of what you can bring back so as to avoid any fines or charges.
The best thing you can do is have “nothing to declare” – or at least – only have “souvenirs” on your list.
I’m not suggesting you lie on this form – I’m suggesting you not bring any of the following items back from any foreign country:
No Produce/Agricultural products
You have to declare any produce – vegetables and fruits that you are bringing back from a foreign country. Most of these items are not allowed and you will have to toss them out anyway so it’s best just to leave them behind.
Limit the Alcohol/Cigarettes
It’s tempting to buy a bunch of “Duty Free” alcohol on your way out of Montego Bay.
It’s fine to buy a couple bottles – but know there are limits to what you can bring back and the hassle of carrying them may not save you much money in the end.
if you can’t get something in the US, then that’s a good reason to stock up but you should know the limits or you may end up having to declare and pay duty (taxes) if you bring too much.
Leave the Ganja!
Did you smoke some local herbs on your trip. Bringing marijuana back into the country is illegal and you could end up spending years in jail.
You should also dispose of anything that might smell like it (pipes, baggies, containers) because there are drug sniffing dogs at the airports looking for contraband. Even if you don’t have any – who wants to sit around while you prove that to someone?
Large Wood Carvings
If you are bringing back a large wood carving, Customs may have you step aside to X-Ray the item to make sure there are no hollow containers containing contraband.
This isn’t a big deal if you really love an item as it doesn’t take long – just something to be aware of.
If you write “Wood Carving” instead of “Souvenir” on your form – they might ask you to step aside to check it out.
To save time, download the mobile passport app from the US Government. This app will allow you to fill out your immigration re-entry forms, take a picture and submit your documents electronically.
We have saved A LOT of time using this app in the past as you get to skip the kiosks and go straight to an immigration agent.
Stay Safe, Be Aware and have a blast!