The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals traveling abroad to register their trip with the State Department. The STEP program includes a set of benefits. By registering you will:
- Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
- Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
Registration of upcoming international travel with International SOS via the MyTrips portal, allows us to quickly identify University personnel abroad in case of an emergency. The Council of Deans has adopted a policy that requires registration of international travel for all University students and staff and although the registration is optional for faculty, we strongly recommend it’s use.
A passport is an official document issued by the government of the country in which you are a citizen. When traveling, passports serve to certify your identity and nationality and contain personal data: name, sex, date of birth, and place of birth. In general, entry into another country requires a passport. Some countries also require a visa. Visas are granted by the government of the country you wish to visit.
Excellent guidelines for passport and visa requirements by country are available, but in general, keep the following in mind:
- For many countries, the passport’s expiration date needs to be six months or more from the date you arrive in the country. Making sure that the passport is valid for the country of travel is the responsibility of the traveler.
- A visa, if required, is typically affixed to a page in your passport by the embassy or consulate of the country you will visit. As noted, entry and exit requirements for countries can be found on the US State Department’s website. Obtaining a visa is the responsibility of the traveler.
- A number of private companies provide assistance in obtaining visas. You send these companies your passport and country-specific required information and for a fee they obtain the visa for you from the embassy or consulate. Examples of such companies that have been used by Pitt faculty and staff include CIBT, Visa Express and PassportsandVisas.com.
- For some visas you will need additional documents: e.g., an authorization letter from Pitt, medical payment guarantee letters, proof of insurance confirmation. For help with these requirements, contact the Global Operations Support.
If your credit cards or passport are lost or stolen, you will be able to regroup more quickly if you have copies of these documents with you on the trip along with contact information. You should consider including copies of your passport and visas, plus plane tickets/itineraries. Keep a list of credit card numbers and your personal contact information, US embassy/consulate contact information, prescriptions, etc. However, these copies are an attractive target so they need to be kept secure when you travel. Make sure that the contact at home who would help you in such situations has a copy of the same information.
Be sure that you understand the local laws and customs of the countries where you are traveling. For example, certain countries restrict individuals from importing types of religious books, materials, or symbols. Alcohol is prohibited by some. Consider not just the weather but also local customs in choosing clothing to bring. Consult the CIA World Factbook, which includes background information on all countries.
The US State Department and the World Health Organization provide country-specific guides regarding local conditions. The State Department issues travel warnings and advisories about local conditions.
Thieves in big cities everywhere prey on tourists. Minimize the documents, cards, and other materials you carry on your person while walking around. Keep things in multiple locations on your person so that if you are pickpocketed, only some of your cards are stolen.
When abroad, theft of University-owned property is insurable in the same way as when on campus. As on campus, the responsibility center pays the first $10,000 for an insured property loss. Personal property is not insured by the University. You should check the terms of your homeowners and/or travel insurance before departure if you plan to carry personal valuables.
A typical means of obtaining local cash is from an ATM connected to an international network. Use ATMs inside banks if possible; if you use an outside ATM, choose ones connected to a bank, that is, not ones that are free standing, in hotels, etc. Use ATMs during business hours so that you can speak with a bank representative if the ATM won’t return your card.
Credit cards are widely accepted abroad but there are a number of considerations in your choice of which cards to take and use.
- Acceptability. There are a number of credit card brands that are typically used in the US (e.g., Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express). The experience of Pitt employees has been that Visa and Mastercard are accepted more widely abroad than others, but acceptability can depend on where you are. It is useful to do research on which cards are more likely to be accepted where you will be traveling.
- Foreign transaction fees. Some cards charge a fee for each transaction, often 2-3%. Others have no transaction fee. Check about fees before you leave in deciding which cards to take and use.
- International focus. Some cards are targeted to international travelers and provide a live, 24/7 support line for problems. Check with your credit card issuer to see what support they will provide for you when you are abroad.
- Travel notices. With rare exceptions, credit card companies will put a hold on an account when they see an international purchase being made on the card. To avoid a hold, call the card company before the trip and put a travel notice on the account.
- Don’t take what you don’t plan to use. Take only those cards that you plan to use, including your backup card. If you would not use it under any circumstances, leave it at home.
Make sure to have the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are traveling. Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at U.S. embassies, consulates, and consular agencies overseas and in Washington, D.C.
A wide range of web-based external information sources is available for countries of the world. The following sources provide information on a country-specific basis and may be helpful in planning your travel.
- Basic geographic, demographic, social, and economic information by country
- Dates for local holidays and observances by country
- Exchange rates for local currency
- Time zones by country
- Country and city telephone codes
- USDOS Travel Warnings and Alerts
- STEP Enrollment
- CDC Immunizations & Precautions
- Overseas Security Advisory Committee (OSAC)
- Consular Affairs support
- US DOS Students Abroad
- Center for Global Health
For more information on travel basics or to answer any questions, please contact the following: