For many of us, retirement brings the freedom and funds to travel to places we always wanted to go— other countries, exotic locations and secluded corners of the world. As the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, more and more US seniors are travelling overseas, and it’s important to know the resources that are available to help you prepare for your trip and keep safe while you’re out of the country.
Here are a few tips and points to consider as you make your travel plans.
Passports can take a while to get. Start the process early.
These days, you need a passport to travel just about anywhere. Even travelling to Mexico or Canada now requires at least a US national ID card or a valid US passport. And the process for getting one takes time. You need to plan accordingly.
If you are applying for your passport for the first time (or replacing a passport issued 15 or more years ago), you need to apply in person with a recognized Acceptance Agent. Typically, larger post offices provide this service— check the United States Postal Service’s locator site to find a servicing outlet in your region.
You’ll need documentation when you go— your certified birth certificate (or an official copy if your original has been lost or destroyed), plus a form of primary identification (previous U.S. passport, valid driver’s license or state ID, military ID, or naturalization certificate)— and a passport-sized photograph of yourself. Most post offices can take your picture on site. There are also processing fees, due on application.
Once you have applied, it typically takes 6-8 weeks for the State Department to issue your passport. They recommend applying at least 3 months in advance of your travel date to ensure you get your passport booked on time.
Some countries require an entrance and exit visa. Make sure you check requirements and apply in advance.
For Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and most Western European countries, a visa is not required if you are staying for less than 90 days. Some countries—the Russian Federation, for instance — require both an entry and exit visa in addition to a valid passport.
Visas are generally issued through a country’s embassy or consulate office. Failing to get a required visa can result in denial of entry or of exit, if you overstay your visa, from your destination country. It can be a serious, costly mess to sort out, so make sure you check your destination country’s requirements well before you intend to go.
If you are taking part in a tour experience, visa applications are generally handled as part of the tour group’s package. But don’t rely on it. Make sure you verify with your tour provider that visa requirements will be handled on its end and be prepared to make your own arrangements if necessary.
Remember, when you’re abroad, you’re a guest of another nation. Respect local customs and laws.
Just as if you were visiting another person’s home, you’ll want to be on your best behavior. This is not only a good idea in the interest of learning about the places and people you’ll visit, it’s also a safety measure.
Many countries don’t enjoy the same freedoms of speech, assembly, or religion that we enjoy here. It’s best to keep your opinions to yourself and not to sound off in public. After all— you wouldn’t want someone coming into your home and telling you how you should live your life, would you?
In some countries, mouthing off or behaving in what that country’s inhabitants consider to be an uncouth manner could get you detained, questioned, jailed, or even worse. Don’t rely on unfamiliarity with laws or local customs as your excuse; it rarely flies with authorities. Stay aware of your surroundings, don’t push social boundaries and beware of scams.
With planning and preparation, travel abroad in retirement can be a fun and rewarding part of senior life.
Take care of as many details as you can beforehand and, when you’re abroad, stay flexible. Unforeseen circumstances can happen, and happen often. The more prepared you are, and the more calm you remain, the easier these setbacks are to overcome. Above all — have fun!