The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted travel in many ways. With new variants emerging—most recently Omicron—it is very important to research these five things if you plan on traveling to a different country from the United States.
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1. U.S. Department of State's COVID-19 Page & Destination Country's COVID-19 Page
It is extremely important to research both the U.S. Department of State's COVID-19 page & the destination country's official COVID-19 page. Not only do they include travel guidance for the country you desire to visit, but last-minute travel requirements may show up on only one of the aforementioned pages.
For example, Greece recently updated their COVID-19 testing requirement to enter Greece to include a PCR test taken within 72 hours or a laboratory rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of arrival to Greece. This change was reflected first on the U.S. Department of State's COVID-19 page; it was days later when Greece's official COVID-19 page reflected this change.
This is also crucial in the event you have a connecting flight in a different country than your origin or destination. An example is the country of Belgium. If you were traveling to Greece from the United States—and connecting in Belgium—you would need to fill out a Passenger Location Form. This is required when traveling to Belgium by air—even if the connecting flight is less than 48 hours.
AwardYourMiles has created a COVID-19 Resources tool to help you search for the country you would like to visit. After you enter the country, links to dynamic travel guidance/ requirements will automatically populate. This will save you time and energy. We have also included all 50 states within the United States. Our goal is to help provide you with tools to help make your journey a success.
"Staying up-to-date with entry requirements when traveling internationally helps to avoid unpleasant encounters."
In addition, many destinations are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Depending on where you would like to travel to, you may be required to present some form of digital proof of vaccination. However, because standards and requirements vary from country to country, and even from state to state within the United States, it may require some forethought on your part to obtain digital proof. Learn some useful tips in the following post: COVID-19 Vaccination—How to Create a Digital Record.
2. Selecting the Right Debit Card
When traveling to another country, it is a common practice to use a combination of cash and credit cards to make purchases. Not everyone will accept your credit card as a form of payment; some transactions will need to be via cash. You will need to determine how much cash to keep on hand—if it's safe to do so. You will also need to decide if you will use any foreign ATMs to withdraw funds from your bank account.
With most debit cards—and credit cards—you will pay a fee assessed by your bank and the local ATM. The actual fees you will be charged could be a flat rate or a percentage.
There is a way to get around this—open a Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account. This is a great tool to have when traveling; there are unlimited ATM fee rebates, no monthly service fees, and no minimum balances to carry! When you open an account, a Schwab One® brokerage account will simultaneously be opened as well. However, you do not need to "use" the brokerage account. I set up my account in less than 10 minutes. I like the peace of mind of having another bank account that can be used internationally that will reimburse me for all of my ATM fees. You can apply for this account here!
With this option, you do not need to pay exchange rates other banks or credit unions will charge. You may use the ATM at the airport of the destination airport you are visiting to withdraw funds from your bank account in the local currency—and be reimbursed 100% of the ATM fees!
3. Selecting the Right Travel Credit Card
Make sure to select a "travel" credit card—one that does not have a foreign transaction fee. A lot of credit card products carry a foreign transaction fee of ~3%.
In addition, reject the dynamic currency conversion offered by the merchant when using your credit card for a purchase. Dynamic currency conversion refers to an international merchant converting the charge from the local currency to your home currency. When this happens, inflated exchange rates and high fees can be passed on to you. This is why you will want to reject this service—even though it is nice to know the cost in your home currency.
Some travel credit cards have built-in travel insurance. Not only do these types of credit cards have awesome sign-up bonuses, rewards multipliers, and other annual credits, but they also provide a measure of peace of mind while traveling—something that is priceless.
For example, my favorite premium travel credit card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It has Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption; Trip Delay Reimbursement; Emergency Medical and Dental Benefit; Emergency Evacuation and Transportation; Travel Accident Insurance; Travel and Emergency Assistance Services; Baggage Delay Insurance; Lost Luggage Reimbursement; and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver benefits.
However, it does come with a $550 annual fee. That amount may be more than what some travelers would be willing to pay for a premium travel credit card.
There is another option—one with only a $95 annual fee that provides some of the same benefits. It is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. In my opinion, the best beginner's credit card for Award Travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. With a welcome bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards® Points and enhanced rewards, this is an awesome card! You can read more about this credit card in the following post: Chase Sapphire Preferred—The Best Credit Card Just Got Better! You can also apply for this card here!
To learn more about using a credit card when traveling internationally, see the following post: Avoid These Five Mistakes With a Credit Card!
Are you unsure of what travel credit card you should select? At AwardYourMiles, we have created various tools designed to help you in the Award Travel space. This includes our Miles & Points Calculator and our Credit Card Selector Calculator. The Miles & Points Calculator determines the value of the selected credit card in your first and second year of use based on your spending habits. The Credit Card Selector Calculator will provide you with the first-year value of all our credit cards contained within our database based on your spending habits. Try it out for FREE!
4. Purchasing COVID-19 Travel Insurance
Having a premium credit card with built-in travel insurance protections may not be enough to protect you from certain COVID-19 events. You may decide to purchase a comprehensive package to "customize" your coverage and select additional elements of coverage that may be lacking with your premium travel credit card.
SquareMouth is a comparison engine that allows you to quickly search for quotes, compare, and buy coverage from every major provider in the United States. They have great reviews and I have found them to be very helpful and user-friendly. If you decide to go this route, it is recommended to purchase your policy early—perhaps no more than 7 days after your initial payment on your trip—in order to have better coverage options. It is possible to find coverage for less than 3% of the total trip!
Before purchasing a special travel medical insurance policy you will want to contact your existing health insurance company to understand your coverage—especially when traveling internationally. While many U.S. health insurance companies provide international coverage, Medicare does not.
Even if your health insurance company does provide international coverage you may still want to purchase a special travel medical insurance policy. Although this would typically be secondary, it should cover any expenses your health insurance company does not—such as deductibles. Just keep in mind that you'll probably have to pay out-of-pocket for any medical expenses and wait for reimbursement.
To learn more about travel insurance, see the following post: An Easy Guide to Travel Insurance for Your Next Vacation.
5. Selecting the Right Loyalty Program
Are you planning on using miles or points to redeem an Award Ticket for your international travel? If you have Flexible Points Currencies, be sure to leverage your points in a strategically advantageous manner with the "right" loyalty program. Loyalty programs such as United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, Turkish Miles&Smiles, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club have sweet spots that can lead to great value!
The United Quest℠ Card from Chase is a credit card that packs a punch—with its welcome bonus and annual benefits. You can use the miles earned with the United MileagePlus loyalty program. You can apply for this card here!
Be sure to compare different loyalty programs. You may be able to find the exact same flight itinerary for thousands of miles less compared to a different loyalty program. It does take an understanding of airline alliances and non-alliance partners. You will also need to have patience when using award booking search engines.
When it comes to Award Travel, flexibility is the key! A large number of airlines release Award Seats 330-361 days in advance. Booking when an Award Seat is released—or shortly before your desired date of departure—is generally the best time to redeem an Award Ticket. Nevertheless, if you have control over your dates of departure and return—and can manipulate both if necessary—you will have a better chance of finding Award Space.
The Bottom Line
Be sure to research these five items before you decide to travel internationally. It can help mitigate issues that could arise during your trip.