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The 10 best international travel hacks for Americans

These are the best international travel short-cuts that will help you prepare for your next overseas trip

Written by Lola Méndez (Time Out), in partnership with Visa

Globetrotting across the planet full-time for seven years has taught me a few tricks. And after visiting all seven continents and over 70 countries, I'd like to share my best international travel short-cuts that will help you prepare for your next overseas trip.

Rest assured, these are all ethical, unlike the atrocious idea that encourages able-bodied travelers to request a wheelchair in order to expedite going through airport security. It’s exploitative and fraudulent to lie about having a disability. Don’t do that. Instead, use these travel hacks to help you travel with ease; from traveling with a debit card that reimburses you for ATM fees, or earning reward miles from booking ride shares and accommodations, these hacks will make your next international trip a breeze. 

International travel hacks for Americans

1. Travel-friendly debit card

There’s no need to pay for expensive international transaction fees, obscure market rates, and astronomical ATM cash withdrawal fees. To get the most bang for your buck, open a High Yield Investor Checking account with Charles Schwab Bank and get a Visa debit card. No matter where you are in the world, Charles Schwab rebates unlimited ATM fees on a monthly basis and never charges international transaction fees. There are no fees or minimum account balances. Schwab covers unauthorized activity so you don’t have to worry if your debit card is stolen while you're overseas.

2. Get a local sim card

If your mobile phone plan charges for international roaming, get your phone unlocked so that you can purchase a local sim card. Buying local data is usually more affordable. Often, the best price for the sim card and the data package isn’t at the airport. However, the airport is the most convenient place to get a local sim card, so that you can activate the service and use it to find your way to your accommodation. About a week's worth of data with an AT&T sim card in Mexico costs US$10 including free social media including WhatsApp. 


3. Tax rebates for foreigners

Many countries offer foreigners a rebate on value-added taxes, known as IVA, when a foreign credit card is used for in-country purchases. For instance, in Uruguay, foreign credit cards used at a restaurant or a bar are rebated automatically when the card is charged or later on your credit card statement. Foreigners also don’t pay taxes on hotels. If you shop for clothing and crafts and spend over 500 Uruguayan Pesos ask for a Global Blue tax refund. File the receipt at the Global Blue kiosk at the airport to receive the VAT back on your credit card.

4. Get better prices on flights

If you’re planning an international trip, but there are no direct flights from your home base to your destination overseas, buy only the longest leg of the journey with a major international airline. Then, book your connecting flight to your final destination with a local airline from within the region or country. You’re likely to shave a couple of hundred dollars off of the cost of the flights. This works best when flying carry-on only as you may have to exit the airport and go back through security at the airport during your layover.


5. Stay loyal to an airline alliance

Rack up miles and points with one airline alliance to gain status. Some airlines within the same alliance share benefits for frequent flyers. For instance, with the lowest Delta SkyMiles status, Silver Medallion, you also have access to upgrades on partner airlines in the SkyTeam alliance such as AeroMexico and KLM and can enjoy lounge access when available. Having loyalty to one airline alliance pays off when it comes to extra fees—United’s lowest MileagePlus status level, Premier Silver, includes a complimentary checked suitcase of 70lbs.

6. Free stopovers and layover tours

If your travel dates are flexible, take advantage of the airline’s free stopovers to maximize your holiday and see another destination while you’re en route to your vacation spot. The stopovers that are offered are a minimum of 24 hours for international destinations. You’ll have plenty of time to quickly check out the destination. Some airports also offer free layover tours including Singapore Changi Airport, Seoul Incheon Airport, Taipei Taoyuan Airport, and Istanbul International Airport. Some airports, like Abu Dhabi International Airport and Doha’s Hamad International Airport, offer tours for a fee.


7. Mobile Passport Control

Download this free app before going through U.S. customs and fill it out on the plane before you enter the border patrol area as cellphone usage is prohibited. Many airports in the U.S. have a separate line for Mobile Passport Control—that’s right, you can skip lengthy wait times at customs without buying Global Entry. Lately, in my experience transiting through the U.S. and going through customs, I’ve noticed that some airports no longer offer separate lines for Mobile Passport Control, such as Newark Liberty International Airport.

8. Book a reliable airport transfer

Uber and other ride-sharing apps are often not allowed to do airport pickups or have hefty surge prices around the world. If you don’t have an international mobile plan or already possess a local sim card with data, you may not be able to find your ride-share driver once you exit the airport Wi-Fi. Instead, save yourself the hassle and book a reliable ride at a locked-in all-inclusive fee with the global chauffeur service Blacklane. The prices are reasonable and all of Blacklane’s rides are offset and some utilize electric vehicles.


9. Get more airline mileage rewards

Sync different apps that partner with airlines to reap more rewards. For instance, Delta SkyMiles has a partnership program with Airbnb so you can earn Delta SkyMiles for every dollar spent on Airbnb reservations. You can also earn Delta SkyMiles on Lyft rides in the U.S. If there’s an inconvenience on your flight such as a power charger not working or the requested meal not being available, file a customer service complaint and the airline may compensate you for your troubles with reward miles.

10. Go plastic free

Save space in your suitcase by traveling plastic-free. Packing shampoo and conditioner bars take up less space in your suitcase and can be taken in carry-on luggage as the bars don’t count as a liquid. Vaycay Beauty makes bars that cater to different hair types. Get a water bottle with a filter, I love the Hydros 20 oz water bottle that has a reusable coconut filtration system, so that you can refill your water bottle anywhere, even if you don’t have access to potable water. You’ll save money as buying several single-use plastic water bottles a day is expensive.

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