United States

Necessary documents for traveling to the USA

Are you traveling to the USA? Before stepping on that plane, there are some essential preparations you need to make. This includes not only planning your itinerary and packing the essentials, but also taking care of important documents like visas, passports, and travel insurance. Failure to have the required documents can cause significant problems, such as denied entry into a country or delays at airports. Therefore, before you pack your bags and set out on your adventure, take some time to gather and organize your necessary documents for traveling to the USA.

ESTA

If you’re planning to travel to the USA, you’ll need to obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). It’s a mandatory document that grants you permission to enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.

To obtain an ESTA, you’ll need to fill out an online application form. You have to provide your personal information, travel details, and answer eligibility questions. The application fee for a new or renewed ESTA is around € 20 per person. After submitting your application, it will be processed, and you’ll receive a response within 72 hours. If approved, your ESTA will be valid for two years. You can use it for multiple trips to the USA during that period. We applied for our ESTA in November 2021 for our trip to New York. At that time it only costed us € 12,50 each then – lucky us. Our ESTA’s are still valid for our USA road trip, so we did not have to reapply.

Passport

necessary documents for traveling to the USA: passport

To travel to the USA, you must hold a valid passport, your (national) ID card is not sufficient. In addition, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the USA. Make sure your passport is valid and up-to-date before leaving! It is one of the necessary documents you need for traveling to the USA.

International driver’s license

If you are planning a road trip, there is a good chance you will be renting a car. Although an international driver’s license is no longer required, we still highly recommend it. It will save you a lot of trouble, and for such a small price (in our case € 25), you’re better safe than sorry!

An international driver’s license serves as a translation of your current driver’s license. It makes it easier for law enforcement officials to understand your driving qualifications and experience. It’s important to note that an international driver’s license doesn’t replace your current driver’s license. It’s an additional document that validates your right to drive in a foreign country. Additionally, having an international driver’s license ensures that you are covered by car insurance and can rent a vehicle. Some rental companies may even require it. We noticed that the price for an international driver’s license differs per country. As we said before, we had to pay € 25 each in Belgium. In France it’s free, and in Germany it costs € 15.

Travel insurance

You should definitely consider getting travel insurance when planning a trip to the USA. Travel insurance provides coverage for unforeseen events that may occur during your travels. This can be an accident, illness, lost baggage, and trip cancellations. The US healthcare system is known for its high costs. Medical emergencies can quickly become financially overwhelming, especially for international travelers. That’s why having travel insurance can provide peace of mind and protect you from unexpected expenses! You should also check if your trip abroad isn’t already (partially) covered by your “local” or national insurance.

Credit and debet cards settings

When traveling to the USA, you might have to adjust some settings for your (credit) card(s). More often than not, people forget to check this until it is too late. This can cause great stress that can be avoided! Yes, with people we mean ourselves. 😂

When we visited Marrakech two years ago, we forgot to enable our (credit) cards for use outside of Europe. When standing at the ATM to withdraw our first dirhams, we were met (repeatedly) with an error message, as if there was no money left in our account. There was no WiFi in sight, which forced us to check our balance on our mobile data plan. After we confirmed that our balance was not the issue, we decided to explore our bank app a little more. After a few seconds, we discovered a “region setting” in which we saw that our cards were only active in Europe. We quickly enabled Africa as well, closed the app and turned off mobile data.

This whole situation – from enabling mobile data and checking our balance to closing the app and putting our phones back in flight mode – took less than 2 minutes, but still set us back more than € 20! So to save you some stress AND possibly some money, please check your card settings before you leave and adjust them if needed.

We also figured out, after our trip of course, that you can set a time period in which your card may be used abroad. This means you can already enable your card for use abroad the minute after you booked your flight tickets! This is now part of our standard routine and it should be part of yours, too. 😉

Additional tips and tricks for credit and debet cards

In addition to your bank card settings, we also have other helpful tips regarding bank cards:

The first tip is to always DECLINE the conversion, we literally can’t stress this enough. ATMs, small shops, and even some restaurants will try to trick you into giving them more money than you should. Whenever you have the option to either accept the conversion or decline it, always decline (although it might “feel wrong” and counterintuitive).

The reasoning behind this is that when you accept the conversion, the ATM, shop, restaurant… already “did the conversion for you”, at a much worse rate. Additionally, your own bank can even add some extra fees on top of this! But when you decline the conversion, the only bank that will handle it is your own bank. This means that you’ll only pay once for the foreign currency exchange, with much better rates. A variation of accepting/declining the conversion you should look out for is “Do you want to pay in Euro or in Dollars?”. This is the exact same thing, if we had chosen Euro (which feels “natural”) we’d let a third party add their own fees on top of the conversion, not good. The rule of thumb is: always pay in local currency, and let your own bank handle the conversion.

This second tip doesn’t apply to everyone, but can still save you (a lot of) money if you decide to withdraw cash money with your credit card. Certain banks add a fee when you withdraw money with your credit card. The exact amount depends from bank to bank, we recommend looking this up in advance to avoid surprises!

Additionally, paying with your card is much safer and easier than paying in cash. On top of this, it gives you a great overview of you expenses, so you know where and how you spend your money. Paying by card allows us to gain more insights in our own expenses when on holiday, as can be seen in:

5 days in Paris: Budget Breakdown
5 days in Barcelona: Budget Breakdown
6 days in Rome: Budget Breakdown
5 week US road trip: Budget Breakdown

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