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Hidden Border Snags Overseas

SmarterTravel

When traveling between countries, you can sometimes get hit with a totally unexpected snag&#8212often serious enough to disrupt your entire vacation. A reader recently asked about one that was certainly news to me:

“I’ve heard that some countries such as the Czech Republic require Americans to have proof of at least $50,000 worth of medical coverage before they can enter the country. Is this true?”

The short answer: Yes&#8212almost. According to the State Department website, the Czech Republic requires proof of medical coverage in the amount of at least $35,000. The website adds that a medical insurance card or a credit card with medical benefits is considered adequate.

This reader raises the broader question of other unexpected barriers you sometimes find at international borders.

Medical insurance

The Czech rule was the only medical insurance requirement I could easily spot on the State Department’s website, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see others among the world’s nearly 200 independent countries. In the 50-plus years I’ve been traveling internationally, I’ve never encountered such a requirement, but that might have been because of lax enforcement rather than lack of a law.

Certainly, enforcement of this rule would seem to be either lax or selective based on profiling. When crossing European borders these days, you often don’t even have to show any papers at all. Still, it’s there as a possible booby trap. And I suppose you really shouldn’t be traveling overseas without adequate medical insurance, anyhow.

Visas

If you’re used to popping overseas once or twice a year without even considering a visa, it may come as something of a shock that a few popular tourist countries still require visas. Some of them issue visas upon your arrival at the airport, but a few&#8212notably including China, India, and Russia&#8212require visas issued in advance. And if you don’t have the right visa, you will be told to get on the next plane out&#8212at your expense.

Passport problems

Lots of countries these days require that you have a passport valid for up to six months beyond your proposed stay. This is prevalent enough that I suggest you routinely renew your passport at least six months before you travel anywhere outside the U.S.

Last year, I reported on a traveler who was refused boarding on a flight to South Africa because his passport did not have four empty (unstamped) pages. Although I didn’t spot them at the time of this earlier column, I know now that a few other countries also require either two or four empty pages: Apparently, the stamps (or whatever) these countries use when you enter and leave require full passport pages. Although rare, this is prevalent enough that anyone with a close-to-full passport should apply for the paste-in extra pages.

Ongoing passage

Quite a few countries theoretically require you to show your ability to pay for your return or ongoing travel before they allow you to enter. An ongoing ticket or a valid credit card is usually enough. Obviously, the purpose here is to refuse entrance to anyone likely to become a social or economic burden.

I’ve also occasionally encountered border requirements for cash. Again, this seems to be rare, and you can usually get what you need at the airport&#8212although maybe at a gouge rate.

Money in and out

Some countries&#8212notably those with weak or controlled currencies&#8212limit the amount of local or U.S. currencies you can take into the country and/or the amount you can take out when you leave.

Criminal record

I previously covered the Canadian requirement that prohibits entry to travelers with prior convictions for drunk driving or driving while under the influence of an illicit drug. This one seems to be both very strict and easily enforceable, as the Canadian border authorities now have instant access to U.S. criminal database information. Make no mistake: Unless you go through the exemption procedure, if you have a prior DUI conviction, even if it’s many years old, Canadian border agents will turn you back to the U.S.

I’ve never seen such a rigorous procedure from any other country, but I have no doubt that some may well bar travelers due to criminal records for DUI or possibly other offenses. Don’t risk it.

Inoculations

Some countries still require proof of inoculation against specific communicable diseases as a condition of entry. Yellow fever is the most common such diseases, but you encounter others. And depending on where you visit, you might want to take some sort of precaution regardless of whether they’re required.

Get the information

Clearly, I can’t do a complete rundown of all the requirements for all the world’s countries. However, you have some good online resources:

  • The State Department’s Country Specific Information pages are pretty good about detailing entrance requirements for U.S. travelers.
  • For even more detail, you can log onto the official website of any country you plan to visit. The State Department’s website generally provides links.

Checking detailed requirements seems to be a drag, especially if&#8212like me&#8212you’ve flown in and out of a country dozens of times without hassle. My observation is that enforcement of some of these rules is obviously targeted at travelers who fit certain profiles, which most ordinary U.S. visitors apparently do not. Still, unless you’re sure, I suggest you always make a quick online stop at the State Department’s website. Who knows, you might even learn something new.

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