Staying Safe While Traveling Abroad
Leaving for a foreign country is always an exciting adventure, whether you’re a novice or veteran traveler. Here are some tips on what to do in advance of your trip, and — in this era of increased government surveillance — how to protect your digital privacy from nosy Customs officials.
Before You Book Your Travel
Check your passport expiration date. Make sure your passport is at least six months away from expiration. Some countries require this, and airlines may not allow you to board! Check out the State Department’s Country Information for entry and exit requirements.
Decide whether you need travel insurance. Travel insurance has five components: trip cancellation and interruption, medical, evacuation, baggage, and flight insurance. You can buy a comprehensive policy to cover most or all of these. However, limiting the insurance to trip cancellation protection makes sense if you have to pay a large, non-refundable amount upfront, and you can cobble together protection through your existing insurance. Check to see if you have international medical coverage through your existing health insurance, and baggage and flight insurance through your credit card company. Unless you’re traveling to a remote area, evacuation insurance is probably overkill.
Global Entry. This expedited service to clear customs will be worth it after a long and tiring flight home. The $100 non-refundable application fee also includes enrollment in TSA PreCheck for expedited screening for travel within the US. This article from The Points Guy has tips on how you can get Global Entry for free.
After You’ve Booked Your Travel
Immunizations. Get the recommended immunizations before your trip at least 4-6 weeks before the trip. The CDC provides vaccine recommendations and requirements for your travel destination. In case your primary care doctor doesn’t stock travel vaccines, you can visit a travel clinic instead.
Register with the US embassy. In case of emergency, you want the US embassy to know you’re in the country. You also can research travel warnings in advance on the State Department’s website.
Have a copy of your passport: take a photo on your devices, and have physical photocopies too.
Nosy Customs Officials in the Digital Age
Privacy rights for digital devices at the border is a murky legal area. There are no cases setting a precedent for the unconstitutionality of warrantless searches of devices at the border. After President Trump announced his controversial executive order to increase the vetting of travelers from majority Muslim countries, travelers justifiably feel vulnerable about how they may be treated upon returning to the US, even those with US citizenship.
This article from Wired.com, A Guide to Getting Past Customs With Your Digital Privacy Intact, provides strategies on how to prepare yourself for customs officials that demand access to your devices and social media accounts. In a nutshell, encrypt your devices and power them down completely. Set a strong PIN for your smart phone, and iPhone users should disable Siri from the lockscreen. If your device is confiscated, proactively encrypting your devices will make life difficult for Customs in accessing your data.
If you’re a US citizen, you can simply refuse to reveal passwords and PINs; you may be detained and your devices confiscated, but you can’t be refused re-entry. For non-US citizens, even if you’re a permanent resident, you unfortunately run the risk of being deported if you don’t cooperate with the customs official. The Wired.com article has tips specifically for non-US citizens.