More than half, 55%, of American adults who have flown in the last two years say that the process of flying — from booking tickets to getting through the airport — is more stressful than work, according to a new survey from The Points Guy. And 37% say flying is more stressful than filing their taxes.
One easy thing you can do to eliminate some of that travel stress is make sure all your travel documents are in order well before your trip. "I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting to check their documents until they're heading to the airport," Liana Corwin, a travel expert at Hopper, recently told Grow. "It's really something you need to look into while you're making your plan."
Getting turned away at the airport is a potentially expensive loss. For domestic flights, for example, your regular driver's license may not get you through security come October 1, once travelers are expected to have a Real ID. Not having one yet could result in your having to forfeit a costly plane ticket.
And if you're flying internationally, not planning ahead means you may have to incur costs like getting your passport expedited.
So, well before you head to the airport, here's what you need to know about all the documents you may require for a smooth, and less stressful, trip.
Starting October 1, 2020, if you want to use your driver's license as identification to get you onto a commercial domestic flight, you'll need one that's Real ID compliant. That means it's in line with new government-mandated security measures and has a "REAL ID compliant star marking," according to the Homeland Security FAQ page.
Almost all states are already issuing security-compliant Real ID cards, Corwin says. "You'll have the option of renewing [your driver's license] as a driver's license or a Real ID, which is a driver's license. You should get it as a Real ID now because in less than a year's time, that's the ID you're gonna need."
You can get a Real ID online or at the DMV, and costs will vary based on what state you live in. For example, in Pennsylvania, to get a Real ID there is a one-time fee of $30, plus the typical driver's license renewal free of $30.50, for a total of just over $60. In Idaho, there are no additional fees to get a Real ID, but getting a four-year license if you are over the age of 21 costs $40.
The documents you need vary by state. At a minimum, according to Homeland Security, you need documentation that shows your full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, and lawful status, as well as two proofs of address for your principal residence. Check your state's DMV website to see what you should bring as well as examples of documents that fit the requirements.
You may know that you can't travel with an expired passport, but it may come as an unpleasant surprise that many countries won't allow you to travel with a passport that is going to expire in less than six months.
If your passport is set to expire in the next six months or so, you should renew it now.
Typically, renewing a passport takes six to eight weeks. If you need yours sooner, contact the State Department, Corwin says. "You just need to show them when you plan to travel and they will expedite [your passport to you] based on those dates," she says. "Of course, you have to pay a little extra, but the State Department is good about that."
Right now the price to renew and expedite a passport is $170, versus $110 for regular processing.
Along with a valid passport, you'll need a visa to enter many countries, Jesse Neugarten, CEO of Dollar Flight Club, recently told Grow. "Some countries you don't need a visa for a stay of up to 30 days," he says. Other countries won't let you in at all without one.
The State Department's country information page is a great place to find all the information you need to get into a foreign country without a hassle. For example, if you are traveling to Vietnam, a quick search on the State Department's database will tell you that you don't need any vaccinations, but you do need a tourist visa and your passport must be valid for at least the next six months.
To get into Argentina, though, your passport only needs to be valid during the time of entry and you can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. You also won't need any vaccinations.
Costs and timelines to obtain a visa vary. For example, with Vietnam it takes two days to process a visa, and you'll pay a $45 fee for one-time entry. If you're going to Turkey, a visa takes 12 hours to process and costs $20.
Also be sure to check whether you can get the visa upon arrival or whether you have to plan ahead. It's usually cheaper if you get the visa before getting to the destination, Neugarten says.
An international driver's license allows you to drive in another country, and anyone with a valid U.S. driver's license can get one. AAA is one of two entities that are allowed to administer an international driver's license. The other is the American Automobile Touring Alliance, or AATA. It's "really easy" to get one at an AAA branch, Neugarten says. All you need to do is fill out an application and bring two passport pictures along with your U.S. driver's license. It will cost $20 and you will get it in 10 to 15 business days.
Rental companies in other countries might let you rent a car with just an American driver's license, Neugarten says. "If you get pulled over by the police in places like Italy, you'll get fined and get a ticket" if you don't have an international driver's license, he says. That will most likely cost you more than the price of just getting the license.
If you're traveling with your minor children, many airlines require some form of ID for them, depending on how old they are and the airline. For example, if you are traveling with someone under the age of 2, Southwest Airlines requires that you present the child's birth certificate.
For most airlines, a birth certificate, school ID, or Social Security card should suffice, Neugarten says.
"If you are traveling with your child and you don't have the same last name as them, you may be required to have a document from your partner who has the same last name as your child, saying it's OK to travel," Corwin says.
And if you are a single parent and don't have the same last name as your child, it's smart to bring documentation that proves you are their parent, like a birth certificate, just in case.
If you're lacking any of the documentation you need, don't panic, Corwin says. Often, you can expedite whatever documents you need, if you're willing to pay additional fees: "There are ways to fix it."
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