By David Barclay | August 31, 2022
My original idea for this blog post was an overview of the complexities of traveling with the multitude of COVID restrictions. However, in the several months since I initially developed the idea, many countries have rolled back their COVID travel restrictions. And honestly, there are already too many articles about COVID.
However, international travel has always been challenged by unique rules, requirements, and changing situations in the various countries and regions around the world. COVID was just the most recently and most publicized complication to travel. Historically, international travel has been challenged by regional safety levels, disease outbreaks, conflicts, changes in political relations between countries and the addition of new revenue generation sources for governments (visa fees, taxes, etc.).
I would expect most people reading this blog post to be experienced travelers. Some of you may be thinking “David, I travel all of the time, I know what I’m doing”. I’ll grant that if you are an experienced traveler, you understand many of the requirements for international travel, especially when frequently traveling to the same country or region. But the rules are constantly changes, even for countries/regions that historically have had few travel complications, and it’s important to stay on top of them.
Travel requirements change all of the time
Let’s look at a few examples that made headlines recently, for countries/regions that are generally deemed easy for U.S. citizens to visit, but that have recently changed their travel requirements.
Travel to the Schengen area has historically been easy for U.S. passport holders. No tourist visas required, no vaccinations, and boarder crossings within the Schengen area are almost as easy as crossing state boarders in the U.S. But that’s changing next year in November. Travelers to Europe will need to complete an application on the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and pay a €7 fee. The process is fairly simple, taking only a few minutes to complete and the fee is nominal, but this adds a new logistical requirement for travelers that do not require a visa to travel to Europe.
Japan is another country that has historically been easy for travel. But again, that has changed for U.S. travelers. Starting June 10, 2022 with the reopening of Japan to visitors, U.S. citizens are now required to apply for a single-entry evisa for short-term stays of less than 30 days. The fee for tourist evisa is currently 3,000 yen or about $22 USD and the evisa must be secured before traveling to Japan.
Yes, even in the U.S. travel requirements are changing. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know that the Department of Homeland Security will start requiring Enhanced or Real IDs for air travel in the U.S. What keeps changing is when this will go into effect. This requirement had originally been slated to take effect in 2020, but COVID challenges (e.g. DMV closures) influenced the decision to delay the implementation date. The currently implementation date is May 3, 2023. I know many people have put off converting their state issued IDs and for some it’s still not top of mind. But it takes time to get a Real ID and can’t be fast tracked in the last few days leading up to a trip. I imagine there will be numerous travelers attempting to fly in early May next year, who discover at the airport (or maybe the night before) that their ID won’t let them pass the TSA security check points. My personal recommendation to anyone who hasn’t yet converted their ID, go schedule your appointment now and ensure this isn’t a travel complexity you need to deal with next year.
Existing travel complexities change in severity
It’s not just new travel requirements and restrictions that make it challenging to travel. Many aspects of travel that have historically created minor travel annoyances have ballooned to become major issues to international travel. Passport renewal times, airport lines & required pre-flight arrival times, and even lingering COVID health requirements make travel harder than it used to be.
During the past year, I’ve seen many horror stories of travelers needing a new passport, maybe because they didn’t check their passports’ expiration dates, or in one case because their dog decided to turn their passport into a chew toy. These travelers soon found out that the renewal time for passports had grown so long that their trip would come and pass well before they could get a new passport, even with expediting services. Renewal times have declined from the pandemic induced peak, but the time it takes to renew a passport is still much longer than pre-pandemic norms. The latest statistics indicate general renewals will still take 8-11 weeks and expediting services will only reduce this to 5-7 weeks. Hopefully renewal times will continue to decline, but for now it means travelers should have a clear idea of when their passports expire and when they will need to submit a renewal request based on upcoming travel plans. Remember also that you need to send your current passport in with your renewal paperwork, so for the 5-11 weeks your new passport is being processed, you are unable to travel internationally. You may not want to wait until your current passport is about to expire. If your passport is set to expire anytime in the next 1.5 years, you may want to identify a good 3 month window when you are sure you will not need your passport.
There is good news on the horizon, it was recently announced that the U.S. will move to online renewals of passports. A pilot program started in August will test the new online process, with the target of fully rolling out the new online renewal process in 2023. But there will still be instances where you might need to renew the old way, including if you are renewing a passport for a child whose current passport was issued before age 16 or if your expired passport was issued more than 15 years ago.
Airport Departure & Arrival Challenges
Some of the biggest travel headlines these days cover the logistical challenges (and failures) at many large airports. Stories of long lines to check bags and clear security causing passengers to miss their outbound flights. Long custom & immigration lines causing travelers to miss connections between international and domestic flights. Videos and pictures of luggage piled up in concourses. Stories of lost luggage. I could go on and on. These types of travel issues have always been annoyances, but in recent months they have gone from annoyances and issues impacting a minority of travelers to challenging impacting a large number of travelers.
While hopefully the airlines will solve these operation issues soon, there are things that you as an experienced traveler can do to limit the impact to your travel plans. First, don’t trust and accept the layover times provided by airline websites or other online booking engines. These systems are programmed to allow insanely short layover times which provide no buffer for any hiccups in timing. I’ve seen system generated connections that only provide travelers 45-60 minute layovers, sometimes on itineraries that need to clear customs/immigrations. Booking those itineraries is just asking to miss your connecting flight. If you are booking your flights yourself, scroll through the list of suggested flight options until you find one with acceptable layover times for the airport where you will connect. This is also an instance when it pays to get a human involved in the process, either through the airline reservation phone numbers or by utilizing an advisor’s air desk.
Another challenge plaguing travel is the time it takes to get into and out of departure and arrival airports. My first suggestion, if you don’t already have it, is to apply for Global Entry. This takes a little investment of time, as you need to schedule an appointment and go in for a brief interview with a TSA officer, but the small time investment makes re-entry to the U.S. significantly easier. You also receive TSA PreCheck® with your Global Entry profile, which speeds your way through security at U.S. domestic airports. This past spring, my family returned to the U.S. from a trip to Spain. At ORD, we skipped the long line at passport control (I’m guessing people in line probably had to wait 45+ minutes) and went straight to the Global Entry kiosks. We didn’t even need to place our passports on the scanner, the kiosks completed a facial recognition scan and pulled up our information. This was even true for my 3 children, which I found fascinating since they receive their Global Entry in 2018 and have grown and changed a lot since then. Speaking of children, unlike TSA pre-check and other known traveler programs where children can accompany their parents even if they don’t have it themselves, everyone in your traveling party needs to have their own Global Entry profile. In terms of renewal, I’ve only renewed my Global Entry once, but I was able to do it online by answering a few questions and paying the renewal fee, much easier than renewing a passport!
For those of you who don’t want to deal with the long lines, there is also the option (at international airports, not available at U.S. airports) to schedule VIP services. While not inexpensive, these services provide a way to circumnavigate long wait lines. Typically, VIP services include motorized transport through the airport, expedited lines through security and immigration, help with getting VAT refunds, assistance checking in and assistance with baggage. For departure services, VIP greeters meet travelers when they arrive at the airport and stay with them until they board their flight. For arrival services, VIP greeters meet travelers as they exit the jetway and stay with them until they are delivered to their waiting airport transfer service outside of security/baggage claim.
Staying on top of the numerous changes
As you can imagine, it’s not easy to stay on top of all of the changes. It can involve significant research and checking many sources for the latest details. Increasing the challenge, information found online can be confusing, misleading, or just outdated.
You may wonder how I stay on top of all of these changes. Now that I am an industry insider I have a phenomenal resource to quickly get the pertinent travel information I need. Through my partnership with Brownell Travel, I have a network of over 100 luxury travel advisors just like me. Each advisor travels several times per year and combined they send clients on thousands of trips annually. If I don’t feel I’m 100% up to speed on the travel requirements for a particular destination, all I need to do is ask my network and I’m guaranteed to have several colleagues who have either traveled to or sent clients to that destination within the last few weeks. They can share the latest details on travel rules, restrictions, and watchouts to ensure I am fully aware of any pre-travel requirements and necessary actions to mitigate the travel challenges.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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