We are living in an interconnected world. With an ever-increasing amount of business being conducted on a global scale, more and more executives are being sent to the corners of the globe for meetings with partners and clients. International travel has become an assumed inevitability for most high-level positions. In addition to business travel, executives and their families are drawn overseas to spend their vacations on exotic beaches or to take in different cultures.
Unfortunately, overseas travel often presents several risks that necessitate careful planning and preparation to circumvent. It’s important that travelers are diligent in safeguarding themselves and their families before, during, and following international travel or they run the risk of finding themselves and their fellow travelers in a dangerous or otherwise stressful situation.
This became all too clear to a long-time client of ours recently, who while in Santiago, Chile a couple weeks ago, found himself in the middle of a very dangerous situation. While he was in-country for a business conference, civil unrest gripped Santiago. This included widespread demonstrations, fires, violent clashes with police, and several deaths. Luckily, our client was able to obtain local assistance to travel safely out of Santiago to a secondary airport before departing back to the United States. If he or his company had spent a little time before his trip to put together a security & emergency plan, his nightmare couple of days would most likely have been much more controlled and less stressful.
PROSINT Secure has recently experienced an uptick in requests for our Travel Intelligence Report due to security issues in places like Hong Kong and elsewhere. It is with this, as well as our client’s recent misfortune in mind that we decided to bring you this list of pre-travel planning best practices. While this certainly can’t replace a high-level, location-specific Travel Intelligence Report, we hope that it teaches you a few things you didn’t know and gets you thinking about how you can better secure yourself and your loved ones during your next trip.
Pre-Travel Planning Tips
CHECK FOR TRAVEL WARNINGS/ADVISORIES AND REGISTER YOUR TRIP.
Before you travel abroad, be sure to check out the State Department’s Consular Information Program for Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings. It’s worth checking for these notices both before you book a trip and just before you depart. You should also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which makes it easier for the State Department to assist you in the event of a serious emergency.
Travel warnings and alerts – http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html
ENROLL IN SMART TRAVELER – US STATE DEPARTMENT APP
https://step.state.gov/step/ – This app provides some travel information and security alerts, but more importantly will allow you to register in the Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so the State Department can better assist you in a potential emergency and so that they have a record of American citizens in country.
OBTAIN EMBASSY/CONSULATE INFORMATION
Write down or otherwise document the addresses and phone numbers of any American embassies or consulates near the destinations you are visiting. This will come in handy should you lose your passport or have other important items stolen.
MAKE COPIES OF IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
Always keep your passport, driver’s license, and any other important documents with you – in your purse, wallet or bag. In case your purse or wallet is stolen or you are not able to access it in a dire emergency, copies of your documents will greatly assist you in getting new documentation quickly. Keep these copies in a safe place separate from your originals.
GATHER EMERGENCY CONTACTS
Pre-enter emergency numbers into your phone(s). This may take a little research but if they are ever needed you will be happy you did. Find out what the in-country general emergency number is (911-like), as well as direct numbers for police, ambulance, and State Department recommended lawyer(s).
Pack all of your prescription and non-prescription medications, enough for the duration of your trip. In addition, place an extra 5-7-day supply. If an emergency occurs it’s possible that an additional prescription will not be able to be filled. Be sure to research drug laws in the country you are visiting, as some medicines may be illegal in your destination country.
CREATE & SHARE YOUR TRAVEL ITINERARY
Document where you will be visiting, when you will be visiting each place, lodging/hotel information (including their phone numbers) and provide this itinerary to your attorney, a co-worker, friend, or family member. Let them know who to contact and give them instructions on how you want things to be handled in the event of an emergency while you are abroad.
GET NECESSARY VACCINATIONS
Attain all vaccinations needed for the region/country you are visiting. Different seasons may increase the probability of some illnesses or risks, depending on where in the world you are. Check out the CDC website to get a clearer picture of the health risks associated with that particular destination.
CDC health information – http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
PREPARE YOUR ELECTRONIC DEVICES
If you’re able to, bring a stripped-down version of your laptop/tablet that only contains the data that you absolutely need for the trip. The same thing goes for your phone. Do you have an old phone you can take along rather than your primary device? Maybe go old school and consider a “dumb phone” for your trip.
If secondary machines aren’t an option, encrypt the information on your laptop to ensure that your data remains hidden to unauthorized access. Both Microsoft and Apple offer tools to accomplish this. Just be sure to remember the passwords associated with your encryption. You might already have this option activated if you use a company device. If so, be sure to check with your IT or corporate security department to get more information before you leave.
Clear your browser history and delete cookies from your web browsers that may still be signed into email, social media sites, etc. Sign out of apps on your smartphone and tablet that might contain personally identifiable or sensitive information. This might include social media apps, email apps, notes apps like Evernote and Notes, storage sites like Google Drive and Dropbox, calendars and more. You may want to consider deleting the apps altogether. This is the safest bet and you can always get them back when you return.
PREPARE YOUR LUGGAGE
Avoid putting your home address on your luggage tags. Replace your tags with your corporate office address(es). This includes any luggage for family members as well. Use a corporate phone number and never include your email address or any other personal information on the exterior of your luggage. Also, put a lock on everybody’s bags. Even if these are the cheap plastic ones you will be able to see if the luggage was tampered with.
INFORM YOUR BANK & CREDIT CARD COMPANIES
While you may have a pattern of travel, it is always best to make sure the bank/credit card company knows that you will be out of the country. Banks are becoming more reactive to potentially fraudulent purchases, especially those made outside the US.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our Travel Intelligence brief, which will include tips on how to remain safe during and after your travel abroad. If you would like to learn more about our Travel Intelligence Reports, click here. Our travel reports provide a high-level security assessment of the destination country and cities that will be visited.
Other items provided in this report include:
- Pre-travel checklist
- Neighborhoods within the city to avoid
- Common scams and street crime in the host city
- Major crime statistics/information (kidnapping, targeting of tourists/foreigners)
- Security concerns for hotel and the neighborhood where it is located
- Safety of public transportation
- Recommendation for private transportation
- Backup hotel recommendations located within protection zone of US Embassy or Consulate (when possible)
- Contact information for: in-country emergency services and US Embassy/Consulate
- Hospital recommendations (emphasis on quality care and availability of English-speaking doctors)
- State Department recommended lawyers
- Cultural considerations
- Banned medications and other materials that could cause an issue at the airport or elsewhere
- Securing important documents and credit cards/money
- Digital security – phones, laptops, tablets
- Travel Security Checklists: Physical and Digital
- Travel Security Alerts (this is an add-on service)
Our Travel Intelligence Reports are intended to be used as an all-inclusive manual for reference during or after an emergency while overseas. We have conducted these assessments for travel to just about every corner of the world, including destinations within the US. Each report is different and highly customizable, depending on the destination, nature of the trip, international travel experience of traveler, and any specific concerns the client may have.
For more information on receiving your own personalized travel intelligence report, contact the author of this article or one of our managing partners directly:
Chief Intelligence Analyst
Secure Network Technologies
Secure Network Technologies