International Travel Safety and Security Tips


“I was staying at a hotel in Monaco. I left my cell phone in the room and went to the pool. When I returned, I noticed my phone was missing the SIM card. When I got home and called the phone company I was told that someone had racked up hundreds of dollars in international phone calls on my account.”

“My bag did not fit in the overhead compartment and I was forced to gate check it. When I retrieved my bag after the flight I noticed that both my iPad and medications were gone.”

“I had just checked into my hotel in Asia and plugged my laptop into the local network. Immediately I got a popup that stated my operating system was out of date and I could click on the popup to install the required updates. I installed the updates and continued with my trip. When I returned home I handed in my laptop to the office IT people; I got a call later and they told me the laptop was full of spyware.”

“I was sitting in a café with my purse hanging from the back of my chair. When I got up I noticed that someone had reached into the purse and had stolen my cell phone and wallet.”

These are true stories from international travelers who have been victims of theft and cybercrimes. The following will provide you insight into the threats you may face and how to protect yourself to reduce the risk from traveling internationally.

Stay Safe When You Travel Internationally

1. If you don’t need your electronic device or valuables, leave them at home

2. Do not leave your devices unattended

a. Never store valuables or electronics in checked luggage
b. iPhones and other GSM devices have an internal removable SIM card that allows the phone to make calls. A thief could break into your hotel room and steal the SIM card from your unattended phone to make unauthorized calls on your account.

3. Sanitize your laptop, cellphone, and portable device prior to travel

a. Clear your browser history and cache including saved usernames and passwords
b. Delete any Saved or Favorite sites that could expose personal information or browsing habits.
c. Remove any personal data, pictures, information, and work that could be used against you or you would not want exposed to the internet
d. Remove any phone contact lists that could be stolen and made targets of fraud and phishing scams

4. When traveling for business consider bringing a “clean” business laptop that does not contain any personal or business data.

a. Store all of your business data and files in the cloud or business server
b. If your laptop gets stolen or confiscated, no sensitive data will be compromised

5. Back up all your electronic devices including cell phones before you travel

6. Make sure your antivirus, security patches, and firewall are enabled and up to date before you leave

a. Entities in foreign countries have been known to push fake security updates when a user connects to the local network to install malware and spyware on the user’s computer.

7. Don’t have an expectation of privacy

a. Many countries do not have the same privacy protections for electronic communications as the United States.
b. Be mindful that any cell phone conversation, email, and internet browsing may be intercepted by local private, corporate, or governmental entities.

8. Consider all free Wi-Fi to be insecure.

a. Avoid Wi-Fi if possible
b. Consider all your web browsing activities on Wi-Fi are viewed by a third party
c. Use a VPN connection before you log into any websites or access sensitive data

9. US Customs with “reasonable suspicion” can search and confiscate your electronic devices

a. Under current regulations, the US Customs can search and download all your electronic information and confiscate your devices upon entry to the United States.*
b. Customs agents may ask for your passwords / pin numbers. You do not have to surrender it but they may confiscate your device.*

10. Beware of “phishing” scams referencing local attractions and businesses

11. Report any stolen devices to the American Embassy or Consulate.

*We are not lawyers and this should not be construed as legal advice. Always contact your own lawyer about any laws and regulations regarding travel across United States borders.

Suggestions for Traveling Internationally

1. Purchase a cheap disposable or “burner phone” before you leave. Once you arrive at your destination purchase a pre-paid SIM card that can be discarded when you leave. Basic GSM phones can be purchased online for around $30. Inexpensive regional pre-paid SIM cards can often be purchased in the airport of your destination.

2. When traveling for business bring a “clean” laptop that does not contain any personal or business data. Store and access all your data in the “cloud” or a remote business terminal server. If your laptop gets stolen, compromised, or confiscated no sensitive data will be lost.

3. Use a VPN to access any personal or business websites and servers. The VPN will create an encrypted channel to the remote resource that will prevent local parties from eavesdropping on your network traffic.

4. Leave a copy of your passport, itinerary, and important phone numbers with a family member, friend, or coworkers so that they can quickly access the information and get it to you in the event that your passport or other valuables are stolen

5. Change all of your password – including voicemail pin numbers – when you return.

6. Review the US State Department and CIA World Factbook websites for any travel warnings and tips about your location.

a. Become familiar with local laws and customs as to not offend your host community.

7. Bring an electronic charger adapter. You can damage your electronics by using a power adapter that is not suited to the electrical system that you are accessing.


Image Credit: planegeezer/Flickr