International travel has become a lot more accessible for North Americans in recent years. Discount airlines are offering more bargain fares, and the sharing economy allows travelers to rent rooms, share rides, and book tours from locals for prices that weren’t available even 10 years ago. But if you’re planning an international trip, you should be aware of some hidden costs that can impact your budget. Here are a few of the sneakiest expenses and some tips to keep them under control.
Some countries don’t require a visa at all for short stays. Others might charge $20 for a 30 or 90 day tourist visa. But there are countries, such as Bolivia, China, and Vietnam, that require you to pay well over $100 to enter the country. If you’re traveling with a family or visiting multiple countries, those fees can add up quickly and become a major expense. Research visa requirements and expenses before you plan your travel.
Some phone plans don’t include any overseas calling or texting — just turning on your phone when your plane lands and collecting all the “bon voyage” texts from your friends and family could rack up huge charges. It’s best not to leave your overseas phone service to chance. Call your carrier before you leave and find the best deal for using your phone abroad. Another option is to carry an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card when you land. These cards come pre-loaded with a gigabyte or two of data and typically cost $10 or $20, depending on the country, but you will sacrifice your phone number when you switch out the SIM.
A medical emergency overseas can be very expensive — especially if your illness or injury requires that you buy a last-minute flight home for long-term treatment. If you’re traveling in developing countries and develop a serious medical issue, you will probably want to go home for treatment. The best way to avoid this kind of expense is by securing travel insurance before you leave. Each insurance plan is different, but most cover emergency evacuation, treatments, and sometimes the cost of missed flights and activities that you can’t recover.
Leaving a little tip for the hotel maid isn’t a big expense, but if you’re taking a multi-day trip, tipping your guide might add up to quite a bit. Groups often get together at the end of a tour and chip on to tip the guide, and you might be expected to cough up $20 per day or more. If you’re paying for a couple on a 10-day trip, that’s $400 that you may not have budgeted for. Consider the potential cost of gratuities up front if you’re employing a long-term guide service.
Foreign Exchange and ATM Fees
ATMs have made it easy for travelers to get cash in foreign currency — almost every airport has one near the luggage carousel now. But if the ATM charges you $6 every time you make a withdrawal, and your bank charges steep foreign exchange fees. This means you could incur some serious charges. Frequent travelers should seek out banks that don’t charge foreign exchange fees. You can minimize your ATM fees by making fewer stops and taking out larger amounts at each ATM visit, unless you’re lucky enough to find a free ATM in a convenient location.
Some countries impose heavy tourism taxes on hotels, tours, and other hospitality services. Read the fine print when booking to ensure that taxes are included. Another tax that might sneak up on you is departure tax. Not all countries charge a departure tax, and it’s often included in your airfare. But with taxes ranging as high as $125, this is a very sneaky expense that’s worth researching before you go.
If you’re carefully budgeting and saving for an overseas adventure, hidden costs could ruin your fun. A little extra research and a few precautions will help you avoid nasty surprises and put you back in control of your budget so you can enjoy your vacation.