Be smart! 10 essential travel documents you must have

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“Did I bring all the travel documents I need?” I’m sure you already asked yourself this question while walking to the Passport Control. Doesn’t matter if we are travelling for a  weekend getaway or an around the world trip, we are always unsure about the essential travel documents we must carry.

Going through customs is always a bit awkward, especially if you are travelling to a different country and culture. To avoid any misunderstanding is better to have all your travel documents in hand just in case they want to check everything before giving the welcome stamp. To help you with this bureaucratic task we listed the 10 essential travel documents you must check in with.

Every country has it own immigration policies and depends on which passport you hold the law can be different. The first thing you should do before buying a travel ticket is to search at your embassy website the visa requirements for the destination you want to visit.

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Now that you already know if you need a visa or not, let go to our check-list. We make a simple but efficient list with 10 essential travel documents you must need to check in with. Because if you put them on your luggage they won’t be useful while crossing the Passport Control. And nobody wants to get stuck in the customs due to some damn travel document you forgot in your luggage.


10 essential travel documents for an around the world trip


1st » Precious passport!

Have in mind that your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after the date you are traveling. Each country has its own date limits, some of them are three, others six months. So, if the dates are too tight, it is better to get a brand-new one.

Also is good to know that making a new passport takes some time. In Brazil, for example, it can take up to two months. So be smart and work fast, without a passport you go nowhere!

In the USA, to obtain a first-time passport you’ll need to provide, among other things, proof of US citizenship such as a birth certificate. This alone can take months to obtain if you don’t already have one. That’s on top of the actual passport production time! Companies like Vital Records Online will help you with both procedures for a relatively affordable fee.


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2nd » We love visas!

Check if you need to apply for a visa before leaving your country. For us, Brazilians, we can go as tourists to 146 countries around the world with free visa or visa on arrival. It means that we don’t need to apply for the visa in advance, we just travel to the place and get the permission at the airport. But not everybody is lucky as us! 😀

How do you get to know about it? Have a look at the embassy website of the country you are planning to visit, they will give all the information you need, and the steps you should follow to get a tourist stamp. Some countries offer the option to do the visa in advance or on arrival, I should recommend you to sort everything out before travelling. With your visa in hands you gonna cross the immigration control smoothly and hassle-free.


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3rd » Take the shots!

There are lots of different diseases around the world and some of them can be easily avoided by taking a simple vaccine. The most common protection asked for travellers is against Yellow Fever, but there are other that you should know. You can find the complete list on the World Heath Organization website. There you can also find useful tips about food safety and health protection. Look carefully to the list because in some countries you can’t pass through the passport control without the vaccine they ask for.

For example, when we arrive in Thailand, first we have to pass by the health control to show our vaccination card with the Yellow Fever stamp on it, and only then we can go to the Immigration desk. Also, keep the international certificate always together with your passport and essential travel documents.


4th » You must have a way out!

This is a major thing for international holidays: you must have an ongoing ticket! Most of the countries require an outbound ticket [flight, train or bus] booked, and they do ask for it at the Customs Control. When we left Brazil we bought a ongoing flight, even though we didn’t use it. As we were leaving Brazil and arriving in Europe, to receive the Schengen Visa we had to prove that we wouldn’t overstay there.


5th » Home sweet new home!

When we arrived in Morocco we had to fill up a form with our previous address in Portugal and our future address in Marrakech. And it needs to be the complete address: hotel name, street, number and zip code. When we were leaving Morocco through Fes Airport, we had to fill up another form with all the addresses we’ve stayed in the country. Not only Morocco has this type of requirement, in Bangkok – Thailand, and in Madrid – Spain, they have asked for our hotel booking too.

So the lesson learned is: book your hotel/hostel/apartment and have all the details in hand. Even better if the printed document shows the website you booked from, that’s more trustworthy. I know you can manage your hotel booking on mobiles app, but be aware that customs might not accept it, they like papers. If your going to stay in a friend’s or family’s house, ask them to write a formal letter telling they will be hosting you for some period, the letter must have all yours and the host’s personal details, and should to be signed.

6th » Always play safe

Travel Insurance: this is not only an essential travel document, this is a travel requirement you must follow, especially while travelling abroad. And doesn’t matter if you go for a week or for life adventure [like us], you will need a protection that literally can save you life or your luggage. Most of the time customs don’t ask about travel insurance, although you must have it. If anything goes wrong, you will have a back up to cover your expenses.

It’s always good to have your police printed, just in case you need the details. Brazilians are obligated to arrive in Europe with a travel insurance covering at least EUR 30.000, if you don’t have it, you might need to buy one in the airport. And that will cost more!

Most of travel agencies sell insurance, you can also check with your bank or health insurance company, they sometimes cover travel issues too. Or you can be smart and search online for good deals and full coverage. We use and recommend World Nomads, every time we need some help [specially myself] we received a good customer service and fast answer. Get your travel insurance with WorldNomads via our blog, you will be protected and we get a little commission from your purchase. But don’t worry, this will cost nothing more for you!


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7th » Show me the money!!!

Some countries will ask you to prove your funds, to show them that you have money enough for travelling. They might ask this while you are applying for the visa before your trip, or they will do it when you pass by the passport control. So I recommend you to carry on your travel documents wallet you latest bank statement, or a receipt from your credit card. Any bank document that shows you have plenty of money to get in, around and out the their country.


8th » International Driver License

If you are planning to explore a new country by road is better to have the correct and essential travel document. To ride a scooter in Thailand or to rent a fancy convertible in Côte d’Azur – France, you will need a driver’s license and sometimes your original one won’t be enough. Some countries accept foreign driving licenses, but others not. You must go to the driving license department near you and ask for an international document. Most of the time it is easy and fast to do it. It is like a translation of your normal license.

Just a heads up for all the drivers and travellers out there: with the international license you can drive almost all around the world, but it doesn’t mean you will be able to. In some places you need more than the travel document, you need guts! 🙂 We made a practical guide about how to rent a  motorcycle in Asia, or anywhere around the world!

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9th » Mugshots

Make an assorted photo-book of yourself. If you are going for an adventure in India or a trip around the world, pictures are some essential travel documents you must have. And they have to be in different sizes [passport, 3X4 cm, squared…] Some countries will ask for picture while issuing your visa and if you don’t have you might pay a fine, or in the worst case you will lose your place in the queue and will have to run around trying to find the nearest photo machine. For sure this is not an experience you need to put on your travel resume. Trust me, take some pictures and put them together with your travel documents.


10th » Clone your travel documents

Our number 10 is not a proper travel document, but a copy of all the docs we have listed above! Get all your essential travel documents and go to a copy machine, do at least two copies of each. Why?? Because you might need them!! To get a SIM card abroad you will be asked for a copy of your passport and hotel address. To rent a car without extended insurance you may need to give them a copy of your personal insurance policy, for a long-term apartment rent they will also need some copies… And don’t expect to find copy/print machine on the front desk everywhere, in some places all the bookings are still done by pen and paper.

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Follow our advice and I’m sure you won’t have documents problems while passing through the Customs Control. However, before flying or travelling by bus/train/car, to any country in the world, have a look at their official tourism website. International regulations can change, and some countries are applying more strict policies.

To avoid any type of misunderstanding organize your 10 essential travel documents in advance and keep them in your handbag or hand luggage. We have been travelling for over a year and crossed more than 35 countries with this essential travel documents in hands, and never had any problem.

If you are planning a trip we have two other important articles for you: Tips before travelling and How to travel like a local. I’m sure these posts will help you with all the organizing process, saving you time and money. 😉

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Have you had any problem at the passport control? Do you carry these 10 essential travel documents with you? Or your personal list is bigger than ours?


60 thoughts on “Be smart! 10 essential travel documents you must have”

  1. Essentials, definitely. But never thought about pictures because usually we don’t veer away from a planned itinerary.

  2. I wish someone had told me all of that before I started to travel! Great information, and I hadn’t thought about carrying the extra photos. I may just have to take your advice.

  3. I love seeing what other nationalities passports looks like. The Brazilian one is nice!!! It’s so hard when you travel full time to make sure you have all the right documents. I’ll add a suggestion. If you’re travelling with kids, be sure to bring along a copy of their birth certificate to show you are in fact their parents! I know some countries require it now, particularly if you intend to fly without the kids father – South Africa I believe is one of them.

  4. Thanks for the heads up guys! Especially making a copy of everything: people seem to forget that one! I’d also add that if you’re teaching English abroad, make sure you have your original degree / CELTA / TEFL certificates!

  5. re. money: I have found that, the few times I was asked to show funds, a gold credit card was sufficient. Most border authorities know that this has a limit of around US$10,000. And believe me: we’re usually strapped for cash!

    re. return ticket: this should be rephrased! For most countries an ongoing ticket is all they need. All they care is that you will leave their country. We travel overland, in our own camper, and never have to show such ticket. Only during visa application for Brazil were we asked for a ticket, but our explanation (that we’re driving and crossing land borders) was accepted too. If you travel by bus and cross borders you most likely won’t have a plane ticket to leave the country either (or one from an airport 2 countries ahead).

  6. I have never been asked to show proof of funds to travel. Where does this apply? Not that I’m expecting you to provide a full list, but just curious to know a few examples. Thanks!

    • Hi!
      Happened to us in Spain. Some countries like Thailand mention on their Embassy/Consulate websites about the minimum amount of money you should have. (Although we crossed Thai border over 5 times and they never asked)

  7. These are really important and useful reminders especially the cloning your documents. I had a lot of “bad” experiences with this one when I was a newbie traveler. I suddenly needed it and I only had the original and of course couldn’t give that. Now Ive learned to travel having duplicates and having things I need with me.

      • Actually also smart if u can leave a copy at home or with someone you can trust or at least scan/email a copy to yourselves (for security I don’t email everything on same in case of hack)
        This is just in case your bags get stolen (with your 2nd copy of everything, that will do you no good!) worst case, you can ask friend or family to forward to you in emergency. Copies will make getting replacements much easier at embassy or for creditcard discussion. Also if no extra funds to book ongoing flight out of country (cancel fees high etc) then look at booking a train reservation instead. ?. usually has no deposit & free hotel cancellation if you need to show accommodation booking, but be considerate of the hotel, cancel early as possible?

  8. Nice list, although I’d make one quick addition to it.

    Often when you enter a country, you’ll receive a tourist card, or perhaps a receipt if there is a small entrance fee.

    Keep all of that stuff until you have left the country!

    Many places keep no record of it, so you may need the physical copy to simply exit, or possibly to avoid paying a tourist fee twice!

    • Hey Valerie!!
      Wish I have a company to take care of all my travel documents too… 😉
      Being a nomad means have a doc wallet full of paper all the time… But is worth! Happy travels,


    • Thanks Kimberly!!
      I always feel weird while crossing the immigration desks, always feel like I forgot one doc or something else… That’s why I decided to put this list together, so that even I can double check it when I’m travelling to a new country. 😀

  9. Great list of info – all in one spot. I have not encountered getting a Visa at the country, but have always done it ahead. Now adding photos to our travel documents based on your great tip. THANK YOU!!!
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  10. You are super right, sort out the visa ahead the trip, it saves time and energy. For us, Brazilians, in many countries we can apply for visa on arrival, but not worth the hassle…
    About the photos, I never thought about carrying them, till the day I needed. Now I always have at least two in my bag.

    All the best,


  11. Great post Nat! Very handy list for the disorganised amongst us (cough – that’s me!). I always get stuck with the address one… it’s so hard when you’re travelling from place to place – customs don’t understand travelling spontaneity ;). Taking photos and copies of your documents is a great tip. I’m sharing this and bookmarking it so I can make sure I’m organised in future. Thanks guys!

    • Hi Gabby,
      Wou are welcome 😉
      Yes, sometimes Customs Officials are not easy to please!
      One more tip, don`t mention that you are a writer when travelling to a conservative country. They held us for a while in Morocco…

  12. Number 5 is so important and we are always reminding others to have their accommodation info with them. We had an issue in Thailand as we had booked with AIrbnb and had no address or phone number to give. They told us to search on our phones and find any hotel to put on the forms – luckily that airport had wifi for us to use!

  13. Useful advice! It noises me up that you always need a way out, no such thing as a footloose and fancy free traveller anymore. I was freaking out about Canadian immigration not accepting that we were going to get a bus to Seattle in Jan but it was all good.

  14. Great post!!!

    I have to admit that I made few mistakes for my first backpacking trip – for example, I wasn’t aware how they want to know where I was gonna stay at. My travel partner and I were planning to stay at a couch surf’s place, so we didn’t have the address because we were gonna meet the couchsufer at specific subway station. It was really a problem and and difficult time communicating with them (we’re Deaf) and explaining to them that we stay at a “friend’s” place and do not know the address. The employee grew frustrated and let us through. After this experience, we always prepare the addresses. I feel bad for that employee, but luckily, we made it through.

  15. Nice article! These are good reminders, and I would have never thought of taking pictures of mine with me.
    Does anyone have any experience in arriving to Uruguay, Argentina, Chile or Peru? I am traveling there next year, and I wont have probably hotels/transports booked, as it will be a long trip, and I would not like to have issues!
    To share one of my experiences, I can tell you about arriving to Rio de Janeiro last year with Spanish passport. I remember it was recommended to bring some proof that you have plenty of money to expend there, a place to stay and a hotel, but they didn’t check for anything in the end and the process went really quick!

  16. Hi Estela!!
    Thanks for stopping by!
    As you said, sometime the immigration officer just don´t care about checking documents. But to be on the safe side and avoid problem is always good to know the rules and have all the docs with you, just in case they decided to ask.
    About Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, I´m almost sure they will ask the same documents as Brazil: passport, proof of funds and maybe outbound ticket. About the hotel booking, it´s a good idea to book a hotel or hostel that you can cancel. For example, at many hotels you can cancel 24h before arrival with no cost. So maybe you can book a night, just to have a paper to show to the immigration in case they ask.
    Now it´s my time to ask you something! If you are going to book your accommodation online, please use our blog for it. On our travel Travel Resource page we have a list of all the companies and websites we use and trust, if you book through them we receive a little commission to keep blogging!
    Thanks, and happy travels Estela!!

  17. One of the most usefull travel blogs that I read and also very inspiring ?Although the preparation for at least 1 year travel “don’t seams to be a joke” still make me to want such experience.
    In the end “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” -Socrates


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