Going abroad

The information in this guide was last updated on 26/02/2014

Whether you’re going on holiday, taking a long trip or gap year, or even planning to work abroad for a while, it’s important to get the travel basics right. That way, you’ll save money and hassle.

Get the right Visa

Depending on where you’re travelling, you might need to get a visa before you’ll be allowed to enter another country.

The rules on visas vary from one country to the next, so check what you need before you head off. Make sure to do it well in advance too – some visa applications can take a while, particularly countries where there are restrictions on the number of visas the government will issue.

If you’re planning to go abroad for work, you may need a work visa – check to make sure you have the right one as some countries will have different visas for full-time and casual work. If you’re going to work abroad, you may still have to pay some UK income tax on sources of income from the UK like a rental property, savings or a pension. See HMRC for details.

Book in advance

If you plan to do a lot of travelling when you’re there, try to make an itinerary and book all your travel and accommodation in advance. It can be a lot cheaper than booking everything at the last minute.

Arrange Travel insurance

Wherever you’re going, never leave the UK without a valid travel insurance policy.

It covers you for a whole range of things including:

  • cancellation
  • medical expenses
  • lost luggage

There’s a range of different policies available:

  • single trip – covers you for just one trip
  • annual multi-trip – covers you for two or more trips in a 12 month period, though each trip is usually limited to 31 days
  • long stay – covers a longer period and is useful if you’re planning to be away for more than a month
  • backpacker – similar to long stay policies, these cover you for periods from 3 to 18 months across a number of destinations
  • specialist policies – cover specific types of trips like adventure sports and winter sports holidays.

It's also worth checking whether your bank account package includes travel insurance. You can then make the decision if an additional policy is required.

Most insurers have specific policies for different regions, so check you have the right one. Try to avoid anywhere on the foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) ‘avoid’ list – these places are usually not covered by travel insurance policies. For the latest travel advice see the FCO website.

Travel money

Arranging your travel money before you go could get you a better deal - waiting until you get to the airport will leave fewer options to compare exchange rates.

There are plenty of other ways to get the money you need to pay for things while you’re away too:

  • Buying foreign currency abroad – you won’t always have a huge choice of companies and rates so you could be forced to pay more for your currency. However it can be safer as you won’t be carrying around large sums of money.
  • Travellers’ cheques – you won’t be carrying around money which could easily be lost or stolen. If you lose one you can simply cancel it and get a replacement so you’re not out of pocket. However, they’re not the most cost-effective as you’ll pay an exchange rate when you buy them and another when you use them so you’re essentially paying twice.
  • Credit or debit cards – you can use your bank card abroad just like at home. You may be charged a fee for using them and you’ll also get the exchange rate your card provider sets – this might not always be the most competitive. 
    When using your card abroad, some retailers and ATMs may offer to process your transaction in sterling, rather than local currency. This process is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and it may make your transaction more expensive than if you had paid in local currency.
  • There are cards on the market aimed at travellers with competitive exchange rates and no fees for purchases abroad. If you can get one of these before you go it could work out cheaper.

Secure your home while you’re away

However long you’re away for, leaving an empty house can leave opportunities for burglars. Take a few precautions to keep your house safe:

  • make sure your home contents insurance is up to date
  • install automatic timer-switches to turn your lights on at night
  • cancel any milk or newspaper deliveries
  • use the Royal Mail's 'keepsafe' service - they keep your mail for up to two months while you're away.

Save on mobile calls

Depending on how long you’re travelling for it may be cheaper to buy a SIM card or pay-as-you-go phone when you reach your destination, as UK networks add roaming charges when you use your phone abroad. These can be high, particularly when it comes to using data.

Check with your network - for shorter trips they may recommend going into your phone settings and switching ‘data roaming’ off, or they may offer a pre-paid add on which gives you minutes and data when you’re away. It’s usually cheaper than using them without pre-paying, so worth looking into if you think you’ll need to use them.