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Do you remember back in the day when airline travel entailed walking straight to the gate, enjoying a relaxing drink in the boarding lounge, followed by a three-course meal and complimentary playing cards on a restful flight to some exotic destination?  No – most people don’t.  That’s because those days are long gone.  Today, flying has turned into a cattle call where passengers are crammed into a tube like sardines, hoping against all odds to be seated beside someone who can make the flight at least tolerable.

In today’s environment, security has taken on the utmost importance.  Preparing for these security measures can make your travel around the world go more smoothly.

TSA Pre-Check

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed in November 2001 when the federal government took control of air travel security from private companies in the wake of September 11.  Ever since that time, various security risks have made boarding an airplane a more difficult process.  In order to streamline movement through the security gates, the TSA rolled out a program called TSA Pre-Check.

Travelers willing to fill out an application, submit to a background check, undergo an in person screening interview, provide fingerprints, and pay a fee are eligible for TSA Pre-Check.  Once qualified, the traveler can speed through the security gates because of expedited procedures.  Information about the program is available on the TSA website.  TSA Pre-Check is particularly useful for frequent fliers.

Redress Control Number

Security measures continue to change to counter evolving risks to travelers.  These measures include a “no fly list”, which bars certain individuals from ever boarding an airplane in the United States, and various “watch” lists, which exposes some people to additional scrutiny when trying to fly.  Problems arise when individuals are mistakenly added to these lists, or when someone has the same name as another person on the lists.

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In order to help protect the rights of people who are mistakenly subjected to additional screening measures or denied boarding, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.  Travelers who believe they have been wrongly targeted can apply to the DHS to have their record reviewed.  During this process, the traveler is assigned a Redress Control Number, which can be supplied to the airline when making a reservation.  The airline will then have an easier time confirming the identity of the traveler, potentially streamlining the process for someone who is mistakenly identified as a risk.

Passport and Travel Visa

There was a time when a passport was entirely unnecessary for travel to certain countries.  For example, Americans could travel to Canada with only a driver’s license.  Those days are long gone.  For anyone interested in international travel now, a passport is mandatory.

Applying for a passport involves filling out a Department of State application form, submitting a copy of government identification (such as a driver’s license), providing photographs, and paying a fee.  These materials are submitted in person to a passport acceptance facility (usually a post office).

Americans can travel to many places without a travel visa.  But as international politics evolves, so do travel visa requirements.  In some countries, short stays require contacting their embassy in the United States before travel, submitting your passport, bank account information (for proof of funds), application form and a fee.  The embassy will then glue an entry visa into the passport and return it to you.  The entry visa grants you permission to enter the country, and also states how long you’re allowed to remain in the country.

There are some countries that also require an exit visa.  So be very careful to ensure you have the exit visa in your possession if you need one, otherwise you could risk being stranded in the foreign country unable to leave.

Consulate Registration

It is worthwhile to register your visit with the local United States embassy in the destination country.  This allows consular staff to know your whereabouts in the event of emergency.  It could also be helpful should you get arrested or find yourself in legal trouble when traveling.  But regardless of these precautions, when you’re traveling outside of the United States, remember that you could be a high value target, so plan appropriately.

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