Traveling internationally is your gateway to becoming a world citizen. You have the freedom to hop on a plane and visit places you’ve never seen before, taste exotic foods and learn foreign languages, go to sleep mid-flight and wake up on the opposite side of the world.
How early do you need to be at the airport for international flights?
When preparing for an international flight, you’ll need to arrive at the airport at least three hours before your departure time. Three hours might seem like a
long time, but between checking your bags, moving through various security checkpoints that may have you waiting in enormous lines, and finding your way to your gate, you’ll be happy you allowed yourself plenty of time.
Most international flights begin boarding between 40 and 60 minutes before take-off, leaving you only about two of those hours to get to your plane. Worst-case scenario? You arrive early and get to kill time in the food court or grab a quick beverage at the airport bar.
What do I need to fly internationally?
Flying internationally requires a lot more than just your passport. While your passport is absolutely essential, most countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months longer than the dates of your trip. Some places also require you to have a certain number of blank pages to allow for visas and stamps.
Depending on where you’re headed, you may also need a visa, proof of onward or return travel, or proof of immunizations. The truth is, every destination will have different travel regulations, so it’s important to check with your destination when preparing for an international flight.
How to prepare for a long international flight
When preparing for an international flight, you can do a few things to make sure you’re ready for the long haul:
What to do before an international flight
Make yourself a checklist. Do you have your passport, visa, and all your travel documents easily accessible? Have you purchased travel insurance? It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance to protect yourself during international travel, just in case.
Next, make sure you let your bank know you’ll be traveling overseas. Having your bank freeze your credit card for unexpected transactions while you’re abroad is one big (but avoidable) travel nightmare.
So, notify your bank that you’ll be traveling. While you’re at it, check the international transaction fee policy so you know what to expect, and perhaps get some cash converted so you have it on hand when you land. ATM fees are usually most expensive at the airport, so it’s always comforting to have cash on arrival.
Last but not least, check the health advisories and travel warnings for your destination so you can ensure you’re safe when preparing for an international flight.
What to bring to the airport when traveling internationally
If it’s your first time flying internationally alone, there’s no such thing as preparing too much. Make sure you bring all of your travel documents with you, and if you have time, make digital copies of your travel documents too. You’ll want to bring all of these to the airport with you along with your carry on and checked luggage—and your comfiest clothes to wear in flight.
How to board an international flight step by step
1. Check in for your flight. You can check in online 24 hours before your flight, but if you have enough time and have questions, checking in at the airport can ease your nerves. This way, you can speak to your airline staff and ask any questions about your journey that you haven’t answered already. Make your way to the international terminal and find your airline’s check-in stand to get started.
2. Check your baggage and get your ticket.
When checking in for your flight, you’ll have an opportunity to check your luggage. The airline staff will give you your boarding pass and a tracking sticker that matches the one on your luggage. Keep these safe and tucked into your passport for easy access throughout the airport.
3. Go through the security checkpoint.
Now that you’ve lightened your load, it’s time to go through security. Follow the airport signs or ask the airline staff where to get in line for the security checkpoint. Typically, this involves waiting in line, scanning your carry on luggage, and showing your passport and boarding pass to enter the terminal.
4. Go through immigration.
If you’re flying internationally, you may need to go through a second security screening before your flight: immigration. All you’ll need to do here is show your passport and follow the instructions from the immigration staff. This is the last step before you can walk to your gate for your flight.
5. Find your gate.
You’re in! Your boarding pass will usually tell you the gate where you’ll board, but if it doesn’t, check the screens just past immigration. These screens list all destinations and their boarding gates. You may also want to double-check the information on your boarding pass—gates sometimes change.
Make your way to your gate and relax. If you arrive with time to spare, you may wish to explore your terminal a bit more, shop for snacks or books, or grab a meal and drink at one of the bars or restaurants nearby.
6. Board your flight.
About 40 to 60 minutes before your international flight, you will hear the airline staff announce boarding. Make sure you are at your gate and ready to board. Many airlines will board in groups, so check your boarding pass for your boarding group or zone, wait to be called, and line up. Have your passport and boarding pass ready to show the flight attendant, find your seat, and enjoy the ride!
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