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Important Documentation

By: Jonathan Hedley - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Important Documentation Travel Documents

When planning your trip, one of the first things you need to do is find out what documentation is required, how to get it and how long it takes to get it. Without the necessary papers your trip simply won't happen, and there's nothing worse than spending a fortune on the airfare before realising you've messed up somewhere along the line.

Exactly what you need varies greatly depending on where you want to go and what you want to do and there are many factors involved that are constantly subject to change. The fastest and simplest way to get the most authoritative list of requirements is on the Embassy website of whichever country or countries you'd like to go to. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website also offers a country by country travel advice including entry requirements for British Citizens, along with a list of all foreign embassies in the UK and up to the minute information on volatile or dangerous places.

Don't Forget your Passport!

Talk about stating the obvious right? The issue of passports has become slightly more complex in recent years however. Before you do anything else, check the expiry date on your current passport and ensure that it's valid for the full duration of your intended trip.

If you wish to travel to the USA you'll require a passport that is machine readable. Such passports has been standard issue for quite some time now, but if your passport was issued in an emergency or as a replacement for one that was lost or stolen abroad it may not have the black readable code below your signature. If this is the case, you'll have to apply for a new one, regardless of how many years your current one has to run.

The current cost of a new passport is £72 and should not take more than 3 weeks unless there is a severe backlog. Consult the Identity & Passport Service for more details.

Biometric Photos

Standard requirement with all passport applications now are biometric photos. These are photos that fit into an exact set of parameters with regard to the size of your face in the picture. Again, the Identity and Passport Service provide full details of what is required. The best places to get your photos taken are photography shops, many of which offer a guarantee that if your photos are rejected they'll do them again for free. The exact proportions of your face are then measured and stored in a microchip on your new passport.

Medical Insurance

As EU members, British Citizens qualify for free medical care throughout Europe. It is advisable however, to carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), the modern version of the old E111 form. Cards may be applied for through the Post Office as with a passport, or directly from the Department of Health. The Department of Health website also features useful information on health issues throughout the world and vaccines for travellers.

If you're travelling out of Europe, particularly to the USA, it's strongly recommended you take out your own private medical insurance. A simple search using the phrase 'international travel insurance' online should bring solutions. Specialist insurance companies and international organisations, particularly those aimed at backpackers, tend to provide a much more competitive deal than banks or the Post Office.


The UK, despite not adopting the currency, is a full member of the EU and as such all British citizens are entitled to travel freely, work, study and stay in any other EU country for as long as they like without any visa or permit. All you need to travel is your passport or National ID card. Having said that, Britain's level of membership in the EU is not always very clear to Europeans because of the currency issue. Many European countries require citizens and visitors alike to carry ID (National ID Card/Passport/Driving Licence) at all times.

First Thing's First

Once you have all passport and medical issues sorted out, and you've applied for whatever visas are necessary, you can begin planning the rest of your trip. Travel tickets are usually cheaper when booked in advance and not flexible, though it's worth talking to a travel agent about the options available to you if you want to take a long trip and see various places.

All your important documentation should be carried on your person - especially your medical insurance certificate, but in a separate place you should also carry a list of important phone numbers to call if you happen to have your wallet stolen or need to claim insurance for any reason.

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