Yes, visit https://passports.state.gov/ to apply and/or renew your passport. The processing time varies (normal processing is 4-6 weeks, expedited is 2-3 weeks, expedited at the agency is 8 business days, however, you may pay an additional fee to expedite your passport. In certain cities, like Seattle you can get a passport in as little as 24 hours.
Yes, each country has their own requirement. For example, in Egypt and Turkey you simply pay the nominal fee to enter the country at the airport. You may also apply for the visa prior to departure, however, sometimes it is a more cumbersome and costly process. Then you have countries like China as part of the visa process you must send in your passport. All visas typically have limits on the amount of time you may stay in the country.
Yes, you may use your credit card and debit card while traveling abroad, however, not all credits cards are the same. Some credit cards and debit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee and others do not. The Citibank Costco credit card is one that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. I would advise you to check with the company that issued your credit card and your local bank.
Banks are always trying to reduce bank account and credit card fraud. In doing so, if they suspect unauthorized charges on your account it will be put on hold. It is good practice whenever you travel to contact your local bank and credit card company of your travel outside of your state and the country. It is easy and can be done well ahead of time and often online and/or in a local branch.
This is not a requirement; however, the US embassy will contact you in the event of an emergency. Enrolling in STEP is easy and is a free service provided by the US government.
There are some countries that require immunizations prior to traveling, for example Yellow Fever vaccine is recommended in most of Brazil. Please check with the CDC for further details.
You should research the local laws and customs prior to traveling. For example, medication containing pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed and Vicks) is banned in Japan. Diazepam, Tramadol, codeine, etc. are not allowed into Greece and the UAE. Tourists should always carry a doctor’s note with any personal medicine when visiting certain countries (e.g. China).
The Transportation Security Administration offers the TSA Pre✓ program that provides expedited screening benefits for flights departing from US Airports. The cost is $85 for a 5-year membership. The TSA Pre✓ program is for traveling domestically, for more information, please visit the TSA Pre✓ site. The Transportation Security Administration offers the Global Entry program that provides expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival into the US. The cost $100 for a 5-year membership and includes TSA Pre✓. Both programs require you to apply and go through an interview to be eligible and to potentially be approved.
The department of US Customs & Border Protection has a personal exemption depends on the country you are traveling to, however, please note if you are over that exemption when you make your declaration upon entry into the US your tax liability is due upon arrival. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has requirements when returning to the US with specific souvenirs, for example, if you travel to Africa you can bring back a spear (validate this with your airline as well), however, the wood on the spear is required to be finished. The US Customs & Border Protection prohibits bringing any type of bark or unfinished wood into the US.
Many US citizens do not have an international plan and using your cell phone may incur charges (e.g. roaming), best practice is to turn and keep your cell phone on airplane mode the entire time. You may speak with people in-country or back home (for free) if you have internet access, by way of Facetime (iPhone users only), most Android phones have a similar feature (Android users only), Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat are examples of downloadable apps allowing to send text messages, voice calls, video calls, etc. for free. I would also suggest to invest in a converter for your electronic devices based upon each country requirement.