This is going to strictly be based on our own experience and what we were required to have prior to even stepping foot into the airport. Luckily, everything fell into place and we managed to get through smoothly without much of a hitch. Hopefully reading this helps you prepare for your travels. We learned quite a bit from experience since we could not find direct answers to a few of our questions.
Because I tend to panic pretty easily when in public (which then equates to me being flustered, mind blank, and clumsy), I wanted to prevent that so thought ahead. Color coordinating information so it's easily accessible. We didn't have many colors to choose from since everything was already in the storage but it worked well enough.
Remember, I am writing from our personal experience and for our unique needs. I can try to help you find what you need or who to contact for your special needs, but we are by no means an expert on this.
There are some must-haves when traveling anywhere: passport, itinerary, health test results, and hotel/car reservations. If going out of the country then traveler's insurance and traveling health insurance is also highly important. The following are necessary if they are applicable to you: airplane forms if a certain company requires them (such as for pet travel), animal documents (required pet documents for travel), contacts of those you know that are at the location you are arriving at or who know you and can vouch for your visit to a foreign country (who also preferably reside there).
For all these documents I would recommend having at least two extra copies for a total of 3 copies of everything.
You never know when you will have to leave a copy with someone and you do not want to give them your original. There are some you may want to have extra copies of because of this. Look ahead at where someone might ask for a copy or how often you would be asked to see if you need a few more. Even some other documents I would recommend having with you (+ a copy!) if applicable to your situation would include copies of your SSN card, front, and back on the same page. One page per person with both sides showing. For me, I had to bring our marriage license (an official copy) because my passport had my maiden name instead of my married name. This also caused a hold up when getting our tickets at the airport service desk.
A key tip for Spirit ticket buyers: Even if your legal name has changed, buy your ticket using the name on your passport. My passport was still valid for two years and I wasn't going to pay extra out of pocket to just renew a name. I might as well wait until my current passport expires and apply for a new passport with my legal name. Their system, as of September 2020, won't allow workers to change names even though I showed three items of proof that my name had changed legally. Later in the airport, I asked the TSA about it while showing my marriage license and passport. He said it was sufficient and no hold-ups there.
If you had communications with any establishment that has a decent influence in their country (such as an embassy or government department), you may want to have a copy. In this context, we wanted to ask permission for us to take our cat Sherlock with us. There was a misunderstanding with her shots timeframe and wanted to make sure that Ecuador officially accepts this despite miscalculating a hazy requirement. (More details on this later.) Lastly, if you are taking a pet with you: a copy of the airplane's rules/guidelines. We had a big fear that Spirit would just get upset with something Sherlock did and kick us off, refunding us nothing. So just in case, we made sure that we had their official guidelines to refer back to.
Now let's jump into more detail about each set of documents.
The itinerary is your travel documents recording your journey. This typically includes the airplane departure/arrival gate and time, hotel reservations, where you are going, what you are doing, and when you are going. For us, this just didn't seem to include reservations at our Airbnb. I was worried that if anything bad happened to us during travel, it would be at the beginning of the trip and once we got to the issue of finding our new home, the rest of the information wouldn't be needed, Matching colored dots were placed on the front copy of those matching papers for easier access.
This is a sample of our itinerary that we also sent a copy off to a trusted relative. You can certainly send it to a trusted friend if they are also keeping track of where you are or are picking you up. Always have someone you trust to know the whereabouts of where you plan to go and when while in another country that you are not familiar with. In case something happens to you, you'll want others to have the full copy of your itinerary for emergencies. You would want to send a copy of your whole flight itinerary to the person who is dropping you off and picking you up at the airport back at home. I would also add that you should send it to a trusted friend or family member who is receiving you in your new destination. If someone is hired to pick you up, just informing them of what gate you are coming in at, with which airline, what baggage claim number, and at what time you will be landing is sufficient.
If you are looking for a good break down of what to add and where to start making your travel itinerary, take a look at this website: https://www.smartertravel.com/create-perfect-travel-itinerary/
For travel insurance, we ended up going with SafetyWing. What they have on their website: "Unforeseen things can happen when you’re traveling. Includes coverage for travel delay, lost checked luggage, emergency response, natural disasters, and personal liability.". It cost us $205.92 for 10 weeks of insurance. Because we were taking Spirit AND it was during a global pandemic, it just made sense. It's not great if you plan on staying long term somewhere, but is a cheap option for coverage in case of emergency.
We thankfully didn't need to use it, but it's pretty easy to navigate the site, and if anything was to happen they would pay for most of the cost and can even cover the flight home if it were serious. Check out SafetyWing: https://safetywing.com/
We took Spirit Airlines due to their cheap tickets. We also got lucky that having Sherlock as our ESAN (Emotional Support Animal) meant that her flight was free. There were a few hoops we had to jump through but it meant that we could get full approval of her before we got on the plane. If you are looking to take your pet with you on a trip, make sure you thoroughly check what the requirements are for your airline BEFORE you buy your tickets. Spirit has three forms that need to be filled out: Passenger Form (Filled out by a person who claims pet as ESAN or PSA), Mental Health Form (Filled out by a mental health professional for the person who is claiming pet as ESAN or PSA), and a Veterinary Form (Filled out by your pets' vet).
If you want an idea of what is required for an ESAN or PSA (Psychiatric Support Animals),
you can check out Spirit's requirements: https://customersupport.spirit.com/en-us/category/article/KA-01170
Be sure to read EVERYTHING on the page. Spirit has a rule that all three of these forms must be completed and sent in at least 48hrs before your flight. You don't want to give them any reason to kick you off the plane without a refund.
In this section, you want to be completely sure that everything is in order before you leave for your flight. For us, we needed the three Spirit airline forms, Health Certificate USDA endorsed, and proof that Sherlock has had her rabies and FVRCP shots. Some countries may also want to know if your pet has been neutered/spayed so we did add that information as well since it is pretty common to see stray dogs and cats around here. The country may want to make sure your pet won't breed and increase their current population.
1) Just as mentioned above: ESAN or PSA (Psychiatric Support Animals) paperwork can be found here: https://customersupport.spirit.com/en-us/category/article/KA-01170 There are THREE forms that need to be filled out.
2) The Health Certificate scared us. We understood that this needed to be obtained within TEN days before flying out. However, it wasn't until our appointment, about FIVE days before our flight that we learned we had to mail this health cert to a USDA to be endorsed. (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/endorsement-offices) Because it was fast approaching the weekend and us losing time to wait, we had to pay extra to make sure we got that document back in time for departure. Make sure you are also going to an approved vet that can certify these health certificates, best to also look for a vet that deals with this side of international pet travel. We found out that there are certain clinics that are connected to APHIS through their own accounts and could submit the health certificate easily online. We didn't have that luck but it is definitely something to look into if you may be strapped for time! Here are some other good links to help you:
3) Last is the copy of both the Rabies and FVRCP shots, even though it would be covered in the USDA endorsed Health Certificate, I would still recommend having a copy with you. I even had a copy showing that Sherlock was spayed as well.
Health Test Results
During COVID season and tests being required for wherever you go, you are required to take a COVID test within 2 weeks of leaving, be forced to pay for a COVID test when you get there, or be stuck in quarantine for your first two weeks in the country. At first, we were going to be ok with being quarantined once we got into Ecuador. Some countries may force you to take a test when you are there and it would be all out-of-pocket. We also weren't sure what the quality of housing (as we can be quite particular) and may also be forced to purchase the food they have to offer there. The more John read up on these possibilities, the more we decided it would be better to get the test ahead of time. And as it happened, once we got off the plane we were scanned to check our temperature then ushered into a large open area and spread out. Everyone was given numbered tickets and once our number was called, we just walked up to the officials doing checks, gave them our results pages (printed straight from UCHealth the shows when the test was ordered and final result), and then all was done in less than 5 minutes. Do keep in mind they keep a copy but that test only lasts for two weeks at most so be aware of how many times you may be asked for a copy during that time.
Travel Health Insurance
This can also be obtained through Safetywing and was purchased with travelers insurance. It is separate paperwork and I preferred to organize it along with other medical papers. You will get a confirmation email that will go over the basics of what is covered or what you can/should do with your insurance. You will also get an ID card that should have your name, an ID number, the effective date, and information on how to file a claim at the bottom. On the last page should be the declaration page that overs all important details about the transaction. I would recommend having copies of this information as well. We got the very basics since we weren't expecting to need medical attention much. Though you also may have this information, make sure you research the nearby hospitals and clinics where you will be staying. Even if you don't think you'll need it. At least know where they are located and a means of transportation to get there.
This is where we had two copies of our Airbnb information. Here in Ecuador, some locations don't necessarily have addresses but are just explanations where to find something on a map. It was a good idea for us to have it separately since we had to show a copy to the taxi driver. Even within the small town, he didn't even know where the location was and had to ask FIVE people for help. It didn't take long and soon we were approaching our destination. Also when coming in, confirming to the owner with reservation confirmation copies of where you are staying may come in handy. We have heard of stories where people had made reservations and when arriving, the location had no evidence of them booking the place for their stay.
SSN card (front and back)
This required quite a few tries but we finally managed to get a decent scan of both sides on one paper. You'll have to scan one side, then flip the card over and place it on that scanned paper so both sides will be scanned onto one sheet of paper. Careful of the quality, it doesn't have to be perfect if your scanner/printer is old, but make sure everything is legible and easily recognizable. This is not necessary when traveling to foreign countries, however, I thought it may be possible something may come up while at the airports leaving and coming in. More evidence that I am a citizen of the US is always good when trying to get back home.
I had legally changed my last name back in 2018, but some things just still haven't been updated (such as a passport obtained prior to meeting John yet still valid). I also had my driver's ID and a copy of my SSN with my legal name so we weren't too worried about the name discrepancy. But also to give no reason to deny us, we made sure to be prepared. We were lucky to have two official copies that I could take with me. This was mostly for the passport and plane ticket discrepancy that could bar me from flying out.
Communications between you and any gov't establishment
We had heard from Sherlock's vet that there have been some instances of pets being immediately sent back after their long flight there. Or worse: being euthanized for not having certain paperwork in order. John had done his research in making sure that we covered all paperwork she needed to make the flight with us. There was one little issue that our vet found out about and had to call USDA twice to find clarification. For the FVRCP shot, the requirements stated officially say that the animal must have had their shot at least 21 days prior to their arrival at their destination. However, it wasn't clear if those 21 days began with the initial shot or the booster that comes 3-4 weeks later. With that fear that something could go wrong, I messaged the Ecuadorian Department of Agriculture and Animals.
As you can see we communicated with Agencia De Regulacion y Control Fito y Zoosanitario who controls plants and animal transfers in and out of the country. If anyone had issues with her not having her booster shot 21 days before getting there, we had clear permission to enter the country with her.
We couldn't send all her reviewed paperwork until the last 10 days before we left. Sherlock's Health Certificate appointment had to be completed within the last 10 days before our flight. They responded quickly and everything was confirmed on that end!
Guidelines concerning pet travel for airline
Though you may have most of it memorized or think you got the gist of it, it's always good to have the exact guidelines for your airline if taking a pet along. Bringing even just one copy will help. I always have a worry that those working on the airplane may just find some reason to kick you off and not refund anything. So to have their own words to refer to helps make sure everyone is on the same page for clarification.
This needs a bit more of an explanation. Some countries require certain vaccines or tests before you can enter. For us, we required to get the Typhoid vaccine since we were up-to-date with our regularly recommended USA vaccines as citizens. These guidebooks I would assume you can get at a traveler's health clinic. They would have the specific information you would need and could encounter at your chosen destination. We would highly encourage the use of Passport Health for all travel health care needs. They also provide tools (such as portable water cleaners) or medication (Traveler's Diarrhea Pills) that can be conveniently bought through them as well. It may be a little pricey but their product and service are worth it.
I will insist that you should know when your last vaccines were taken before your appointment. They need this information to complete the appointment but if you have to come back, it will require another paid meeting. Make sure you research this ahead of time! They are upfront with this but sometimes that detail is overlooked and it may be too late. Be prepared and save money.
Becky was a complete doll and impressed us greatly with her knowledge and personable personality. We greatly appreciated her support in our plans as we had been worrying we weren't as well prepared as we ended up being. Both of us have high regard for those who know their profession well and are able to kindly teach or explain it to others. And she did both!
They provide tons of valuable information that will or may or even may not apply to you. Either way, it is good to have this on hand wherever you travel.
Not only do they give general information but specific information for the country or countries you'll be traveling to or through. For us, we had two full pages of information just for our location.
They also have a very informative book that covers the areas that you would most likely get an illness from. The two we really needed to look out for is Malaria and Yellow Fever. HOWEVER! Since we were staying west of the mountains and never going east of them, we had the option of not taking the Yellow Fever vaccine.
This wraps up our discoveries in this process of going into Ecuador with all required paperwork. As I predicted, we had all of our issues that occur during our flight out of the country. Occasionally offering different information helped from our stack of papers helped some incidences move quicker than if we didn't have them. It always looks and feels better to be prepared for any scenario.
My last recommendation would be to get a zip-up binder/folder to keep all your information in. Because this is critical information when away from home, always make sure you are physically holding onto the binder. Do not let anyone tell you to put it in an area where you can't see and reach within two seconds. We had an incident on a local bus where they INSISTED we put it above our heads. During our ride, someone stole $80 from us. That was the ONLY time someone stole from us. Keeping it in a bag while in the airport or traveling to a hotel could have risks of it being stolen or left behind. You'll be referring to it a lot until you are settled in your hotel/Airbnb. Then you have the option of storing it there. We tend to not trust anyone in general, so we would always hide this folder where only we would know where it is. We have even heard stories of workers at hotels accessing room safes while guests were out AND caught on camera by the room guests who noticed their stuff going missing during their stay. Though this happened in a different country than Ecuador, we still keep in mind all possibilities that are not common where we may have grown up and lived through but may be more common in other cultures and areas around the world. Don't make yourself an easy target!
I hope that this article was informative and helpful. We are both pleased that we were able to learn a lot about this process with our first-hand experience and be able to share it. Good luck on your travels!