Prepare to take your laptop to another country

Planning a trip overseas with your laptop? These precautions will help with smooth sailing.

Yoni Shanni wants to take a US-purchased laptop to Israel, and asked me for advice.

Traveling internationally with a laptop is a lot easier than it was when I first wrote about it in 2000--at least when it comes to hardware compatibilities. Back then, I had to make my dial-up modem work with the German telephone system. Today, ethernet and Wi-Fi are pretty much everywhere.

In today's more paranoid world, your biggest challenges will likely involve protecting files and crossing international borders.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to]

Chances are that custom officials at the airport or border won't take you aside for a very thorough search of your hard drive's or SSD's contents. But it might happen and you should be prepared.

I've told you in the past to encrypt sensitive files. But in this situation, that's not good enough. If customs officials notice that you have encrypted files--or encryption software--they may demand you show what you're hiding.

So, before you leave, copy your sensitive files to media that will stay at home, or upload them--in encrypted form--into the cloud, then securely wipe them off your internal drive. Uninstall your encryption program. Or keep the program and some encrypted files, but nothing really incriminating. I wouldn't worry too much about customs officials seeing your driver's license and credit card numbers.

Also, before you leave, upload any files that you might need overseas--sensitive or not--to the cloud. That way, should you lose your laptop, you can still access them.

If you plan a long stay, you may have to pay a duty tax to bring your laptop into a country. Search the Internet for duty laptop and the name of the country. You're bound to find a combination of useful information and terrifying anecdotes. You might also want to try the Duty Calculator; it doesn't cost anything the first couple of time.

But technical compatibility issues haven't been entirely removed. Different countries have different electric outlets and voltage, making it tricky to plug your computer into the wall socket.

You will need an international plug adapter. I've seen them as cheap as $10. You might want to spend more for a universal one that will cover almost any country. Another feature to look for: a USB port, so you can recharge your phone and other devices. My family uses the REI USB Multination Travel Adapter Plug. It cost us $30, but it supports a whole lot of countries in one small gadget and has a USB port.

Different countries have different voltages, but that wasn't  even an issue with laptops back in 2000. As far as I know, all modern laptop power bricks handle anything from 100 to 220. That pretty much covers voltage anywhere. Check the small print on your power brick for something like 100-220v.

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