Caution re boarding passes. Using payment apps in China. Applying for authorization to visit a country.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the January 2020 issue.

Carvings on the Whare Runanga, a Maori meeting house built in 1940 at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand. Photo: ©Rafael Ben-Ari/123rf.com

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 527th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. 

Your neighbors aren’t interested in the photos from your latest trip? Well, you’ll find an eager audience here, so send in a few (with captions). Or write up a couple highlights of your journey. ITN subscribers will appreciate it. These are your travel kin.

David E. Johnson, Jr., of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, wrote, “Thanks for the wonderful information you provide to help us travelers. It is a great service. I always know exactly what I will be reading the night I receive your publication in my mailbox. Keep up your terrific work.”

Another New Jerseyian, this one from Harmony Township, Maureen Babula, wrote, “If I canceled all of my other magazines, I would still keep ITN. It is the BEST!”

Amy Romano of Glen Cove, New York, wrote, “Before we travel, I now save a few back issues of ITN to share with fellow tour members. I previously took my latest copy to read on the tour bus or during free time, but, as others asked to ‘borrow’ it, I would usually only get it back in time for the plane ride home. 

“I have also gathered others’ addresses and had ITN send sample copies to them, but then I read Karen Wagner’s idea of requesting extra copies to take with her (Aug. ’19, pg. 2), which I think is ingenious. For our upcoming small-group tour of Kenya and Tanzania, I wonder if you could send me about six copies to hand out?”

Absolutely, Amy. As in the past, we can send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone (anywhere) on a list of addresses you provide or, looking forward, we can send you a bunch of back issues to hand out yourself. Thanks for spreading the word!

Anyone with a request can write to our editorial offices. (I give the addresses near the end of this column.)

Now I’d better get to the news at hand.

For many a traveler, catching a flight involves printing up a boarding pass, at home or at the airport, and presenting it at the gate before taking a seat on the plane. For frequent-flyer-program members, however, an article in Forbes magazine warns of a potential security problem involving printed boarding passes. 

According to the president and CEO of the cybersecurity consulting firm CynergisTek, Caleb Barlow, interviewed for the article by Forbes writer Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, all that a thief needs in order to break into someone’s frequent-flyer account and steal the member’s miles is a name, a booking-reference number and a frequent-flyer-account number, all of which can be found on a printed boarding pass.

Mr. Barlow recommends that anyone with a frequent-flyer account should use an e-ticket on his smartphone to board flights, leaving no paper trail. 

Of course, not everyone travels with a smartphone. For someone who does not have a smartphone and relies on printed passes, that private information can be kept more secure by following a few sensible steps, namely, not leaving a printed pass in the seatback pocket on the plane and not tossing it into an open trash can at the hotel or airport, where someone looking for discarded passes could find it. 

And there’s always the shredder.

The following item about China was brought to our attention by Norm Dailey of Alexandria, Virginia.

The use of smartphone apps to pay for purchases and services is convenient and has risen steadily in popularity worldwide. One of the most ardent adopters of “digital wallets” is China, where the two most popular apps, WeChat Pay and Alipay, are used to pay for almost everything, including food, toilets and taxis. 

However, foreigners in China have been left out of the loop, as, until recently, it has been impossible to add a foreign credit card or bank account onto WeChat or Alipay, and US-based apps won’t work in China. Though the People’s Bank of China declared it illegal for businesses to refuse cash, this will not help a US traveler when he is faced with paying for something via a machine that accepts only apps and there’s no one around to take cash or a credit card.

On Nov. 5, Visa, Mastercard and the parent companies of WeChat and Alipay all announced that the two apps would start allowing foreigners to add their credit card information in order to make payments. In addition, WeChat, at least, also announced it would accept American Express, Diners Club and JCB (a Japanese credit card company).

While it seems that, as of press time, neither of the Chinese apps was accepting US cards yet, the steps a traveler must take to sign up are known.

First, the app must be downloaded IN China; it cannot be set up ahead of time. Once the app is downloaded, the traveler must create an account that includes his name, billing address and phone number. A photo of an ID, such as the bio page of a passport, must be provided in order to verify the traveler’s identity. Then the traveler inputs his credit card information. 

If the card is accepted, the traveler will be able to pay for goods and services in China by using his phone’s near-field communication (NFC) chip or by scanning a QR-code.

If any of you travel to China soon, let us know how you make out.

In the May 2019 issue, I reported that, as of Oct. 1, 2019, New Zealand would require each traveler, whether visiting or transiting, to have an Electronic Travel Authority pass, or ETA. This involves submitting biographic information in advance, and it applies to anyone from a country whose citizens New Zealand does not require to have visas.

At that time, I wrote that travelers could start applying for ETAs on July 1 and that a pass would cost NZD12 (near $7.70) if applied for on a computer or NZD9 if applied for on a phone or tablet. A tax of NZD35 would be collected on each application. 

Back in May, a website had not yet been set up on which to apply, so I could not direct readers to the correct web address (URL). On Oct. 11, Kentuckian Dale Wilson wrote to ITN, “About New Zealand’s new ETA, I just checked, and the form I was about to fill out said the cost would be $89 (about NZD133 at the time).

“I’m sure I was on the official NZ ETA website, not some other service offering ETAs. Do y’all have an outside source that can advise if the cost for international travelers is now $89?”

ITN staff looked into this, and I can now report that the official website on which to apply for the NZeTA is nzeta.immigration.govt.nz, and the price is the same as what Immigration New Zealand had announced back in April.

Believing that Mr. Wilson was NOT looking at the official website, we sent him a link to the official NZeTA website, and he wrote back, “You are correct. I was on an unofficial site.”

But how was it that Mr. Wilson found himself on an unofficial site that he thought was official? And how were we able to find the correct site? I will explain.

The first step many people take when looking for a website that they don’t know the address of is to use a search engine like Google to search for keywords, like “New Zealand ETA.” But Google does not prioritize official sites in its searches; it lists paid ads at the top, followed by websites that are the most cross-referenced by other sites. 

When we performed a search with the keywords “New Zealand ETA,” the first site that came up was www.newzealandetavisa.com, followed by etaapplygov.org. Despite both sounding pretty legit, neither of these sites is the official site for getting an NZeTA. Without knowing that for sure, anyone could be fooled. 

In order to find the official site after Mr. Wilson wrote to us, we did not do a Google search for “New Zealand ETA.” Instead, we visited the website of New Zealand’s embassy to the US (in Washington). We then clicked on the “Visas” link on that page. That led us to a link to “The Immigration New Zealand website,” which contained one final link to the NZeTA application.

Though the exact steps will be slightly different for each country, starting with the embassy’s or consulate’s website is the best and cheapest way to apply for any kind of authorization to visit a country. 

Embassy websites can be searched for safely using Google (we typed in “New Zealand embassy”) or, if you want to be extra certain, you can go to the US State Department’s International Travel web page for any country. (Visit travel.state.gov/
content/travel/en/international-travel.html
and, using the search bar that is halfway down the page on the right, not at the top, search for the country you are planning to visit.) 

In most cases, each travel page will have a link to that country’s embassy or consulates to the US under the “Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements” header. (For the link, look for a phrase similar to “Visit the Embassy of [COUNTRY] website…”)

Doing this can save travelers a lot of money and hassle. As Mr. Wilson wrote when we sent him the correct URL, “After being quoted $89 from that one site, I investigated another ‘visa’ service that was charging $57 for the NZ ETA. At the official NZ Immigration site, including the tax, I was charged NZD47, which currently equals about $30).”

CORRECTION to note —

Unlike what was printed in the byline of the article “A Spectacular Kenyan Safari” (Dec. ’19, pg. 22), the correct spelling of the author’s name is “Carl Stoltzfus.” Our apologies, Carl!

This issue of ITN is the first of a new year, so it’s time for all subscribers to report in with their lists of countries visited in the previous 12 months. No, we’re not being nosy. The compiled information and resulting statistics are used to attract potential advertisers — important for keeping this magazine coming to you each month. In addition, knowing where you’ve been helps our editorial staff in selecting travel items that may be of the most interest to you.

Also, a lucky few will win prizes for participating!

If you are an ITN subscriber, make a list of all of the nations you visited outside of your own country anytime in 2019 and email it to editor@intltravelnews.com or address it to Where Were You in 2019?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Remember to include your postal address.

Here are the answers to a few anticipated questions. Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau all are officially part of China and are not separate nations; visits to any or all count as only one visit to China. Similarly, a visit to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be counted as a single visit to the United Kingdom. 

While, years ago, Canada and Mexico were not covered in ITN, they are now, so visits to those countries also count. 

Lastly, nonsovereign territories will be tallied but listed separately from official nations.

The deadline for entry is March 31, 2020, after which we’ll put all the email printouts, letters and postcards into a bin and hold random drawings for prizes. I’ll announce the country-count results — and the names of the prize-winning subscribers — in the June 2020 issue.

Relive your year by jotting down the countries you visited, and send your list in today!