Whether it’s an injury, the sudden onset of disease or the need to replace lost medications, medical emergencies in a foreign country can be scary without the proper precautions. Planning for a short or long vacation abroad needs to include medical planning, and this should begin before ever setting foot in an airport or crossing a border. Medical care outside your country of origin can be unpredictable, but proper planning will prevent most problems.
Start with the Check-ups…
The first step is to let your regular doctor know about the destination and plans. They may be able to provide advice and suggest vaccinations. A routine physical can ensure you are in good enough shape for the journey. Specific medical conditions may also require more specific preparations, and your doctor is the best resource for this.
The doctor can provide prescriptions for any current medications. It is a good idea to take enough back-up medications for an extra week or two in case of delays. A side benefit is that the medicines can be kept in a different part of the luggage so losing some will not mean losing all. For insulin-dependent diabetics or post-transplant patients on immune-suppressant drugs, this tactic can literally save your life.
… and remember the backu-ups
Another back-up consideration is medical documentation. Other countries have different laws pertaining to pharmaceuticals, and it is smart to carry prescriptions and other documents in some form. Rather than keeping these in the luggage, they can be scanned and e-mailed to your account.
Of course, some emergencies may require immediate care, and you may be unable to retrieve documents or share important information with doctors. Some documents should always be kept handy, such as a list of allergies, past surgeries, and current conditions. It may be sufficient to have these in English when traveling to developed countries. It will not hurt, however, to have copies made in the foreign language by a translator.
Medical insurance is generally specific to the country of origin, and it will be necessary to purchase travel insurance. There are two basic types of foreign policies: a temporary health insurance and medical evacuation insurance. Rates will typically depend on both current health status and the destination. What seems like just another expense now can save thousands of dollars or more in the worst situations.
Learning Before Leaving
Part of the excitement of foreign travel is experiencing a new culture and environment, but the dangers of a foreign destination should not be overlooked. The best resource for travelers is the State Department website. In any type of emergency outside the country, the first call a US citizen should make is to the US embassy in that country. They have the expertise to navigate the country’s legal and medical system, and they will also contact relatives back home.
The website also contains information about necessary and recommended vaccines, as well as safe travel tips. Take the time to learn about the medical and emergency services in the destination country. Consider filing an online itinerary with the State Department for more safety in case of emergency. At the very least, ensure that all emergency contact fields in the passport are fully filled out.
Foreign travel is exciting, but the potential dangers should always be respected by taking appropriate precautions. Emergencies never happen until they do, and careful planning is the best way to prevent a spoiled vacation from becoming a medical and financial disaster.
Andrew Greene is a freelance insurance writer who blogs for accidentclaims.org where you can learn everything you need to know about accident claims.