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Health Care While Abroad

It’s nerve-wracking enough trying to find a bathroom in some foreign countries, let alone trying to get medical treatment when you’re injured. Receiving health care abroad is not something anyone wants to deal with, but the truth is that it happens, more often than you’d care to think. Travel means doing unfamiliar things in unfamiliar places which only increases our chances of accidents, from simple sprained ankles and allergic reactions to extreme trauma and life-threatening illnesses. Before you head overseas, make sure you have your health covered.

Before You Go

Before you visit a foreign country, check with the Centers for Disease Control to verify what vaccinations and health warnings they may have for the country you are traveling to. For many countries, it is recommended that you receive basic vaccinations against common diseases, like malaria, that don’t exist in the United States. Once you have a list of vaccinations, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment to receive them. Don’t assume that your normal doctor knows all the required vaccinations for a given country, considering that approved list may change regularly.

Health Insurance

Most insurance companies do not offer automatic coverage abroad, including both Medicare and Medicaid. Contact your insurance company before you go to see what sort of coverage they offer for the area you might be traveling to. If they do extend coverage, ask about what sort of support they offer, if it covers extreme activities like scuba diving or parasailing (if you plan on doing these), and whether it covers emergency evacuation should you need to be brought back to the U.S. If your insurance company does not offer coverage, consider the many insurance companies that specialize in temporary overseas coverage. A list of such companies can be found on State Department’s travel site.


If you have the need for prescription medication, take as much as you will need for your entire trip to avoid having to fill the prescriptions abroad. Make sure the medication is in its original packaging and that you have a copy of the prescription from your doctor. Lastly, check to make sure that your medication is not illegal in the country you are visiting, lest you be accused of smuggling drugs when you attempt to pass through customs.

Hospital Visit

If you should need to visit a hospital or doctor when you are abroad, call the closest U.S. Embassy to get a list of recommended medical facilities in your area. Getting this list before you go is a good preparation step. The embassy can help you find medical attention, contact family and friends back home, and help you to transfer funds from you insurance provider to the physician or hospital that is treating you.

By Patrick Hutchison


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