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What To Do If You Get Sick While Traveling

Getting sick during travel to a foreign country can be frightening. So it's best to be prepared before you leave home. Take the following measures to minimize inconvenience and distress should you become ill while traveling in a foreign country.

Be prepared before you leave

  • Check insurance coverage with your carrier and identify whether or not you're covered while traveling abroad. Most insurance, including Medicare, doesn't cover medical emergency evacuation back to the U.S., and this can be costly. Ask for advice on medical care while traveling.

  • If your insurance policy doesn't cover you abroad, you may want to get a short-term health insurance policy that does. There are short-term policies designed to cover travel. For more information, contact your travel agent or look for information in travel magazines or online.

  • Take your health insurance ID card and a claim form with you while traveling.

  • Medicare often doesn't provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. Older adults may want to contact the AARP for information about foreign medical care coverage with Medicare supplement plans.

  • Complete the information page on the inside of your passport, providing the name, address, and phone number of someone to contact in case of emergency. This will help to facilitate identification in case of an accident.

  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, carry a letter from your primary healthcare provider describing the condition and any prescription medicines you take. You may want to bring a copy of all written prescriptions with you. These should include generic names for these medicines. Talk with your healthcare provider to plan how you will have enough medicine for your trip if you plan to be gone more than 30 days.

  • Know your blood type before you travel. Some countries may not have accurate and reliable blood screening systems in place. This means people who need blood may be at a higher risk for blood transfusion infections such as hepatitis B or HIV. Blood transfusions overseas should be only for life or death situations. Ask for advice before traveling if you have a condition that may need periodic blood transfusions.

  • Be sure to bring any medicines you are taking with you outside the U.S. in their clearly labeled original containers. Some medicines are considered illegal in foreign countries. You may want to check with the foreign embassy of the country you are visiting to be sure.

  • You can get lists of English-speaking foreign healthcare providers from the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.

  • Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the Department of State. STEP, in addition to other services, will help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency. https://step.state.gov/.

Special care if you become ill or injured while traveling

  • Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a list of local healthcare providers and medical facilities.

  • If your illness is serious, consular officers can help you find medical assistance. If you want, they can inform your family and friends.

  • If needed, consuls can also help with the transfer of funds from family or friends in the U.S. Payment of hospital and other medical bills are the traveler's responsibility.

  • Detailed information on healthcare providers abroad can be found in the Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists, published for the American Board of Medical Specialists and its certifying board members. This publication is available through libraries as well as in U.S. embassies and consulates. Major credit card companies can also help identify healthcare providers.

Online Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.