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 are 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 the Internet.

  • 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. These should include generic names for these medicines.

  • 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 only be 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 narcotics 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.

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, and, if you want, 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 travelers' 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. You can get names of local healthcare providers and hospitals abroad through the U.S. Department of State website and major credit card companies.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2000-2023 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.