Share This Page

How to get medical care overseas

| Saturday, July 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — An international vacation typically involves months of advance planning, from renewing passports to finding flights and booking hotels. But a health problem can knock off course even the most carefully planned itinerary.

If you're traveling in a country where you don't speak the language and your insurance isn't accepted, even a basic errand such as filling a prescription can become an ordeal.

Last year, nearly 61 million Americans traveled abroad for business or pleasure, with trips peaking at 6.8 million in July, according to the U.S. office of Travel and Tourism Industries. The most popular overseas destinations included Europe, the Caribbean and Asia, which together accounted for nearly 80 percent of all trips outside North America.

Here are some tips on getting the medical care you need:

Prescriptions

Travelers who rely on a prescription medication should do extra research and planning before traveling outside the United States. Generally, it's easier to bring an ample supply of medication from home than to try to get it refilled overseas.

Most pharmacies will give you an extended supply of medication if you show them your travel itinerary. Keep prescriptions in original bottles that clearly display your name. This is important when traveling through foreign customs.

If you have narcotic-based pain medication, such as codeine, you may want to check with the U.S. embassy in the country you're visiting to make sure the drug is not considered illegal. A list of embassies and consulates is available on the Department of State's website at http://www.usembassy.gov/.

If you lose your medication or need a new prescription abroad, most pharmacies will honor a fax or email from a U.S. physician. Some countries do not require prescriptions for common medications.

Doctors

Sometimes you'll need more than a prescription refill to get your trip back on track.

Let's say a jellyfish stings you while you're at a beach in Ecuador. A rash develops into an infection, and you want to find an English-speaking doctor who can diagnose the problem and prescribe the best treatment. Your health insurance does not cover overseas travel, and your Spanish is limited.

Fortunately, there are several organizations that offer free help finding qualified physicians.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers maintains an online database of licensed, English-speaking doctors in 90 countries: http://www.iamat.org/doctors_clinics.cfm.

Most hotel concierges keep a list of English-speaking doctors. In some cases, they'll have a doctor on call who can see you in your room.

Doctors recommend that travelers with chronic conditions, allergies or rare blood types bring a form with their medical history. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers a medical history form on the website www.er101.org.

Keep this in your wallet or purse, not the luggage that stays in your hotel room.

Insurance

Most government and employer-based health plans do not cover medical care overseas. Many travel agencies recommend customers purchase travel health insurance.

Along with covering the cost of canceled trips or travel delays, companies such as Travel Guard, http://www.travelguard.com, provide health coverage options from basic medical expenses to medical evacuation.

Depending on the country and the condition of the patient, an international medical flight can cost $50,000 or more, making an insurance policy a smart financial decision. Adventure travelers who face risk of harm can be covered for the repatriation of dismembered limbs and other remains, according to Laurene Taylor of Liberty Travel, a New York-based travel agency.

Travel insurance prices vary, depending on the cost of the trip and the age of the travelers.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.