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Overseas Medical and Safety Primer

By Beverly D. Roman

Global Emergency Medical Services states "of the 93.5 million Americans who travel internationally each year, an estimated 25 percent experience a medical problem or a medical emergency." What is really alarming about this statistic is that medical guidance is overlooked in 65 percent of relocation packages. And, surprisingly, the biggest threat to health while traveling isn't a mysterious illness contracted on foreign shores, but rather the flare-up of chronic health conditions, at the wrong time or the wrong place. Emergency situations are bad enough when you can ask questions and communicate your concerns, but when an emergency occurs in a foreign country, you need to know how to find medical care and a doctor who can speak your language. This article will provide medical considerations as well as basic safety concerns for relocatees and travelers.


Physicians recommend that you have a thorough medical, dental and eye examination before moving. Find out whether your health insurance policy is valid overseas and re view your medications with your doctor. Know that the legal use of drugs varies from country to country.

Obtain the following:

  • Copies of the family's medical records and prescriptions.
  • Dates and treatments for injuries or illness.
  • The generic name for any prescription drugs and options for alternative care.
  • Current doctors' telephone numbers and addresses in case you have to contact them.
  • The required immunizations for the country.
  • A few months' supply of indispensable drugs (pack several days worth in your carryon luggage).

    Facilities, services and terminology can vary considerably from city to city, and especially from country to country. I highly recommend that when you are moving to a foreign country, you make visits to doctors' offices and medical facilities your first priority. This will help clear up any confusion that exists about routine and urgent medical care. It is also important to discuss insurance coverage, rehearse unfamiliar routes to care and learn procedures and hours of operation before an emergency arises.


    Upon arrival in a new country, it is easy to get carried away with the excitement of the experience and forget to follow simple safety rules. Here are some recommended travel tips to consider.

  • Keep a low profile and always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Avoid opening and reading maps on a street corner; it shouts tourist!
  • Copy all important identification and keep it, plus traveler's check numbers, separate and in a safe place
  • Do not freely discuss your travel plans with strangers.
  • Carry a minimum amount of money and credit cards. Keep monies and identification in a "fanny pak" concealed under a bulky sweater or shirt.
  • Use ATMs during the day accompanied by a friend if possible.
  • Find out if there are unsafe areas in the city that should be avoided.
  • Drink commercially bottled water or beverages with unbroken seals.
  • Find out how the local scam artists portray themselves. Scam artists have been known to dress in business suits and carry a briefcase. Who would suspect?
  • Carry with you a business card from your hotel, the location and telephone number of your country embassy and contact information for a friend or relative in case of an emergency.
  • Be careful with your credit card receipts.
  • If you witness a public disturbance, do not become involved. Instead, notify the local authorities.

    Moving places a considerable amount of stress on people and that is just when accidents and illness strike&emdash;often before a family knows the location of a doctor or hospital. Believe me, I could write a book about the medical emergencies we experienced during our many moves, one of which could have been a fatality. Don't overlook this aspect of relocation. All families need to have a medical plan in place before they travel and know how to locate doctors who can speak their language.


    Emergency Medical Services, Inc. (GEMS), 800-860-1111.

    Worldwide Assistance Services, 800-777-8710.

    Medic Alert emblems, 800-763-3428.

    Traveler's assistance is a relatively new credit card benefit. Twenty-four-hour emergency hotlines are standard, and most willrefer you to hospitals or English-speaking doctors, or arrange for prescription refills. Contact your individual credit card company before traveling abroad to understand their procedures.

    The Centers for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov) provides health information for specific destinations regarding food and water qualities, vaccinations, infectious diseases, quarantine and more. Call toll-free 877-FYI-TRIP.

    Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets (http://travel.state.gov) are available for every country of the world. Call 202-647-5225.

    Reprinted with permission from BR Anchor Publishing. Beverly D. Roman, publisher, is the author of over twenty relocation titles and writes the popular newsletter, Relocation Today, that mails to more than 140 countries. Contact her at

    broman@branchor.com, or + 910.256.9598. On the web: www.branchor.com.

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