with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Know Before You Go: Health Shots, Travelers Medical and Travel Insurance

Suitcase luggage tags, photograph by Brent VanFossenThe US and many countries require or recommend specific immunizations before traveling to or from specific areas. You can find information for the US’s policies for the US State Department, the UK Government, and in Canada’s Medical Services. Some countries require an International Health Certificate verifying your immunizations and health, available from your doctor.

For travelers with specific medical conditions, make sure your prescriptions are up-to-date and carry adequate supplies with you. Include your doctor’s prescription and possibly a letter authorizing your use and transport of these medications, especially if you carry a large quantity (so they know you aren’t going to sell them). If you require a specific medicine, check with the country’s consulate to find out if you can get the prescription filled with your own doctor’s prescription and/or with or without a visit to a local doctor.

It is always a good idea to check on the status of diseases and health in any country you are traveling to, no matter how “modern”. The recent international spread of SARS and Bird Flu are good examples.

Government Health Resources

Health Warnings and Alerts

Magellan's Travel Supplies

Travelers Medical and Travel Insurance

US citizens can be left high and dry by their private medical insurance plans when they take a trip outside of the borders. While the US consulate can help find appropriate medical services, inform friends and family, and aid with money transfers, the responsibilities of payment for hospitals, treatments, and other services rest upon the shoulders of the traveler.

Social Security and Medicare do not provide any coverage outside the USA, though the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) does have foreign medical insurance coverage with their Medicare supplement plans. Check with them for specifics.

There are many insurance companies specializing in travel/health insurance on a short or long term basis, but check first with your own policy to see if there is coverage or the ability to extend your coverage temporarily. Make sure your coverage includes what you think you may need. If you are healthy and in very good shape, with no chronic health problems, and your trip is short, consider only investing in accident/emergency insurance to save money.

The American Board of Medical Specialists publishes a reference on certified physicians abroad called “The Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialities” to help you find qualified medical professionals. The book is available at libraries and you can search on the Internet. The service is free but you must enter a valid email address to “register” with the site, and they will send you a password. For general practitioners, select “Search by Specialty/Location” and under “Specialty” select “Family Practice” or “Public Health”, or choose the specialty that most meets your needs. In preparation for a trip abroad, if you have chronic health problems, you might want to print out the contact information to have with you just in case.

Travel and General Medical Advice and Information

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