Traveling Internationally? Here’s How to Stay Healthy

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Whatever your reason for traveling internationally, be prepared when it comes to your health – and the health of others – before, during, and after you travel.

Before You Go

Take these steps to prepare for travel abroad and anticipate issues that might arise.

  • Know your health status before you make travel plans. When you are sick you can spread diseases to others. Postpone your travel and stay home if you’re sick.
  • Check your destination to get country-specific health advice. Depending on where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing, you may need vaccinations or medicines before you leave.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor at least a month before you leave. Work with your doctor to evaluate your health and the health of those planning to travel with you.
    • What vaccines and medicines you need (and are safe for you to take) depend on many factors specific to you. Give your doctor all the details they need to make the right travel health recommendations for you. Provide them with information such as where you’ll be traveling, how long you’ll be gone, what activities you’ll be doing, and your medical history.
  • Consider travel insurance.
    • Travel health insurance. If your health insurance policy doesn’t cover you while you’re traveling (not all do – it’s best to check in advance), consider purchasing additional insurance. Otherwise, if you need to go to a hospital or clinic overseas, you will probably be asked to pay out of pocket for any services.
    • Medical evacuation insurance. If you become ill or injured in remote areas or in countries where medical care is not up to U.S. standards, medical evacuation insurance will cover the cost of transporting you to a place where you can receive high-quality care.
  • Pack smart.
    • Pack for a healthy trip. A complete travel health kit includes first aid items, sunscreen, insect repellent, over-the-counter medicines, and all your prescription medicines.
    • If you take any medicines regularly, pack enough for your whole trip plus a little extra, just in case.
    • Check with the US embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting to make sure your prescription medicines are permitted there. Not all medicines, even if they are prescribed by a doctor, are legal in all countries. Read more about traveling abroad with medicines.

During Your Trip

  • Avoid road accidents. Accidents involving motor vehicles are the leading cause of preventable deaths of Americans abroad.
    • Always wear your seat belt, only ride in vehicles that have seat belts, and put children in car seats.
    • Hire a local driver when possible or ask your hotel for a trustworthy driver or taxi company.
    • Never ride with a driver who has been drinking.
    • Avoid riding on overloaded buses.
    • Avoid traveling at night and alone.
  • Prevent bug bites. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and some flies can spread diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and Lyme disease, all of which can have severe consequences.
  • Eat and drink safely.
    • Eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot.
    • Do not eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can wash or peel them yourself.
    • Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice – it was likely made with tap water.
  • Prevent sunburn.
    • Pack sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
    • When using sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first. Let it dry, and then apply repellent. Reapply both as instructed.
  • Be aware of your physical safety.
    • Follow local laws and customs.
    • Limit alcohol intake.
    • Wear protective gear during adventure activities, such as helmets when biking or climbing.
    • Use caution when swimming and during water activities.
      • Do not swim in fresh water in developing areas or where sanitation is poor.
      • Do not go barefoot. Consider protective footwear when swimming in open water to avoid injuries that could lead to infection. Even on beaches there may be animal waste that can be a source of human infections.
      • Watch for large waves, strong tides, and signs of rip currents.
      • Supervise children at all times near and in water.

After Your Trip

If you’re having health issues when you arrive home, or soon thereafter, schedule a visit with a StarMed primary care provider.