A prescription for healthcare when you’re living or traveling abroad

medical while traveling

Whether it’s for travel or a long-term stay, going abroad means you’ll have lots of things to plan. It’s easy to forget certain details. Like, have you thought about medical coverage and care?

If you’re suddenly feeling anxious, here’s a checklist that can make things easier, whether you end up facing an emergency, or a routine check-up:

-Are you covered?  Even if you’re just going overseas for a few days, you may not be covered under your current insurance plan, whether it’s state-run or private.  And living abroad may change your obligations radically.  For example, as of this writing, US citizens who can prove they live abroad are considered exempt from signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).  Or if you’re from the UK, in certain situations and countries, you may be covered by the NHS…but most likely not.  For the most up-to-date information about coverage, always check official sites.

– What kind of care? Even if you’re headed to a developed country, you may wonder if the level of care is the same as what you’d expect at home. As an American expat in France, trust me, there will come a time when you want to know. Luckily, a simple internet search of terms like “medical tourism” and “best doctors in the world” will bring up lots of helpful results – including this recent WHO report. Knowing what level of care you can expect will help you better deal with medical customs, attitudes, and settings that are different or off-putting to you; if you know that the doctors are just as qualified as they are in your home country – or better – you won’t be as upset about a dingy waiting room or the lack of a receptionist.  And this brings up the next point:

 – What to expect?  You may be able to get the same quality of care in the place you’re visiting or moving to, but what about how doctors act towards their patients, or how clinics and hospitals look?  How long does it take to get an appointment with a GP or specialist?  What are local hygiene and sanitation standards?  Talk to fellow expats or visit forums and doctor review websites to get a feel for what you can expect in terms of these and other details.

– What should you say?  People can run into problems with medical jargon even if it’s in their own language; now imagine having to explain symptoms or understand complicated or just downright unfamiliar terminology in a foreign tongue.  If you think you have a particular condition – or if you do – make sure you write down the term for it before heading to the doctor’s.  It’s also a good idea to bring a dictionary or other translating tool with you, even if you find a doctor who speaks your native language (there could still be vocabulary issues on either side).

– Any questions? Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions, even if it’s about the administrative side of things. For example, the first time I paid my doctor in France after an appointment, I was surprised – France has socialized medicine, and I was in the system. I politely asked if I’d be reimbursed and he briefly explained how that works.

Thinking about healthcare when you go abroad can be overwhelming or exhausting, but it’s necessary.  Luckily, thanks to the internet it’s easier than ever; you might only need a few minutes to basically sort things out. And if you want more in-depth knowledge, aiaTranslations has got you covered, with cross-cultural training courses.  Bon voyage and good health!

by Alysa Salzberg

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