One of the international traveler’s greatest fears is having some sort of medical emergency abroad and ending up stranded in a hospital among doctors and nurses who speak another language. But you can go a long way toward setting aside those fears if you prepare for problems and understand what to do when they happen. The following tips can help.
Many of the problems associated with an international health emergency can be avoided if you prepare properly. Before you leave your homeland, you should do the following:
- Sign up for the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Through this free online service, you let the State Department know your travel plans and your emergency contacts. Enrollment in the program can help U.S. authorities contact your family back home if there is an emergency, as well as contacting you abroad if there is an emergency back home or a crisis in the area where you’re traveling.
- Purchase a Short-term medical policy for international travelers. International medical bills can leave you reeling, and if you require emergency evacuation, they can really put pressure on you financially. If you’re prepared with an insurance policy, these costs can be alleviated.
- Get all your Shots. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find out what immunizations they recommend you have before you set off for international locales. Remember that some immunizations take multiple injections and take time to become fully active in your system, so plan on starting your immunizations as much as six months out.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary and your travel papers back home.
- Record the locations and phone numbers of the U.S. consulate or embassy nearest your destination and keep them with you. You can find that information quickly at USEmbassy.gov.
What to do when an Emergency Happens
Hopefully, all this preparation will serve only to give you peace of mind. But if you should find yourself in a medical emergency, here’s what you should do:
- Get to a Hospital. Don’t wait for word to pass through some bureaucracy or chain of command. If you’re truly in an emergency, don’t wait to start getting better! You or someone with you can do the next steps even while you’re on the way to the hospital.
- Call the Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. They have people standing by 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The people at the embassy or consulate can help you find proper medical care, contact your family back home, help arrange emergency evacuation and even help you find an interpreter in the area.
- Call your Insurance Provider. Assuming you followed the advice in the previous section, your insurance provider should be your second call. The sooner you get them involved in the process, the quicker you can get past the hospital paperwork and concentrate on becoming well again.
No one wants to end up in a hospital in some foreign land, and odds are that it won’t happen to you. But being prepared for the unexpected emergency isn’t something you can ignore. Besides, knowing that you’re prepared can help lessen your worries and help you enjoy your travels even more.