Everything You Need to Do to Stay Healthy Abroad

Studying abroad is an exciting time full of travel, friends and new experiences. Unfortunately, the stress and excitement from traveling can also take a toll on your immune system. Being sick can put a serious damper on your trip abroad, so make sure you take the proper precautions to protect yourself before you go! Here are eight ways to ensure that you’ll have a healthy and safe study abroad experience.

Get the proper health insurance.

One of the first steps you should take when you know you are definitely studying abroad is making sure you have the proper health insurance. Many schools offer special health insurance as part of the study abroad program, but you should also contact your health care provider and make sure that you are covered. If not, there are programs such as HTH Worldwide that offer health insurance to students who are studying abroad.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Lisa Chieffo, associate director of student programs at the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Delaware, says that students should carry their health insurance card with them throughout their travels. “Health insurance is included in all program fees [at the University of Delaware],” Chieffo says. “Students should take with them the health insurance card that we provide them.”

It’s always important to carry valid, up-to-date insurance while traveling. Sophie van Bastelear, a sophomore at McGill University, learned the hard way that it’s important to keep insurance up to date when she fell ill at school.

“At the beginning of this year I was feeling really, really crappy consistently for a couple weeks, so I tried to go to the student health center but realized I hadn't renewed my health insurance card,” says Sophie. “So I had to leave and go do that before I could even go back to the health center and deal with the sickness.”

If you’re unsure about your insurance, call the number on your card or visit your insurance’s website to get the details!

Inform your program supervisor about any dietary restrictions you have.

One of the great parts about studying abroad is sampling all of the local cuisine, but dietary restrictions can make this difficult. Whether you’re avoiding certain foods for health reasons or just prefer to eat a vegetarian diet, let your program supervisor know about any dietary restrictions you have before you travel.

Kate Theroux, a senior at the University of Delaware, studied abroad in Italy during her junior year. She says that she informed her professor about her vegetarian diet before the trip, so the restaurants her group went to were able to accommodate her.

“My supervisor told the restaurants before we would go, so they gave me different food,” Kate says. “It made it easier because I didn’t have to explain it myself, because I didn’t speak any Italian.”

Collegiettes doing a homestay for their time abroad should also inform their host family as far in advance as possible. Your program supervisor should be able to contact the host family beforehand, which will ensure that they have plenty of time to be prepared for any dietary needs you have.

Make sure you have the proper vaccinations.

Many study abroad trips require vaccinations prior to traveling. Although your program should inform you about any of these preparations you need to make, it’s up to you to make the appointments and make sure you’re prepared.

Different trips have different vaccination requirements, so make sure that you know exactly which ones you need. Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find out which vaccinations you’ll need for your trip abroad. Some vaccinations must be administered a certain number of weeks in advance of your trip, so the sooner you look this info up and take care of it, the better. Don’t put it off until the last minute; if you need any immunizations before your trip, contact your school’s health center ASAP!

Inform your program supervisor and group about any medical issues you have.

Pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or a severe food allergy, can get serious pretty quickly if not treated properly.

Chieffo says it is important for students to inform their university of any serious medical conditions before the trip. “They should disclose all such conditions on their application and discuss with their faculty director,” she says.

Let your supervisor and friends know if you have a medical condition that may act up while you’re abroad, such as allergies, diabetes or epilepsy. This way, they’ll know what do if anything goes wrong!

Get all of your prescriptions before you go.

Make sure to stock up on any prescription medications before you leave.  Foreign pharmacies can be difficult to navigate, and the regulations on certain medications may be different overseas.

Some over-the-counter drugs are illegal in other countries, or may require a prescription. If you have any doubts, call the foreign embassy or consulate of the country you’ll be traveling to. They should be able to provide you with any information you need on the legality of certain drugs.

Allie Sutherland, a junior at Syracuse University, made sure to fill all of her prescriptions before she studied abroad in London. “I also got a prescription from my doctor for four months’ worth of birth control that I picked up all at once before I left so I wouldn't have to worry about it,” she says.

It’s also important to keep prescriptions in their original packaging. “All medication should be carried abroad in their original containers,” says Chieffo.

Traveling is hectic enough without worrying about pills getting mixed up, and you never know what will happen going through customs. Streamline the process by keeping your medication up to date, organized and properly labeled in the original containers!

Know the generic names of common medications.

Medications you may be familiar with, such as Advil and Tylenol, have different names in foreign countries. Know the generic names in that country so you can ask for the proper medication at the pharmacy!

If you get sick and need a specific medication or antibiotic, consider having someone in your program who speaks the local language help you out by writing down the name of the medication you need so you can give it to the pharmacist. That way, there won’t be any misunderstandings!

“I had my professor write down the name of the medicine I needed, so when I went to the pharmacy I just handed them the paper,” says Kate.

Bring the proper first aid precautions.

Getting ready for your trip abroad can be hectic, but make sure your packing list includes some basic first aid supplies! Basics such as ibuprofen, Band-Aids and Neosporin can be extremely helpful to have if you get a headache or minor cut so you don’t have to rely on foreign pharmacies to carry these medications. Just make sure that all medications you may bring are allowed in foreign countries!

“I brought a lot of Advil in case I got minorly sick,” Kate says. “I was very glad I brought it, because I had it on hand when I got headaches and things like that.”

While you should always let your program supervisor know if you think you have anything serious, having the essentials on hand to combat a minor cut, scrape or cold can make things a lot easier.

Know what to do if you get sick.

Despite all your preparation, you still might fall ill during your study abroad experience. It’s important not to panic and to know whom to contact if you think you might have more than a slight cold. Students who fall ill should “immediately inform their faculty director or resident director,” Chieffo says.

If you’re studying abroad at a university, going to the university’s health center is a good first step. If you’re staying with a host family, talk to the family and your program supervisor to find a doctor. Your program should be aware of the best medical facilities in the area, so do not hesitate to ask your supervisor. 

Going to the doctor in a foreign country can be scary, especially if you don’t speak the language. Considering carrying the phone number of your director or supervisor with you at all times along with your insurance card. This way, in case of an emergency, you’ll know exactly whom to contact and how to reach them!

Studying abroad is an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life—don’t let being sick ruin your memories! Take a few simple steps before you go to make sure you’re adequately prepared to face any situation that may come your way.