What to do if you get sick during your student travels

What to do if you get sick during your student travels
Source: Joshua Earle/Unsplash

Travel broadens the mind. If you’re an international student, this is one element that will exponentially enrich your study abroad experience.

With so many natural landscapes to scale and urban wonderlands to explore, you will want to trek to as many states and countries as possible during your time away.

While the benefits of travel are huge, there are risks that every traveller should take note of. Top of the list is the chance of getting sick while in a foreign country.

It can spark from something as innocuous as trying too many strange and unknown foods to something potentially fatal like motor vehicle accident. Many international students have found themselves in situations like these with varying consequences, but there’s one common thread among them: being physically ill in a foreign country is never any fun…

Fortunately, there are things you can do before embarking on your trip that can prepare you for this eventuality:

1. Research, research, research

It always pays to check out how public and private healthcare functions within the country you’re visiting. Never assume it will be the same as your home country. Every country will have its own policies regarding foreigners’ use of public healthcare facilities, so it’s wise to take note of registration fees, deposits, foreigner rates, etc.

Not all NHS services or treatments are exempt from charges. Source: Shutterstock

For example, while the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is a service “free at the point of use”, this is only for residents. Foreigners or migrants will usually be charged for treatment, even if you can show your international student identification papers.

“If you are an overseas visitor to the UK you may be charged for some treatments and, depending on how urgent it is, you will usually have to pay in advance,” its website states.

As such, it is always wise to carry extra cash or ensure your credit card can be used as needed in any medical emergency.

You can obtain a list of English-speaking foreign healthcare providers from the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.

2. Always buy travel insurance

Travel insurance illness coverage usually revolves around the following scenarios: having to cancel or interrupt your trip and subsidise medical care.

Having to cancel or cut your trip short means losing money. Same goes with medical care or hospitalisation which, depending on the country you’re in, can cost up to thousands of dollars.

Anticipate these unforeseen events by getting covered for your trip and you can minimise adverse consequences. Remember to carry your health insurance identification card and claim form with you throughout your trip.

3. Bring your own first aid kit 

A mini, convenient package to bring along. Source: Shutterstock

Assuming there will be an easily accessible pharmacy or drugstore at every corner of the earth is a big mistake. While you may be caught up in awe at the beauty of the Swiss Alps, the reality is there aren’t many pharmacies to dispense the antacid you so need for the gastric attack you’re currently experiencing.

There are some over-the-counter medications such as painkillers, antacids and allergy suppressants you may be able to purchase on your trip. Better yet, bring along a first aid kit if you can – but be sure to check each country’s border entry requirements to see whether you’re allowed to bring them with you as they may be stricter than usual.

4. Carry identification at all times

Be sure to always carry your passport together with the details – name, address, telephone number – of who to contact in case of an emergency, enabling passersby to help in the case of a serious accident.

Additionally, carry a letter from your doctor explaining any pre-existing medical condition you have and any prescription medicines you’re currently taking.

5. Always choose official healthcare providers

If time is on your side, you can call your embassy or consulate ahead of time for a list of local healthcare providers and medical facilities. Consular officers can help refer you to known medical help providers or inform your family and friends back home.

At no point should you opt for any alternative or traditional “medical care” touted to you, no matter how convincing or cheap they may seem.

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