What to do if you get ill Abroad

Even the most careful of travellers can become ill while they’re travelling or on holiday abroad, and unfamiliar medical facilities and language barriers can make the experience even more stressful than it would be at home.

Practical tips

When you start showing symptoms of illness, write them down and check whether any of your travel companions are suffering from similar symptoms.

Keep an eye on your temperature – a thermometer is well worth packing in your first aid kit – and if you have a fever (a temperature of 38° or above) then keep monitoring it every three to four hours. Not all fevers require medical attention, but if they persist you should visit a doctor.

If you have a medical kit, you can use appropriate medication to ease symptoms, such as paracetamol. If your symptoms persist, find a local doctor or medical clinic where staff can speak English (if possible). If you are distressed about your symptoms, it’s best to contact the emergency services, and if you are in doubt about the course of action you should take you can contact the British Embassy or Consulate of the country where you are travelling.

Every country has different rules about the costs of medical care for visitors, so it’s important to find out about the countries you’re visiting before you travel overseas.

Just in case you become seriously ill or need to pay for medication during your travels, it is always worth taking out adequate travel insurance before you leave. It could be a very small price to pay to make sure you have access to the necessary medical services in the event of getting ill or injured.

The most common traveller illness is travellers’ diarrhoea, caused by unfamiliar bacteria — which is very unpleasant illness but can usually be self-treated. Despite there being lots of common sense tips out there to help you avoid getting diarrhoea, the illness is still said to affect up to 60% of overseas travellers. If you’re one of the victims, stay in your room or close to a toilet, have plenty of rest, and make sure you drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Most people recover from the illness after a few unpleasant days – if you don’t, it’s time to visit a doctor.

Understanding the EHIC card (within the EEA)

For some European travellers, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can offer treatment at a reduced cost or even free when you visit countries in the  European Economic Area (EEA), but even if you have one of these cards you will still need to take out travel insurance to make sure you’re fully covered.

An EHIC allows you access to the same state-provided healthcare as a local resident would have in the country you’re visiting. However, many countries expect the patient to pay towards their treatment, so even with an EHIC you will be expected to contribute the same. You may be able to seek reimbursement for this cost when you are back in the UK if you are not able to do so at your travel destination.

The EHIC will not cover private medical healthcare; unexpected costs such as emergency mountain rescue in ski resorts; or repatriation (returning you to the UK). This means it’s still essential to take out a valid private travel insurance policy as well as carrying an EHIC, and some insurance companies actually insist that you have an EHIC (if you’re from within the EEA, or course) and and many will waive any excess charge for making a medical care claim if you have an EHIC.

Health care outside the EEA

Some countries outside the EEA have agreements with the UK to provide healthcare for visitors at reduced cost or free, but treatment rules vary from country to country, as do the documents that you need to hold to prove that you’re a UK resident or national. You may need to show your UK passport, UK driving licence, or your NHS medical card. Again, adequate travel insurance is still a must.

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