If you have travel insurance, the process will be a lot easier so I highly recommend that you have travel insurance with medical evacuation coverage if you travel abroad. Two of my favorites are WORLD NOMADS for insurance and MEDJET to cover transport home if you are hospitalized. I also use SQUAREMOUTH'S comparison engine where you can search, compare, and purchase travel insurance from other major providers in the United States. If you used a premium credit card to pay for your trip, check to see if you have any available coverage with them.
What To Do First
If you have travel insurance, the first step is to contact the toll-free hotline of your travel insurance company. They can give you the location of the nearest medical facility. They typically follow up to ensure you are getting the care you need and they can contact your family if needed.
If you don’t have travel insurance, the first step is to locate the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate which you can do at www.usembassy.gov. They can provide you with a list of medical facilities and healthcare providers. They can also contact your family for you if necessary. Medical bills are your responsibility and will probably need to be paid at he time of service. The Embassy may be able to assist you with the transfer of funds to pay for your care.
You can join IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers).
IAMAT is a non-profit organization linking travelers to health practitioners they have vetted. They have a Medical Directory that puts you in touch with qualified English-speaking doctors committed to providing the highest standards of care. If you seek care from one of their affiliated practitioners, you have to pay them directly at the time of the consultation.
Fees are listed on their website and ranged from $100-170 depending on the time of day or day of week the last time I checked. Membership is free but they do appreciate donations.
Check With Hotel
Ask your hotel or resort to refer you to an English speaking doctor or local hospital depending on the severity of your illness or injury. In some cases, the hotel will arrange for a house call to your room.
Credit Card Company
Many of the premium credit card companies insure parts of your trip. Check with them before you leave to verify the extent of your coverage and call them if you need help.
In Europe, people with a health problem often go to a pharmacy before making an appointment with a doctor. European pharmacists are allowed to diagnose and prescribe medications for many simple problems. Most cities have at least a few 24-hour pharmacies. The pharmacist can refer you to a doctor if they are unable to help you.
What To Do Before You Leave
- Check with your insurance company and see what coverage you have when traveling abroad. Note that most insurance companies do not cover any evacuation costs to get you to a hospital or back home.
- Most of the time, Medicare will not pay for hospital or medical costs outside the U.S. So if you have Medicare, it is a must for you to obtain travel insurance or an evacuation service like MEDJET.
- Carry any prescription medications in their original containers. Some prescriptions that are legal here (especially pain pills) may be illegal in other countries. Check with our embassy to be sure.
- Take a claim form with you and your insurance card in case you have some medical coverage that will reimburse you when you get home. Remember that foreign doctors and hospitals usually won't accept your regular medical insurance and will require payment by credit card or cash at time of treatment. Your regular medical insurance may reimburse you later if you have the proper documentation and receipts.
- Get a list of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor with the medications prescribed for those conditions. Make sure your blood type is listed. If you need to, get refills for your medications.
- Make up a simple first aid kit to take with you that contains over the counter medications for diarrhea (like Imodium), upset stomach (like Pepto Bismol), allergies (like Claitin), mild pain (like Advil or Tylenol), and a few bandages and antibacterial ointments. I personally never leave home without a Z-Pack (azithromycin) in case I get a bacterial infection. Sometimes these products are difficult to find in a foreign country and it's nice not to have to look.