Sickness can strike at the worst possible time.
Even if your planning is meticulous, falling ill or getting injured while you are on holidays can still happen. Here is your guide to planning, preparing and seeking medical attention overseas, as well as what to do on your return to Australia.
Your holiday checklist: what to do before heading overseas
The first thing to do is begin your health preparation about six weeks before you plan to fly out. Get a comprehensive check up, vaccinations that are relevant to your destination and discuss any pre-existing or chronic health problems you may have and how travel will impact them.
Travel insurance is essential – and make sure you get the highest cover, which includes all medical expenses for injury or illness. If you don’t, the bill can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars and your family can be made to foot the bill.
There are conditions in other countries that can trigger illness that you might not normally experience at home. Tropical climates and high altitudes can increase your risk of getting sick. So speak to your GP before you leave about prescription medicines like altitude sickness pills, antibiotics and malaria prevention tablets.
Check to see if the country you are travelling to has controls over the types of medication you plan on packing. You can find this out by checking with your embassy. In some circumstances you can get a letter from your Australian doctor that will allow you to take this medication with you.
And finally, travel can exacerbate or trigger mental health issues through exposure to different environments, unfamiliar customs, language barriers, social isolation, and general uncertainty. Drugs, alcohol, dehydration and infection can increase this risk. Be sure to speak to your medical professional before you travel and ensure you are in the right headspace.
Finding a doctor in a foreign land
As long as you have full travel insurance, your insurer will normally be able to assist in finding a doctor in another country. Try to find a clinic with at least one English speaking person and confirm an understanding of where you’re from and your level of insurance.
As long as you have internet access you can seek out local databases and even Google search for the best doctor for foreigners. Contacting the local embassy can also provide peace of mind.
Medication options abroad
It’s important to research the country you are travelling to before taking medications with you.
If you plan on travelling to the UK for more than three months and have a controlled medication, you will need a licence to hold it.
In the USA your medication needs to be in its original container, you need to have the script and also a letter from your doctor explaining why you need to take it.
Japan is one of the strictest countries to bring medication into and you might need a letter of approval from the Japanese Government. Always check ahead before packing medication or travelling with an expectation you will be able to get medication you need.
Can I bring pharmacy medication back into Australia?
If you were unlucky enough to get sick overseas, you will likely have prescription medicine you need to travel back to Australia with.
Fortunately, most medicines and medical devices are allowed to come with you under the traveller’s exemption. You will need the prescription and doctor’s orders for why you need the medication, as it is illegal to bring medicines back to provide to another person.
You can check which medicines will need to be declared upon arrival at the Department of Home Affairs website.
The other useful website you should check out before travelling is the Federal Government’s Smart Traveller site which provides all the information you will need across a range of subjects. And always visit your GP at least six weeks before you travel to get the process started.