Here’s What To Do If You Get Sick In A Foreign Country


It’s easy to catch a bug when traveling. Airports are literal cesspools of germs, unfamiliar foods can throw your digestive system off and adventurous activities can easily end in a sprained ankle. To avoid ending up wandering the streets, feverish and halfway delirious, seeking medical care, here’s what you should do if you get sick or injured in a foreign country.

Check your insurance coverage abroad.

Your health insurance doesn’t necessarily work when you’re not in the United States. Check your policy or call the customer service line to see what the rules are for your specific health care plan.

If you aren’t covered abroad, you can get travel insurance, which covers your flights, hotels and any health issues on your trip, or travel health insurance, which just covers your health while traveling.

Some countries will provide medical care to visitors completely free of charge. But even if you’re not in countries with universal health care, don’t hesitate to get medical attention for serious conditions. For real, don’t avoid getting care just because you’re unsure of protocol in foreign countries.

Take stock of your symptoms.

No matter where you are in the world, symptoms that require medical attention are the same. Serious symptoms include but are not limited to chest pains, severe vomiting or diarrhea lasting longer than a day, and dizziness or fainting. Injuries like burns, deep cuts and broken bones also need a doctor.

A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t feel equipped to deal with a situation, you probably aren’t. If anything feels really wrong, trust your gut and get help.

In Europe, pharmacies are the first stop for common illnesses like colds, sore throats, fevers, rashes, infections and any unpleasantness going on in your digestive system.

And when in doubt, hydrate. Get a bottle of water from the grocery store and keep downing those fluids.

Know the emergency numbers for your destination.

You can’t just call 9-1-1 in every country around the world. Different nations have different emergency phone numbers. If you didn’t look up the one for your destination before flying, it’s okay. Google it now and save the number.

Here are a few in common travel destinations:

  • Australia: 000 or 112 on a cell phone
  • France: 112 and 15
  • Germany: 112
  • Italy: 112
  • United Kingdom: 112 and 999
  • Spain: 112
  • Thailand: 191

Any country in the E.U. uses the same emergency number, so if you’re doing a Euro trip, just remember 1-1-2. You can also see a complete list on the United States Department of State website.

If you need immediate help in a medical situation where anyone is preventing you from getting care or you are unsure of how to proceed, contact the U.S. Consulate in your destination.

Before you go abroad…

Make sure to pack a first aid kit in your luggage. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but you should have some ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal meds, small bandages and an EpiPen if you have any allergies.

If you have a pre-existing condition, have information on your previous care with you that you can give to a new doctor — even if that doctor speaks another language.