Medical Information Links
Travel Health Clinic Locator
CDC Update: Avian Flu
World Health Organization
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
US Department of State Travel Information
Safety Abroad First-- Education Travel Information (SAFETI)
American College Health Association
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers
Public Health Foundation
GOOD PRACTICES: HEALTH & SAFETY IN STUDY ABROAD
have a major impact on your own health and safety abroad through
decisions you make before/during your program, and through
day-to-day choices and behaviors. Here’s how:
Assume responsibility for all elements of your preparation for
the program. Participate fully in orientations.
and carefully consider all sponsor-issued materials relating to
safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and
religious conditions in the host country.
Conduct your own research on the country you plan to visit with
particular emphasis on health and safety concerns, as well as
the social, cultural, and political situations.
Consider your physical and mental health, and other personal
circumstances when applying for or accepting a place in a
program, and make available to the sponsor accurate and complete
physical and mental health information and any other personal
data that is necessary in planning for a safe and healthy study
Obtain and maintain appropriate insurance coverage and abide by
any conditions imposed by the carriers.
parents/guardians/relevant others about your participation in
the program, give them emergency contact info, and keep them
apprised of your whereabouts and activities.
Understand and comply with the program’s terms of participation,
codes of conduct, and emergency procedures.
aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or
safety risks when making daily choices and decisions. Promptly
express any health or safety concerns to program staff or other
appropriate individuals before and/or during the program.
Accept responsibility for your own decisions and actions.
Behave in a way that is respectful of the rights and well-being
of others, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.
Avoid illegal drugs and excessive or irresponsible consumption
Follow program policies to keep staff informed of your
whereabouts and well-being.
Become familiar with procedures for obtaining emergency health
and legal services in the host county.
abroad can be difficult or inaccessible. With that in mind,
visit your doctor before you go. Take advantage of your
friendly English-speaking doctor while you are still here: ask
every question you can think of and write down the answers!
Planning ahead pays off. As you prepare to study abroad, be sure
to complete the following health-related tasks:
1. Talk to your doctor about prescriptions you may need
while away and about an easy way to contact him/her in case of
questions or emergency (email, phone, fax, parents, mail).
2. Plan to bring with you the full supply of each medication
you take, whether for allergies, asthma, birth control,
depression, or other medical conditions. This may entail writing
your HMO or
insurance company with a copy of your program
acceptance letter, listing the dates of your stay abroad. Travel
with an original prescription for each medication you take. All
be in their original containers with your name on
them. Have this (with documentation) in your carry-on luggage
for customs inspection. Do not pack the medications in your
3. Find out exact details about your health insurance
coverage in the host country. Many insurance companies provide
information cards or booklets with emergency information.
Go over the “health” and “warning” sections of your
travel guide and your program packet together. Familiarize
yourself with relevant health-related vocabulary.
If you take medication, know the generic name of the
drug(s) in English and, if possible, in the language of the
country where you will be studying.
Bring a downscaled version of your medicine cabinet in
addition to your first-aid kit, because these items may be hard
to find and/or expensive abroad. Stock up on non-prescription
drugs, such as antacids, pain relief, anti-diuretics,
anti-bacterial cream, condoms, contact lens solution, etc.
In addition to the physical exam required by your
program, think about getting tested for HIV and other
sexually-transmitted infections, because access to these tests,
counseling, may be difficult, impossible, or
NOTE FOR WOMEN: be prepared to fight off urinary tract
infections and yeast infections on your own while away. Talk to
your doctor about getting medication or filling
before you go (e.g., Diflucan or Monistat).
Health Check for Study, Work, and Travel
Before you travel abroad, take a close
look at the many factors that contribute to your physical and
emotional well-being. A trip abroad almost certainly will affect
your health because so much of health has to do with lifestyle
and environment. Conversely, the state of your health will have
a significant impact on the success and enjoyability of your
time abroad. With proper planning, travel can be a happy,
Assess your health and your health-related practices
Going abroad is
not a magic cure for issues at home. Both physical and emotional
health issues will follow you wherever you go. In particular,
if you are concerned about your use of alcohol and/or other
controlled drugs, or if you have an emotional health concern,
you should address it honestly before making plans to travel.
Contrary to many people’s expectations, travel does not minimize
these problems; in fact, it often exacerbates them to a crisis
stage when you are away from home and support systems.
Identify your health needs
Be clear about
your health needs when applying for a program and when making
housing arrangements. Describe allergies, disabilities,
psychological treatment, and dietary and medical needs so
appropriate arrangements can be made. Resources for people with
disabilities vary widely by country and region. If you have a
disability or special need, identify it and understand ahead of
time just what accommodations can and will be made.
Check health advisories
Find out about
immunization requirements and recommendations for your host
country, and check out any regional health or medical
advisories. In particular, if you have special health needs,
check on any particular conditions that may apply to your travel
Remember to ask questions such as:
illnesses, if any, are specific or endemic to the region? What
medications should I take to prevent them? Are they readily
available in the host country?
precautions are recommended for sexual or health practices?
- What kind of
insurance do I need, and how much coverage?
- What are the
customs, beliefs, and laws in the host country concerning
sexual behavior and the use of alcohol and drugs?
- What is the
quality of water in the host country?
- What are the
laws governing import of medications, medical supplies, and
This information can be gleaned from
several sources, including:
Family physician or campus health service Local Public
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (800/311-3435 or
State Dept. Overseas Citizens Emergency Center (202/647-5225)
Travelers with disabilities can get more information from
Mobility International (www.miusa.org
Find out from returned students or the program director:
How long will
the flight be, and how long can you expect to experience jet
lag? What are the local eating patterns? Are there dietary
How is the
culture different from your own, and how can you adjust
effectively to minimize homesickness?
See your health practitioners
Visits to your
family doctor, gynecologist, and dentist will help ensure that
you are in good health before you leave, and might prevent
emergencies abroad. Get any needed immunizations and hepatitis
protection, if appropriate. Update your health records,
including eyeglass/contact prescriptions and regular
medications. If you are on prescription medication, take with
you the amount you will need for your entire stay (less only if
you will return to the US mid-program, as some year-abroad
students do). If you self-inject prescribed medication, you may
need to carry needles and syringes with you. You’ll need a
physician’s prescription for medication and medical supplies to
pass through foreign customs stations.
Take copies of
all medical records, prescriptions (with a second copy in
generic form, if possible), and all other pertinent information.
Carry these with you in a safe place. If you expect to need
regular medical care abroad, bring a letter of introduction from
your home physician, providing details of your medical
condition, history, care, and specific needs.
Pack a medical kit
underestimate the importance of keeping some basic medical
supplies close at hand. You should always travel with a medical
kit that includes the following items:
*Sunscreen and sunburn ointment *Anti-diarrhea
*Gauze and adhesive tape *Antibacterial ointment
Depending on the region, you may also
wish to include water purification tablets, antihistamines, salt
tablets, skin moisturizers, eye drops, and insect repellant.
Be sure to pack
your regular medications, contraceptives if you may need them,
feminine hygiene products if you’re traveling where they are not
available, and any other routine health and medical products you
may need. Check the expiration date of all medications before
you leave. Where your health is concerned, it’s better to be
safe than sorry!
Verify medical insurance coverage
Check your own
policy to see what coverage it provides for medical services
abroad. In most cases, you have to pay the local provider and
then seek reimbursement from the plan. Be sure you have coverage
for medical evacuation, in case you need to be flown back to the
US for medical treatment, and for repatriation of remains; the
ISIC Card (see next page) will cover you for both. Check to be
sure you will have coverage for continuing treatment of any
newly-acquired medical conditions once you return home.
International Student Identification Card (ISIC), available
at the OIS, is a useful supplement to a comprehensive insurance
policy. Card holders are provided with basic insurance coverage,
including emergency medical evacuation and repatriation, and a
24-hour toll-free Help Line staffed by multilingual
representatives who can advise travelers on required
immunizations for travel abroad, as well as help in case of
medical, financial, or legal emergencies abroad. Wesleyan’s
Student Health Insurance Plan can provide coverage overseas
if your family policy does not do so.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
planning for a healthy trip abroad does not end once you board
the plane. Because of the differences between cultures, many
adjustments, concerns, and questions related to your physical
and emotional well-being should be addressed after you arrive.
Find out about resources
Learn how to get
medical help, whether routine or emergency, before the need
arises. Is there a 911-style emergency number? If so, what
services does it access? Who will provide routine medical care,
and how can you reach that provider? If you need any special
resources, find out early how to get them. These could include
services for students with disabilities, self-help groups such
as Alcoholics Anonymous (find a local chapter at
http://www.aa.org/en_find_meeting.cfm), or any other
Give yourself time to adjust
Jet lag and
culture shock can sabotage your trip if you are unprepared, and
their effects can be lasting if you don’t take care of yourself.
For the effects of jet lag, get plenty of non-alcoholic fluids,
nutritious food, and rest. Time is the best cure.
(the emotional effects of facing new values, habits, and
lifestyles) can leave you impatient, bewildered, and depressed.
You may experience confusing emotional highs and lows during
this period. Remind yourself that these will pass, and that
being well-rested and eating healthily will speed the process by
giving you the stamina to work through it. If they persist,
though, consider it a possible medical problem and seek
assistance from a counselor or physician.
medical conditions and needs known
If you require regular medical care for
any condition you have, tell those in your host country who can
be of assistance. This may mean simply identifying a doctor or
other practitioner who will provide care, or it may mean
discussing your condition with people in your courses or housing
situation to let them know that you might need an emergency
intervention during your stay.
norms may differ from your own, maybe in ways you don’t see
right away. This is true even in cultures that seem relatively
similar to the US. Ask about safety issues like local
transportation, traffic patterns, swimming practices at regional
beaches, and use of electrical appliances. Ask about security
issues such as neighborhood or building security, personal
security during evening or other outings, and culture-specific
behavior or security concerns related to gender. You can’t
assume that the expectations and practices you took for granted
at home will be accepted in your host country. If you are not
sure about something, whether it’s a simple question about where
a service can be found, or a more complex matter such as
expectations about friendship and dating, ask someone you trust.
Attend to your own well-being
Despite the change in your environment,
you can still keep some of your daily routines from home. Get
enough rest – a challenge during the first few days! Eat
nutritiously, which may mean trying some foods you’re not
accustomed to eating. Get plenty of exercise to keep your mind
and body working well. Don’t isolate yourself. You will probably
have to make the first move in developing friendships, but they
are an essential part of any overseas experience and, more
importantly, your emotional well-being.
WHEN YOU RETURN
You may think it
will be “no sweat” to return home to family and friends, but
that is not the experience of most study-abroad participants.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, students report the same type of
adjustment issues when they return as they felt when they first
arrived abroad. Remember that you’ve changed, and that time has
not stood still in your absence. Friends and family also may
have changed, as have your perceptions of them and theirs of
you. You have a new set of experiences they have not shared, and
may have acquired different ways of thinking about everything
from world politics to friendship, higher education to your
place in the world. Be patient with yourself and others.
Ask yourself how
you have changed since you left Wesleyan and the US. How have
your attitudes and values changed? How have you matured in your
opinions and perspectives? How have your attitudes and
expectations of friends, family, and faculty changed?
Take care of yourself
Your diet and
exercise patterns will change again when you return. You may
have jet-lag, and in any case you should plan to get plenty of
sleep and maintain a healthy diet.
Your trip abroad
does not change those who stayed behind the way it changes you.
Problems that existed when you left may still await you when you
return, or change may have occurred in your absence. Be prepared
to face realistically enduring issues or problems in both your
circumstances and your relationships. Take time to share your
overseas experience, as well as to listen to the experiences of
those who didn’t accompany you. If you feel lonely, or just want
to talk more about your time abroad, talk to faculty, Carolyn
Sorkin and Gail Winter, and other returning students, all of
whom can empathize. Share the most important parts of your trip,
including pictures and mementos. But be prepared: some who
haven’t gone abroad may listen only for a little while.
Debrief and relive
Take advantage of re-entry workshops and
parties for returning study-abroad participants. You’ll have a
chance to meet new people and share your experience with others
who will listen and understand. You can serve as a peer advisor
for prospective participants, or meet up with international
students visiting the US from your overseas host country. These
are great ways to keep alive one of the most exciting
experiences of your life. You may also want to consider writing
articles for one of the several journals and magazines for study
Personal health inventory for study/travel abroad
These are potential issues affecting
international students (hey, that’s about to be you). Which ones
concern you? Have you made necessary preparations to avoid
- Ability/disability issues
- Culture shock
- Dental care
- Dietary concerns
- Emergency resources
- Eyeglass prescription
- Gender-sensitive health care
- Health advisories
- Hepatitis protection
- Medications and medical supplies
- Psychological issues
- Re-entry shock
- Regional health issues
- Sleep patterns
- Support networks/friends and family
document is based on a brochure written by Judith A. Green,
Director of International Affairs, Fuqua School of Business,
Duke University, and Joan Elias Gore, and produced in
coordination with NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
The text has been updated and modified by Carolyn Sorkin,
Director of International Studies, Wesleyan University.