Looking after your health overseas
When relocating overseas, you need to ascertain what potential health problems may apply to you. If you have an existing condition that requires regular treatment, get as much information as you can from your doctor before you relocate.
Before you leave
Research, research and then research some more. Talk to medical and relocation experts specific to the country you’re moving to. Be aware of any risks associated with that country. Does Yellow Fever occur? Is the water safe to drink and if not, what provision is made for this? Is malaria prevalent? Are specific medicines you require actually available there?
Organise any vaccinations in plenty of time; at least six-eight weeks before you move. Vaccines often need time to take effect and some inoculations require multiple injections to be precisely timed over a few months. That’s not fun with kids, I can assure you!
Confirm that your standard vaccinations, such as tetanus, are up to date too. Most vaccinations protect you for around three to ten years, depending upon the disease you are getting inoculated against.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness and is prevalent in many areas. It can be fatal. If diagnosed promptly, it can be treated but the symptoms can be ambiguous and it can also take some time to develop. Prevention is vital and comes in the form of chemical prophylaxis tablets. However, in some countries malaria has become resistant to certain drugs, so take medical advice on which ones to take.
Even when taken exactly as prescribed, antimalarial drugs don’t protect you completely, so add extra defences by preventing mosquito bites in the first place. Use a good insect repellent, cover up and employ mosquito nets if your area is a particular hotbed of malaria.
Obtain your medical records
Take copies of your medical notes including your history and any current problems and treatments. Some countries require you have official written details of any medication you carry with you, so look into whether this is a requirement of your host country. Be aware that a few drugs, including certain over-the-counter medicines, are illegal in some countries. Check before you leave.
Translate the names of prescription medications you use and make notes of the generic names of them. These are more widely known worldwide than brand names, which differ from country to country.
If you need regular injections, such as insulin, ensure you take a good supply with you and get a letter from your doctor detailing the medicine’s constituents.
Plan to have any routine tests before you leave; it’s much easier and less stressful in your home country. You may consider having certain dental treatments in familiar surroundings too.
Pack medicines and a first aid kit
Any medicines you carry overseas should be left in their clearly labelled, original containers. Include a doctor’s letter of explanation along with your medical records. If possible, take six months’ supply and pack them into two bags; one carry on and a suitcase.
Don’t forget a spare pair of glasses and an up-to-date prescription. The same applies to contact lenses. Remember to take a good supply of your regular cleaning solutions until you can find an alternative.
A well-stocked first aid kit is useful too. Include items such as plasters, bandages, stomach medicine, anti-diarrhoea tablets and pain killers.
Medical care overseas
Understand the healthcare system in your destination country. British expats who are used to the NHS and general practitioner service may be surprised to discover that in many countries you have to register with a number of different doctors; a paediatrician for the children, a gynaecologist for women, and an orthopaedic specialist amongst many others are on the books here in Germany.
Arrange an introductory appointment with your chosen doctor upon arrival. It’s useful to become at ease with the system before an emergency or illness strikes.
Find out how to contact the doctor out of normal hours and, of course, memorise the telephone numbers for the emergency services.
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