Your health is one of your most precious gifts -- and the quality of it can make or break your experience abroad. Safeguarding your health is your responsibility. We urge you to take it seriously. Check out the following links to learn more about these important points regarding health issues while abroad!
Researching Potential Health Problems
Before leaving, inform yourself of any current or potential health problems in your host country and other countries you will visit and learn about general travel health issues. Your program should provide you with information on specific local conditions and health considerations. If they do not, or if you would like additional information on health conditions in various countries, check out the following web sites:
Personal Health Evaluation
Check with your program to see what health exams, tests, shots, etc. are required for participation in your program. If you are required to obtain a visa, there may be a medical evaluation component as part of the visa requirements. We recommend that you try to complete all health requirements for both your program and visa at the same visit to the doctor. Even if a health evaluation is not required, we recommend that you have one prior to departure. As part of this evaluation you should consult your physician or Student Health Service concerning any inoculations (such as those for cholera, hepatitis, tetanus, typhus and/or other tropical diseases) or preventative measures (such as those for malaria) that are required or recommended for your host country or any other countries you may visit.
When you go for your health evaluation take any records of previous immunizations you have had with you. We recommend that all shots should be recorded on the yellow International Certificate of Vaccination card, which is approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). You can get the WHO card from your Student Health Service or County Health Department. Take it with you when you travel abroad and use it to record any further inoculations you have. Under the International Health Regulations adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO), a country, under certain conditions, may require International Certificates of Vaccination against cholera and yellow fever from international travelers. Even though host governments may not require inoculation records for entry purposes, take the WHO card with you for possible use while traveling outside the host country, particularly in developing countries. It could prevent hassles and dangerous re-inoculations later.
We also recommend that you have a dental examination prior to departure. Any
potential dental problems should be dealt with now rather than waiting for a
flare-up abroad. Dentistry varies from country to country and preventative measures taken now may save you great pain later.
Every program differs with regard to health insurance coverage. Some programs will offer coverage, others will not. Contact your program for details about your insurance coverage while abroad.
If your program provides health insurance, make certain that you understand the level of coverage you will have, dates of coverage, and whether or not you will need to pay for health care services in advance and then be reimbursed later.
Also, be sure that you are complying with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before, during & after your time abroad. Most travel insurance is not ACA compliant.
- If you determine that you need to independently purchase travel insurance:
- You may also want to consider purchasing an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which not only guarantees international recognition of your student status, but also provides you with basic insurance coverage. To find out more or purchase an ISIC card, contact STA Travel via their dedicated line for UC Students at 1.800.535.7172 or e-mail them at email@example.com.
- If you determine that you need to independently purchase ACA compliant insurance that will cover you in the U.S. before, during & after your time abroad, see Healthcare.gov or Covered California.
Medical Emergencies & Evacuation insurance
Emergencies happen - especially when we least expect them. The US State Department's Medical Information for Americans
Traveling Abroad contains lots of helpful information regarding medical
emergencies while abroad. This page also contains a list of companies that provide
medical evacuation services. All students are strongly urged to purchase medical
evacuation insurance. As mentioned in the health insurance section, the ISIC card provides some coverage for emergency evacuation.
If you have any medical or psychological condition that may require attention from a physician or psychiatrist while you abroad, you should inform your program. Because some conditions may be exacerbated or reactivated by the experience of living in a new country and culture, you may want to report earlier conditions for which you have successfully been treated. If you have any doubts about these matters, please check with your personal physician and/or psychiatrist and discuss them with the program coordinators in the USA and abroad. This sort of information is considered confidential and should be treated as such.
If you are a student with a disability, you can find helpful information about and resources for living abroad on the Mobility International USA home page.
If you have a medical condition that is not easily identifiable, you may want
to consider purchasing a Medic Alert Identification
tag. The international recognized symbol will allow medical professionals in
your host country and abroad to find out
your medical condition by contacting Medic Alert's 24-hour hotline. For more
information, contact Medic Alert at 1-800-344-3226.
Packing and planning for good health
If you take any medication or vitamins regularly, take an adequate supply to last for your entire stay abroad and some extra, in case an emergency delays your return home. If you are taking medicine that is perishable, check with your physician to find out the best way to re-order your medication. Be sure to label all medication and keep it in containers which clearly show the prescription number on the label. This not only makes it easier for you to enter and exit countries, it also allows you the option of re-ordering medication from your doctor at home or a physician in your host country. In some cases, a host country physician may not fill the prescription provided by a US doctor without doing an examination and confirming the diagnosis of your condition. If you take insulin, allergy, or other shots regularly, take along a good supply of the syringes you need. Syringes (especially the appropriate sizes) are not always available abroad.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, take an extra pair with you. You may also want to consider bringing a copy of your prescription from your doctor in the event that you have to get a pair quickly. For contact lens wearers, rest your eyes by relying more heavily on your glasses. Your eyes may adjust to your new environment slower than the rest of you. This is doubly true if you are in an area renowned for its air pollution; i.e. most big cities. Try to get some sound advice from someone you can trust about whether to bring extra contact lens solution/cleaner. You may pay much more abroad for virtually the same product you use at home. Also be aware that foreign electrical currents sometimes have fluctuations that could make your 110v electric contact cleaner ineffectual or even dangerous. Not cleaning or under cleaning your contact lenses is not recommended and could result in serious eye injury.
Gastrointestinal disorders, sore throats, and colds often occur more frequently in a foreign country than at home, particularly soon after your arrival. This is a result of the change in climate, environment, diet, water, and personal habits. Some travelers have found it particularly helpful to eat one container of natural yogurt per day everyday for 30 days before you leave. The acidophilus bacteria culture in yogurt is very similar to the bacteria that is often found in most food products made outside the USA.
In some cases, over-the-counter medicines that treat digestive disorders and
common colds may not be available abroad. For this reason we recommend that
you bring a first aid kit customized to your needs. Ready-to-go
and affordable First Aid Kits are available from places like Recreational
Equipment, Inc. (REI) or Travel Medicine,
Host Country Medical Services
Information on local health services and medical care should be provided to
you by your program, either before or after your arrival in the host country.
If you are not advised by your program, you may want to consider researching the topic on your own or contacting a returnee of the program.
Staying Healthy while abroad
The most common health problem awaits you upon arrival at your destination -- Jet Lag! Upon your arrival and throughout the first few days or weeks of your program, try not to overdo it . You will be going through a process of change, both of physical environment and of mental or emotional adjustment. Allow yourself to acclimatize to your new environment. Obviously, the best way to deal with all health concerns while abroad is NOT to get sick! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Exercise self control when getting to know the night life of your new host country.
Alcohol will both dehydrate you and impair your judgment, a potentially dangerous
combination when you are getting use to a new place. Eat reasonably. Drink plenty of water, more than you think you need. You may want to start out with bottled
water, until you get an idea of whether tap water is safe. Give yourself time
to do all the things you want to accomplish. Listen to your body. Sleep if you
are feeling tired. The adjustment you will go through
is both emotionally and physically exhausting.
Hiv & Aids
AIDS has been reported in over 125 nations, and the disease is thought to be even more widespread. The risk to you while abroad is determined less by geographic location than by your individual behavior. You must take precautions to avoid contracting the disease by avoiding certain behavior that spreads it, such as intravenous drug use and unprotected sexual intercourse.
AIDS is a fatal condition that results from infection by the Human Immune deficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected individual when semen, blood, or vaginal fluids are exchanged; through contaminated needles or blood, including materials used in blood transfusions or skin piercing; and through birth from an infected mother. Some infected individuals have no symptoms for ten years or more. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and there is no cure for AIDS. At the present time, it is believed that HIV is not transmitted through casual contacts; air, food, or water routes; contact with inanimate objects; or through mosquitoes or other insects that draw blood.
To learn more, you should read: The US Center for Disease Control's:
The Body: A Multimedia AIDS and HIV Information Resource
The symptoms of AIDS are the same as symptoms of a number of other diseases. As with any disease, if you suspect that you are ill, seek immediate medical attention. If you know you are HIV positive, you should talk to your physician before traveling abroad. It might also be a wise idea to alert your program of your condition, since your host country may have laws and policies regarding HIV+ individuals that could affect you. Health information is considered confidential.
The only ways to ensure that you do not acquire the HIV virus and AIDS through sexual contact are a) sexual abstinence or b) a completely monogamous sexual relationship with a faithful and uninfected partner - after you have both gone through appropriate testing to determine that neither of you are carrying the virus. You can also take precautions to avoid contracting the HIV virus by the following:
- Don't use alcohol or drugs. The link between intravenous drug use and AIDS has been well documented, but recreational drug and alcohol use can impair judgment and increase the possibility of high risk sexual behavior. Drug and alcohol use can cause suppression of the immune system in healthy or infected persons.
- Abstain from sexual activity entirely (100% effective). Avoid contact and/or exchange of semen, blood, or vaginal fluids by any means with anyone -- no exceptions! Any vaginal, anal or oral sex can spread the HIV virus. If you simply must have sexual intercourse, use a condom every time, from start to finish. However, latex condoms may decrease transmission of HIV, but are not a 100% guarantee. Water-based lubricants and jellies containing a spermicide, used with condoms, may provide additional protection, but (again) are no guarantee. You should never use lubricants/jellies that are not water-based, since any other type may literally "eat through" latex condoms, thus reducing their effectiveness against STDs and pregnancy. Both men and women should carry their own condoms. You may have trouble finding reliable brands of condoms abroad, and some countries may not even sell condoms.
- Don't use or allow the use of contaminated, unsterilized syringes, or needles for any purpose (drugs, tattooing, acupuncture, ear or body piercing, medical or dental procedures). Be forewarned that in some countries even disposable equipment may be reused. If an injection is required make sure the needles and syringes come straight from a sealed, sterilized package or have been sterilized with chemicals or boiled for 20 minutes. If in doubt, you can ask how the equipment has been sterilized. In some countries you can buy needles and syringes and take them to the hospital for your own use. If you are diabetic or require routine injections, carry a supply of syringes and needles sufficient for your entire stay abroad.
- Don't use blood, blood components, or locally produced blood clotting factor concentrates and other blood products. Not all countries have mandatory HIV screening of donated blood. It may be difficult to ascertain the availability of HIV-screened blood and blood products. You can inquire at the local USA Embassy, USA Consulate or International Red Cross/Red Crescent office about safe sources of blood. If you are injured and need a blood transfusion, the blood should be tested for HIV antibodies by trained laboratory technicians. Do not assume that blood you will receive has been screened. If you are injured or become ill while abroad, delay any voluntary or other procedures that may lead to the need of a blood transfusion unless it is absolutely necessary.
For additional information about AIDS, contact the CDC National AIDS Hotline
(English: 1-800-342-AIDS; Spanish: 1-800- 344-7432);
the CDC National AIDS Clearinghouse (1-800-458-5231); or the World Health Organization
Medical review upon return
Doctors and Student Health Services strongly recommend that you have a medical review when you return home, especially for students returning from developing countries.