Healthcare When Traveling Abroad

Many international travelers may be surprised to learn that they have no health insurance coverage for illnesses or injuries that must be treated during their trip abroad. In particular, the U.S. Social Security Medicare program does not provide any coverage for hospital or medical costs incurred outside of the United States. Individual health insurance policies vary in the amount, if any, of the costs they will reimburse for medical services in other countries.

Why should travelers see a physician before they leave on a trip?

Travelers should see a physician before leaving for a trip if

  • they are going to developing countries,
  • they are visiting sites that are not on the usual tourist routes or traveling to high altitudes,
  • they have chronic diseases that could be affected by travel,
  • they are visiting countries that require vaccinations before they allow travelers to enter the country.

The goal of a pre-travel medical evaluation is to help travelers protect themselves against (1) common diseases that may be mild but that will disrupt their trip and (2) less common diseases that may be serious or even fatal. All travelers need to be up to date on routine vaccines they would normally get if they were not traveling. For example, an annual influenza vaccination (flu shot) is recommended if traveling during influenza season. Travelers should also be up to date on tetanus vaccines. If a tetanus booster is needed,
a physician may elect to use the Tdap vaccine that also provides continuing protect against adult pertussis. No immunizations are required for re-entry into the United States after travel. Some countries require you to provide an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis prior to allowing border entry from certain countries, even if you are only stopping there to change planes, whether you are traveling to your destination or coming home.

What diseases occur in travelers, and how can disease be prevented?

Travelers can pick up infectious diseases from contaminated food or water, from insect bites, animal bites, or from other people. Immunizations, medications, and simple precautions can reduce or eliminate the risk of many of these travel-related infections. While infectious disease is the most common concern for travelers, it is important to remember that the most common cause of death in travelers is motor-vehicle accidents. Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street, review traffic laws (especially in countries where people drive on the opposite side of the road), don’t get in a car with a driver who is drunk, and use seat belts and infant/child car seats if available both at home and when traveling.

This review will cover infectious diseases commonly encountered by travelers or those for which vaccinations are recommended. For a more complete discussion of what may be need for travel to specific destinations and specific situations, please refer to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Traveler’s Health web site (

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/26/2016

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