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How to stay alive abroad

Monday September 25, 2006

There's so much to consider before jetting off to live in another country. But whether you've made a flaming success of the adventure or the world comes tumbling down around you, the one thing you need to bank on is your health. Read on for a specially crafted list of things to think of before you go.


? Organise your vaccinations

? Research the symptoms of any tropical diseases endemic to the region you?re going to, and their preventions.

? Get to know the generic names of your medicines, so that you can recognise them and communicate them to a doctor no matter how little English anyone speaks.

? Get travel and/or health cover, and apply for an EHIC card*, or its equivalent, which makes you eligible for healthcare abroad under the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement.

? Make sure you can organise enough medication for a) the trip, and b) the time it takes you to set up an arrangement with your new doctor. If you have any doctor?s letters relating to your condition, take those too.

? Try to find out in advance a good contact number in the country you?re moving to ? perhaps an office phone or the number of an acquaintance, or estate agent. Preferably someone with a fax machine, so that your doctor or insurance provider can quickly relay information to where you?ll be, should you need it.

? Make sure you have all your paperwork together at the outset. It pays to be organised. Passport number, proof of ID (something with your address on it, like a driving license or NHS card), vaccination certificates and insurance papers.

? Note down the names and addresses of

1. friends and relatives who should be contacted in an emergency
2. your current doctor
3. your insurance company reference code and hotline number
4. your embassy in the country you?re moving to

Most government websites have information on embassies and consular offices worldwide, as well as up-to-date, country-specific travel advice. For Britons abroad, try the Foreign & Commonwealth Office at www.fco.gov.uk, or telephone 0044 (0) 207 008 0210. Or try the Department of Health at www.dh.gov.uk, telephone 0044 (0) 207 210 4850. American citizens should look at www.state.gov, or telephone (001) 202 647 5225. For Australians, it?s www.australia.gov.au, and South Africans: www.services.gov.za

EHIC and International Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

The EHIC entitles Britons to reduced-cost ? sometimes entirely subsidised ? medical treatment while they?re abroad. It is valid for three to five years and provides cover for the sort of healthcare generally available to the residents of that country. This won?t necessarily mean the same standard of care as was available at home. It?s important to know that these agreements are only valid for medical treatment that becomes necessary while abroad. People who are relocating specifically to be treated may run into trouble.

Some countries haven?t entered into a reciprocal agreement with Britain and don?t offer the service, so it?s important to know how things stand before leaving. As a rough guide, countries that will treat British citizens are those within the European Economic Area and Switzerland. Australia has a similar agreement, but with only some countries. Wherever you?re travelling from, however, check with the national authority in advance for updates.

Travellers with disabilities

1. Call airports and airlines well ahead of time to find out about services. Is an onboard wheelchair provided? Keep an eye on the policies of low-cost airlines, as many will need at least 48 hours notice to arrange assistance.

2. Notify them about your needs, preferably at the same time as you book the ticket. Do you need a seat with a moveable armrest, or space to store your crutches, special food, or someone to escort you? Advise the airline of any of the following:

1. Wheelchairs
2. Overweight and obesity
3. Broken limbs
4. Artificial limbs
5. Visual or hearing impairment
6. Hypodermic needles
7. Diabetes
8. Pregnancy
9. Chronic lung diseases
10. Infectious diseases
11. Asthma
12. Peanut allergy
13. Pacemaker
14. Service dog

3. Book direct flights where possible and when making bookings allow plenty of time for any necessary transfers between planes or other forms of transport.

4. Contact an embassy or local tourist authority to find out if the public transport system accommodates your disability.

5. Find out from anywhere you might be staying if they?re equipped to make you comfortable.

6. Get in touch with the relevant embassies to check rules and regulations about your aids ? whether it be a wheel chair, medication or a guide dog. Dogs require a health certificate and proof of vaccination, and in some countries, such as Britain, they will need to be registered well in advance.

7. If any of your aids need electric current, check the voltage used in the country you are visiting. Also check what adaptors are needed . . . the plug configuration can change.


For more information and comment on travelling with disabilities, go to the Guardian Travel here

Inspired? If this strikes a chord with you, why don't you share your experiences with other Guardian Abroad readers? Visit our talkboards and spark up a conversation. Or if you're interested in submitting an article, look at our editorial policy to find out how.

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