Stay Healthy When You Travel

The Basics

Before you travel outside the United States, plan ahead to stay healthy and safe on your trip.

Answer these questions as you plan your trip:

  • Do I need any vaccines (shots) or medicines to prevent diseases?
  • Will the food and water be safe?
  • Can I bring my medicines with me?
  • Will I be able to get the medicines I need during my trip?
  • What happens if I get sick while I’m traveling?
  • Am I at risk for health problems during travel?

Do I need any vaccines (shots) or medicines to prevent diseases?
Different diseases are common in different parts of the world. Getting certain vaccines and medicines before traveling can protect you from local diseases. For example: 

  • Vaccines can protect you from diseases like hepatitis A. You can get hepatitis A from contaminated (unsafe) food or water. It’s common in many countries, including those in Central and South America.
  • Medicines can protect you from diseases like malaria. Malaria (“muh-LAIR-ee-yah”) is a disease spread by mosquitoes in some parts of the world, including parts of Africa, Asia, and South America.

To stay healthy and safe on your trip, do your homework on the place you’ll be visiting:

Will the food and water be safe?
In some countries, the tap water isn’t safe to drink – especially for people who aren’t used to it. Even if the tap water doesn’t affect the people who live there, it might have germs that could make you sick. These germs can cause diarrhea (frequent, watery poop) and other health problems.

In places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, you need to be careful about what you eat, too. Some foods, like fresh vegetables and fruits, may not be safe to eat because they are washed or cooked with unsafe water.

Get more information about food and water safety for travelers.

Will I be able to get the medicines I need?
It can be difficult to get medicines when you are traveling. You might not be allowed to bring some types of medicine in other countries — even if you can easily buy them in the United States.

It’s always a good idea to make a plan so you have any medicine you might need.

  • Make a list of the medicines you take or might need when you are traveling. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Look up the U.S embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting, and contact them to find out if your medicine is allowed in that country. Be sure to check any countries that you’ll travel through, too.
  • Pack enough for the whole trip plus some extra, in case you are away longer than you plan to be.
  • Bring copies of all your prescriptions, including the generic names for medicines.
  • Keep medicines in your carry-on bag in case the luggage you check gets lost.
  • Get more tips on traveling internationally with your medicines.

What happens if I get sick while I’m traveling?
It can be scary if you need medical help when you are far from home – especially if you don’t speak the local language. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are prepared.

Before you leave, make a list of the places you could go for help if you get sick. For example, the United States has offices – called embassies and consulates – in many parts of the world. Employees at U.S. embassies and consulates can help U.S. citizens in emergencies.

Am I at risk for health problems during travel?
Some people are more likely to have health problems when traveling outside the United States. Visit your doctor before planning a trip to another country, especially if you:

Depending on your situation, the doctor may recommend that you not travel right now.

Take Action!

Take these steps to stay healthy when you are traveling outside the United States.

Find out about local health problems and other risks.
Before you travel to another part of the world, make sure you know about any issues that could affect your health or safety. Take the time to learn this information even if you’ve been to that place before — there could be new issues that you don’t know about. Check for information about:

  • Common diseases (like malaria or hepatitis)
  • Disease outbreaks (like measles or the flu)
  • Food and water safety issues and updates
  • Warnings about natural disasters
  • Security concerns (like political unrest or other violence)
  • How to get medical care

For more detailed travel information, use this tool to get health and safety tips for specific countries.

See a doctor before your trip.
Make an appointment to see a doctor at least 4 to 6 weeks before you plan to leave. Say where you are going and what you’ll be doing there. Your doctor will let you know if there are any special steps for you to take.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Am I healthy enough to travel?
  • Am I up to date on my shots?
  • Do I need any other shots to prevent diseases?
  • Do I need to take any special medicines with me in case I get sick?

Take extra steps if you have a health condition.
Ask the doctor for a signed letter that:

  • Describes your health condition
  • Includes any information that could be helpful if you need treatment while you are away
  • Lists any prescription medicines you take, their generic names, and the dose (how much you take)

Ask for an extra supply of any medicines you need, in case your trip lasts longer than you expect.

Have a plan in case you get sick.
Before you leave, make a list of resources. Keep this information with you at all times while you are away.

Talk to your health insurance company before you leave.
Find out if your insurance will:

  • Cover you when you are outside of the country — most plans don’t!
  • Pay for emergencies like a trip to a hospital or a medical evacuation (if you need to be moved to another hospital or treatment center)

If your insurance won’t cover these things, find out about short-term insurance for travelers.

Know how to eat and drink safely while you are away.
Depending on where you are traveling, you may need to drink only bottled water. You also may need to be careful about what you eat. In places with water safety issues, don’t drink or eat the following:

  • Tap water
  • Fountain drinks (like soda from a machine)
  • Freshly squeezed juices
  • Ice cubes
  • Food from street vendors
  • Food served at room temperature
  • Food that is raw or uncooked – especially raw shellfish and foods that may be washed in tap water, like fresh fruits and vegetables

Things that are usually safe to eat and drink include:

  • Bottled drinks
  • Hot coffee or tea
  • Food that is cooked and served hot
  • Fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself
  • Dairy products that have been pasteurized (heated to kill harmful germs before you buy them)

Find out what you can do to make water safe to drink.

Protect yourself from bug bites.

Bug bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and some flies can put you at risk for diseases, especially in certain countries. For example, mosquitoes can spread malaria, dengue (“DEN-gee”), and Zika virus.

Here are some basic tips:

  • Ask your doctor if there are shots or medicines you can get to help protect you.
  • Use bug repellent on your skin and clothing.
  • Pack clothing that will protect you from mosquitoes and ticks. For example, you will want a hat, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts.

If you are pregnant, avoid traveling to areas with Zika. If you must travel, use these tips to protect yourself from Zika virus while pregnant.

Stay safe around animals.

Dogs in Central and South America are more likely to have rabies than dogs in the United States. You can get rabies from any infected animal (like a dog, monkey, or bat) if it bites or scratches you.

To stay safe around animals:

Be an aware traveler.

  • Learn about the local laws and customs (common behaviors) where you’ll be traveling. Remember, you’ll need to follow the laws of the country you are visiting. You can make safer decisions when you know which behaviors are okay and which ones might upset people.
  • Keep your luggage in sight at all times. Also make sure not to take any packages from people you don’t know.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you. When you take money out to pay for something, try not to let people see what’s in your wallet.
  • Store any valuables and important documents (like your passport) at the hotel. Never carry them with you while you are out.
  • Write down how to say a few key phrases in the local language in case of an emergency, like “I need help” or “I need a doctor.”
  • Find out about ways to stay in contact by phone. In some areas, you may need to buy a local cell phone or use a pre-paid calling card.

Get more tips for staying safe on your trip. Syndicated Content Details:
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