What to Do If You Are Ill or Injured while Travelling Abroad

Travelling abroad can be a thrilling experience, filled with new people, unique foods, and beautiful sights. But if you find yourself facing a medical emergency in an unfamiliar area, the experience can become overwhelming or downright scary! Still, there’s no need to cancel your trip for fear of falling ill. Keep reading to learn what to do if the unexpected occurs, and find various resources should you need the extra help.


Before you leave for your trip

In addition to getting your vaccinations and purchasing the right travel insurance, you should always check to see if any travel health notices exist for your destination country. These notices are provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and are updated regularly. You should also check if there are any travel reports or warnings for the area you will be travelling to.

You may also want to consider registering for the Canadians Abroad service. The Canadian government will contact you and may provide assistance if there is an emergency while you are abroad, or even a family emergency back home. Visit the Global Affairs Canada website for more information about this service or to register.


What to do in a medical emergency

If you are ill or injured while travelling, the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests that you first try to get help through local health care resources. A few important notes to keep in mind:

  • Your hotel may offer in-house physician services or might be able to arrange an appointment with a local physician.
  • For urgent care, always go to the nearest hospital.
  • If you have purchased travel insurance, contact your insurer as soon as you are medically able. Most insurance policies include 24/7 emergency assistance services that can locate care, arrange payment, and notify family on your behalf. In most cases, your policy may require that you notify your insurer as soon as possible (usually within the first 24–48 hours of seeking medical care). It’s a good idea to contact your insurer to find out their specific requirements before your trip.

Related: How can travel medical insurance help in the event of disaster abroad?


Who to contact for assistance

The Canadian Government has offices in more than 150 countries. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, these offices can provide you with numerous services, including:

  • Supplying names of local doctors and health facilities
  • Visiting you in the hospital and providing basic translation services
  • Arranging for medical evacuation if your required treatment is not available in the region (costs for this service will not be covered by the government, but may be covered by travel insurance)

You can find country-specific contact information for the Canadian Consular Office in the Directory of Canadian Government Offices Abroad. Alternatively, you can contact the Emergency Operations Centre in Ottawa.

For an overview of the consular services that are available to you, consult the informational booklet for Canadian travellers provided by Global Affairs Canada. You may also want to read the Government of Canada’s guide to healthy travel abroad.

Your travel insurance policy likely includes a 24/7 emergency assistance service to help you locate care and coordinate payment. It is important to understand that many travel insurance policies may limit your benefits if you do not contact the emergency assistance service immediately upon or shortly after seeking medical care. Contact your insurer to find out your policy details, and make sure to follow the necessary steps if you need health care during your travels.

Before you leave on vacation, it is always a good idea to make sure you have everything you need in case of a medical emergency while abroad. The government resources mentioned in this article can answer many of your pre-departure health questions. Also, be sure to get caught up on all necessary vaccinations and find out about what types of coverage your private insurer provides, including their notification procedure in the event of an emergency.


Key Websites

For more travel health information, click here.

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