There’s a lot to think about when you’re planning a trip: where to go, where to stay, and what to pack. What you may be forgetting, though, is your health. Did you get the necessary immunizations? Do you have enough prescription medications to last you the entire length of your stay? Did you buy travel health insurance? These questions and others should be an essential part of the planning process.
Here are a few health issues to consider when you are planning your trip abroad.
Health care coverage abroad
Your provincial health plan offers limited health coverage while you are out of your home province, so you will need to check the details of your province’s health plan to find out exactly how you are covered. As a general rule, provincial plans cover you only for medically necessary services, which include health care provided in hospitals and care provided by medical doctors. You will likely be covered for the amount that they would pay a doctor or a hospital in Canada, which is often much less than the actual cost of medical services in different parts of the world. It is always advisable to carry supplementary travel insurance when you leave your province, and especially when you leave the country, even if only for a short time. This additional insurance can help you avoid a huge health service bill that you would have to pay out of pocket.
Here are a few questions to ask about your provincial plan:
- How long can I stay away and still be covered? (Each provincial plan has a limit.)
- What kinds of services are covered?
- Whose services will my province cover? (Usually, only expenses from recognized hospitals and doctors are reimbursed.)
- What documentation will I have to show in order to have my expenses reimbursed?
- How will my medical expenses be covered until reimbursement? (The foreign doctor or hospital will probably expect to be paid on the spot. Private insurance plans may provide cash advances to cover these charges; provincial plans do not.)
- How much time do I have to claim my expenses?
Private travel insurance
Travel insurance can help cover emergency medical expenses while you are out of the country. You can buy travel insurance online, through your travel agent, or from an insurance broker. You may already have travel insurance through your employee health plan or through a credit card provider. Check with your credit card company or human resources department to get details on the coverage.
Remember that all travel insurance comes with exclusions that tell you which medical expenses won’t be covered. Here are some typical exclusions:
- Expenses related to an illness you already had prior to leaving for your trip (pre-existing condition)
- Injuries from a terrorist attack or act of war
- Illness or injury related to a specific area or risk (e.g., disease outbreak, crime, or unrest) for which Global Affairs Canada has issued a travel advisory
- Injuries incurred while participating in dangerous sports, unless you have purchased a special non-professional “sports rider”
You may want to make sure these features are included in your travel insurance:
- A 24-hour emergency hotline
- Immediate reimbursement of the foreign provider, rather than your having to pay first and submit expenses later
- Medical evacuation back to Canada, if necessary
- Multilingual agents who can communicate with medical staff at your destination
- Return of your remains should you pass away while abroad
When buying travel health insurance, be honest about your medical conditions. You may be tempted to gloss over your heart condition or diabetes to get a better rate, but if you have an expensive claim, your insurance company will check your medical history. If the company discovers you have an undisclosed pre-existing condition, they can deny your claim.
Depending on where you are going, you may be required to get certain vaccinations. Some diseases are more common in specific parts of the world, so you may want to be vaccinated against them before visiting. A travel health clinic can provide you with these vaccines, but you may have to pay for them. Read this article to learn more about immunizations and preparing yourself for healthy travels.
Here are a few suggestions to help keep you healthy while you travel:
- Pack enough prescription medication for your whole trip, or even a little extra in case you decide to extend your stay.
- Leave your medications in their original packaging with clear labels in case you need assistance taking them while you are away or visit a doctor who needs to know what prescriptions you take.
- Keep a full extra supply of your medication at home or with a family member or friend, in case you lose your luggage and need a backup supply of medication shipped to you.
- If you have a serious medical condition, research the local hospitals and medical centres in the places you intend to stay so you know where to go if you have an emergency.
- Put together a medical kit that contains medications you may need where you are going. These could include antipyretic medications (fever reduction), anti-inflammatories, analgesics (pain reducers), antihistamines (allergy treatment), and anti-diarrhea medications.
- Talk to your doctor at least four weeks before your trip to ensure you have the proper immunizations, an adequate supply of prescription medication, and, most importantly, a clean bill of health.
Remember—keeping your health in mind doesn’t stop when you reach your destination. There are numerous steps you can take to ensure you stay healthy during your vacation and enjoy your trip!
- Drink only purified water (i.e., water that has been adequately filtered, boiled, or treated with a disinfectant, or water that is sold in a sealed container). This measure is particularly important in tropical countries. Do not consume tap water (not even to brush your teeth), ice, reheated food, or raw food such as salads, vegetables, seafood, or fish.
- Wash your hands before eating (but avoid wiping your hands on a public towel).
- Consume properly and recently prepared dishes, and stick to pasteurized dairy products.
- Peel vegetables and fruit.
- Avoid walking barefoot to prevent injuries or bites by venomous animals or even an infection by parasites that can travel through the skin.
- Avoid all direct skin contact with the ground (use lounge chairs to tan).
- Refrain from bathing in freshwater or walking in mud and puddles of water.
- Avoid activities in very hot climates during the strongest hours of sun (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) as much as possible and wear protective sunglasses, a hat, and long-sleeved clothes. Stay well hydrated by drinking regularly. Bringing a bottle with you wherever you go is a good idea.
Do not neglect any follow-up care needed once you have returned from your trip. For instance, if you have returned from a country where malaria is prevalent, the prescribed treatment must be followed until it is finished. Be sure to have clear instructions from your doctor about any precautions needed upon your return.
- Global Affairs Canada: Travel reports and warnings
- Health Canada: Medicare
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Vaccines for travel
For more travel health information, click here.