Whether it’s a Gap Year, a few weeks or months away, or as part of a placement at university, travelling abroad is often seen as a rite of passage. Once you’ve got the boat trips, trains and flights worked out, there’s the little issues of all The Boring Stuff (TBS). If you can give yourself anything, give yourself lots of time and patience for TBS as having a rare condition can mean everything takes just that little bit longer to sort out.
This can pretty laborious and time-consuming to sort out, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be super-expensive. Plug details of your condition into an online comparison website however, and you’ll make the meerkat’s head explode. You are likely to be greeted with quotes bigger than a student loan. Do not freak out at this point! Most insurance brokers hike their prices up because, a) they won’t have heard of your condition and, b) they are working on a ‘worst case scenario’ (i.e. an emergency Whipple Procedure involving 3 weeks in intensive care in Vietnam and air ambulance repatriation via private jet)
Ring around the specialist medical insurance brokers, and explain your condition to a senior underwriter. Unless you have something like diabetes or adrenal insufficiency, you could ask for cover that excludes certain condition-specific eventualities. Some insurers will ask for a brief confirmatory letter from your hospital about your condition. You may need to pay for this letter.
Excluding cover for your condition altogether is likely to bring the cost down, but obviously you need to weigh up carefully the relative risks involved in this. It can feel tempting to go without the cover you really need – especially when you find yourself thinking you’d much rather spend the money on that expensive white -water rafting adventure than travel insurance! Just bear in mind that if you DO need health cover abroad for something even distantly related to your condition, you won’t be covered if it’s been excluded.
This might be a good time to chat things through with someone who’s ‘been there and done that’ – like a parent or guardian.
A Medical ID bracelet or necklace (www.medicalert.org.uk) is advisable. They’re robust jewellery that can be custom engraved with any important ‘need to know’ information in an emergency. Paramedics are trained to look out for them internationally. If you’re cortisol or insulin deficient, we’d strongly recommend one. If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself unconscious and needing urgent medical assistance, this tiny piece of metal could be the difference between getting what you need, or being bumped down the priority list. It probably won’t match with the shark-tooth necklace you buy at the Full Moon Party in Thailand, but it might save your life.
Travelling with Medicines
Ideally, keep your medicines with you in your hand luggage. This should make sure that they don’t end up in the U.S, and you in Ibiza.
A letter from a health professional explaining what medication you have with you, and why (especially if you carry injectables) is very useful. Not all airport staff know the rules around medicines. This letter will have to be signed and dated on headed paper (which a GP may charge you for) so build that into your budget. You won’t get away with forging a note in the check-in queue on the back of a Wetherspoon’s beer mat, unfortunately.
Also, check your destination country. Even if you’ve successfully exited the UK (needles and all) that doesn’t mean the country you’re visiting will welcome you with open arms. Some countries such as Japan and UAE for example, are very strict when it comes to carrying medicines. If in doubt, always visit a country’s embassy websites for advice. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what you are, and aren’t allowed, to take in and out of their country with you.
You might also want to read our pages on ‘university life’ for general advice on sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. That’s if you can fit them in after all those Museums and Galleries that is!. Remember too that some countries have very different or stricter laws around these than in the UK.
…or, ‘how not to get lost in translation!’
It can be reassuring to carry a brief written account of your condition in the first or second language of the country you are visiting. Because your condition is rare, not everyone will have heard of it, or know what to take into account when treating you. This document can be given to health care professionals abroad in an emergency if you are taken ill suddenly or are in an accident. This might include:
- A brief summary of your particular condition (and perhaps a web link to further general information)
- Emergency protocols for adrenal insufficiency or diabetes
- A list of your usual medicines and doses
- Contact details of your UK hospital team or specialist nurse for advice and liaison (including for any ‘Duty’ doctors /24 hour hospital switchboards) including the international telephone code
Schools and universities may also find a copy of this document helpful if you are travelling abroad as part of an exchange trip or placement, and for any trip leaders – or friends – to also have a copy. If you need one, always use a translation company that specialises in medical translations. There are many available online.
Having a paper copy (and mobile image) of your passport can also be very helpful in case yours is stolen or lost while you are away. This will make it much easier and quicker to get it replaced when visiting the UK embassy wherever you are. It may also help you to access replacement medicines if they are stolen or you have simply run out.
Keeping in Touch
Believe it or not, it’s actually possible to get emergency advice from the UK even in the middle of a jungle if you can get signal! It’s worth putting the emergency / duty numbers of your hospital doctor or nurse specialist into your phone before you go, just in case. You could also consider using an app like Life360 so that Mum, Auntie Pauline and your best mates can also see where you were at 3am that morning……….:-)
Getting all TBS (the Boring Stuff) sorted before you go means you are free to get on with the main event – having a great time away!