Your passport to healthy living overseas: top tips before you travel

A successful relocation overseas can be fraught with difficulties. The potential pitfalls faced are many – particularly in terms of health and welfare. 

A variety of hurdles may have to be overcome, from full scale medical emergencies to the difficulties of adjusting to foreign cultures. Planning ahead is essential and precautions taken at an early stage could even save your life. 

Rachael Floyd, Willis Towers Watson's Operations Director and registered nurse, reveals how you can ensure that your relocation abroad is a success. 

  • Is health insurance mandatory? Medical treatment abroad can result in very expensive bills and so adequate cover is vital. When travelling overseas for more than six months, you should take out international health insurance – for some countries, particularly in the Middle East, it is mandatory. If you’re heading to Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi, for example, residency visas and work permits will only be granted if you dependent upon having appropriate health insurance. 
  • Business travel insurance is no substitute for International PMI. Business travel insurance will cover urgent medical treatment with the additional benefit of insuring personal possessions and including limited kidnap and ransom cover.  It is only suitable for short business trips however, with policies having a maximum number of days under which individuals can travel each year. As with the EHIC (the European Health Insurance Card) – which covers emergency healthcare treatment, because cover is restricted, it should not be viewed as a replacement for international PMI. 
  • Don’t rely on EHIC. In the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, the EHIC has a number of restrictions. It is not normally available if you are living in another country; it will only provide access to emergency, state-provided treatment and it doesn’t pay for emergency evacuation or repatriation. It can’t be viewed as a replacement for an international medical policy. 
  • One size doesn’t fit all: seek professional advice on health policies. Don’t assume all international policies are the same when arranging health insurance. The flexibility of cover benefits, for example, is a key consideration. Maternity cover, which accounts for around 15 per cent of a premium, will clearly be unnecessary if you’re a single male. Excluding the USA from a worldwide policy meanwhile can halve premium costs. Expert advice is advisable. 
  • Gen up on the claims process. You face wealth of financial considerations if you’re relocating overseas, from arranging money transfers to setting up local bank accounts. Among these should be an understanding of the medical insurance claims process. For out-patient treatment abroad, in most cases you will settle the bill and then claim the payment back from the medical insurer. Be sure to check what the insurers’ procedures are for outpatient claims – how long will it be before the claim is paid back by the insurer, for example, does the claim require preauthorisation and will it be paid directly into your account? If a claim is paid by cheque, this can take 6 to 8 weeks to process abroad and you should be mindful of this. 
  • Ensure that you are fit to travel. A pre-travel health check can go a long way to ensuring you remain fit and healthy while abroad. A report on your state of health will enable you to take control of your own wellbeing before picking up your passport. Underlying medical conditions can be identified and addressed before travelling, with treatment received from doctors in a familiar healthcare system without language barriers. A pre-travel screening can also highlight any recommended working adjustments and reduce the risk of a secondment being cut short due to illness. 
  • Prevention is better than cure. A variety of tropical diseases lie in wait for those travelling abroad, from Cholera and Diphtheria to Yellow Fever and Typhoid. Where required, vaccinations and anti-malarial drugs should be arranged, but remember that many vaccines take several weeks to become effective. Some countries in Asia require a mandatory International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever,. For more information on this and other such requirements, visit the WHO website. (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/yellowfev/en/)