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Before your trip, look
at the potential health risks for the country you’re
going to. These will vary depending on what parts
of the country you’ll be going to, the time
of year, and what kind of accommodation you’ll
be staying in.
Your doctor can give you advice and arrange any immunisations and anti-malaria medication you need, or you can go to a specialist travel clinic. Either way, try to go at least two months before your trip – you might not be able to get all the immunisations you need in one go, and some take a while to become fully effective.
You may also need to start taking anti-malaria medication before you leave. If you’re leaving in less than two months, it’s still worth getting some medical advice: some protection is better than none. Tell the doctor or nurse where you’re going, if you’re pregnant (or thinking about getting pregnant) and whether you’re taking children with you. You can get some anti-malaria medication from pharmacies without a prescription, so ask the doctor or nurse about the cheapest way to get what you need.
You can also get information about health risks from the embassy or high commission of the country you’re going to, or online from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (Nathnac) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice (opens new window)
National Travel Health Network and Centre (opens new window)Immunisations
Make sure you’ve
got all the immunisations you need for the country
you’re going to by checking the NHS immunisation
website or asking your GP. If you haven’t had
diphtheria, polio or tetanus vaccines before, this
is an ideal opportunity to get them. Even if you have
had them before, you might need a booster dose. Some
immunisations are available free for travellers under
There may be a charge for other immunisations. Doctors can also charge you for signing or filling in a certificate.NHS immunisation information (opens new window)Contraception
Make sure you have access to your preferred method of contraception while travelling. Talk to your GP or local contraceptive service before you go.
If you’re taking
prescription medicines, ask your doctor whether you’ll
be able to get them while you’re away. If you
can’t, and the doctor can’t prescribe
enough for your whole trip, you’ll have to pay
for the medicines yourself at a pharmacy.
You’ll also need to find out if there are any restrictions on taking your medicines in and out of the UK or the country you are visiting – some medicines available over the counter in the UK may be controlled in other countries, and vice versa. Ask the relevant embassy or high commission, contact the Home Office Drugs Branch on 020 7035 0472 or check the Home Office website.
You might need a letter from your doctor or a personal health record card giving details about the medicine. Always carry medicines in a correctly labelled container. If you’re given any medicines while you’re away, try to find out if it’s legal to bring them back into the UK. If you’re in any doubt, declare them at Customs when you come back.Home Office drugs information (opens new window)Existing medical conditions
Take a written record of any medical conditions you have, such as angina pectoris, diabetes and haemophilia, and the proper names – not just the trade names – of any medication you are taking. Keep the record with you.
Don’t forget the dentist
If you think your teeth might need some attention, or it’s been a while since you’ve had a check-up, try to go to the dentist before your trip (especially if you’re going to be away for a long time). It can be difficult and expensive to get dental treatment when you’re away.
First-aid and travel
A basic first-aid kit,
with some plasters, insect repellent, antiseptic cream
and water sterilisation tablets, won’t take
up much space and could be extremely useful. Depending
on where you’re going, you might also want to
take an emergency medical travel kit with you. You
can buy them in lots of places, including pharmacies
and specialist travel clinics. The kits contain sterilised
medical equipment, such as syringes, needles and suture
materials. Ask the doctor or nurse to use them if
you need treatment but are worried about hygiene.
If you are going to a remote area, you could also think about taking an intravenous giving set and blood substitute solution. Ask your doctor for advice. Emergency medical travel kits should be clearly identified, otherwise you might have trouble getting them through Customs. Don’t carry loose syringes or needles without a letter from your doctor to explain what they’re for.
Reducing the risk of DVT
Deep vein thrombosis, or
DVT, is the formation of a blood clot in one of the
body’s deep veins (usually in the leg). DVT
is rare, but sitting still for long periods of time
in a plane, train or car can increase the risk. Do
some simple exercises – rotate your ankles and
wiggle your toes – and get up and walk around
if you can. Stay hydrated with regular non-alcoholic
If you have ever had DVT or clots in your lungs, have a family history of clotting conditions, have had major surgery (especially a hip or knee replacement) in the last three months, suffer from heart disease, cancer or have ever had a stroke, you may be at increased risk. Ask your doctor for advice.
Making sure you’ve
got adequate health insurance is essential. Even if
you are going to a country that has a reciprocal healthcare
agreement with the UK, you may still need to pay for
medical treatment. None of the healthcare agreements
cover the cost of bringing a person back to the UK
in the event of illness or death. You must always
tell your insurer if you have a pre-existing condition.
Otherwise, you may not be covered.
Many companies offer health insurance for travellers. You can often buy policies online and prices are very competitive. But it is always worth checking with your travel agent, insurance company or bank to see if the level of cover being offered is adequate. If you are travelling on business, your company will probably already have insurance that covers you – but again, you should check to see whether it is adequate and whether you need to take out extra insurance. Some credit and charge card companies provide some insurance cover for cardholders. If you have this, check carefully to see what’s covered and what isn’t.
Before you leave, check the small print. If you have any doubts or concerns about what’s covered by your policy, contact the insurer direct.
Is it safe to go?
Some countries – and some areas within countries – are not safe to visit. For up-to-date information and guidance, call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice line on 0845 850 2829 or check their website. Your insurance policy may not cover you for travel to dangerous areas.Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice (opens new window)Benefits, pensions and sick pay
If you get ill while working
temporarily in another European Economic Area (EEA)
country or Switzerland for your UK employer, your
employer will generally pay you statutory sick pay
(SSP) for the first 28 weeks of illness but will not
cover the cost of medical treatment. Let your employer
know about your illness as quickly as you can.
If you’re self-employed, or you cannot get SSP for any reason, you should claim incapacity benefit as soon as possible. Contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency. It’s a good idea to take the contact details with you when you go away.
If you’re getting a UK state pension, you must tell your local social security office if you’re going abroad for more than six months at a time.
If you get any other cash benefit, you should let the DWP office that pays your benefits know that you’re going abroad well in advance. Some benefits can be paid while you are away.