Traveling abroad opens up a world of adventure, new experiences, and unforgettable memories. But even the most carefully planned trips can be disrupted by unexpected events, and a medical emergency is one of the most challenging situations you might face. When you’re far from home and familiar resources, an unforeseen health crisis can quickly spiral into a logistical, emotional, and financial nightmare.

Travelers often overlook the possibility of medical emergencies until they are confronted with them, leading to costly delays, inadequate care, and unforeseen expenses. To avoid these complications, it is crucial to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively manage such situations. This article emphasizes the significance of preparedness for medical emergencies while traveling abroad, offering practical international travel tips and actionable advice to safeguard your health, finances, and overall travel experience.

Steps to Take Before Traveling and During Your Trip

Let me give you a little bit of backstory on how I developed these tips. During the summer of 2022, my family embarked on a highly anticipated trip to Mexico to celebrate my parents’ retirement. We were looking forward to relaxing and spending quality time together on the beach. However, our dream vacation took an unexpected turn when my mother experienced an ischemic stroke on the fourth day of our trip.

I am relieved to inform you that my mother is now doing well. However, the journey from seeking medical assistance in a remote area of a foreign country to safely returning home was a long and unfamiliar one.

Throughout this process, I learned a great deal that I am eager to share with others. These insights aim to provide you with a travel abroad checklist to give you additional peace of mind before your next trip:

1. Get trip insurance

Purchasing trip insurance is a wise decision to protect yourself from unforeseen expenses during your travels. This supplemental policy covers emergencies like trip cancellations, medical expenses, and lost or stolen luggage. Review your policy thoroughly to understand any coverage gaps to make sure your travel insurance covers medical expenses. Trip insurance can help provide peace of mind and financial relief during an emergency.

2. Have your letter of coverage while traveling.

This is my most recommended tip! Understanding the extent of your health insurance coverage while traveling abroad is crucial. Carry a letter of insurance coverage that confirms your insurance details and translates them into multiple languages to facilitate communication with foreign medical providers. You might be able to download a copy from your provider’s website or request it via email. Keep this document with you at all times, and store a copy in your luggage.

3. Notify your bank and financial advisor.

Inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid having your card blocked due to suspicious activity. Also, ensure you have multiple forms of payment, including cash, in case of emergencies. Consider informing your financial advisor, too, who can provide recommendations, assist with large payments, and help coordinate emergency travel arrangements. One of my first calls when my mother had a stroke was to my family’s financial advisors, and it was the best call I could make.

Pro tip: In some emergency situations, you might need access to larger amounts of money. For example, if you have to arrange specialized transportation back home like we did, the costs can be quite high. It’s a good idea to involve your financial advisor early on, especially when planning an extended international trip. That way, they’ll be better prepared to respond to unexpected requests, reducing the likelihood of misinterpreting them as phishing attempts. (Imagine receiving an email saying someone is in need of thousands of dollars in a foreign country. Easily mistaken as spam!)

4. Confirm cell service

Don’t wait until you’re abroad to determine your cell phone coverage. Check with your provider to understand your international plan, so you can research and make crucial calls when necessary. Having reliable cell service can make a significant difference during a medical emergency.

5. Find your consulate

If you’re a U.S. citizen, familiarize yourself with the nearest U.S. Consulate while traveling abroad. Consulates can provide assistance during emergencies, including translation services and coordinating evacuations during natural disasters. Save their contact information for quick access.

6. Share passwords with family

Consider using a password vault service like LastPass to securely share sensitive passwords and payment methods with family members. This tool can be invaluable if someone is incapacitated and you need access to their accounts.

7. Set up a Medical ID on your phone

Setting up a digital Medical ID on your phone can save your life during an emergency. It allows emergency responders to access critical medical information, such as your conditions, allergies, blood type, and doctor’s contact details, even if you’re incapacitated. Spend a few minutes setting up a Medical ID on your iPhone or Android device before traveling.

8. Create an emergency contact card

Go back to the basics and create an emergency contact card with your information and the details of a designated emergency contact. Ensure your contact is aware of their role and won’t ignore calls from unfamiliar numbers. Store this information on your phone and in your luggage for easy access.

9. Hold a family meeting

This sounds simple but is often overlooked because you assume you’ll be calm and collected when an emergency happens. The reality is that that’s unlikely. Before traveling, hold a family meeting to discuss emergency plans and responsibilities. Ensure everyone has access to essential information like the itinerary, insurance details, and contact numbers. Open communication can help you respond effectively during an emergency.

Travel Abroad Checklist: Key Points to Remember

  • Carry a letter of coverage that confirms your health insurance while traveling abroad.
  • Purchase trip insurance to protect yourself from unexpected expenses.
  • Set up a digital Medical ID on your phone.
  • Confirm your cell service and notify your bank and financial advisor before traveling.
  • Create an emergency contact card and locate the nearest U.S. consulate.
  • Use a password vault service to securely share sensitive information with family members.
  • Hold a family meeting to discuss emergency plans and share critical information.

The Value of Preparation

Being prepared for medical emergencies means more than just protecting your finances; it also enables you to approach your travels with greater peace of mind and, most importantly, can help save a life. When you know that you’ve done everything you can to safeguard your health and well-being, you can focus on what truly matters: exploring new destinations, embracing new experiences, and creating lasting memories with the people you care about most.

So, before you embark on your next international adventure, take the time to consider the potential risks and put a plan in place to address them. You’ll be glad you did when the unforeseen happens and you’re able to respond calmly and effectively. After all, the best travel experiences are those that allow us to fully immerse ourselves in the adventure, secure in the knowledge that we’re prepared for whatever comes our way. Happy and safe travels!

About the Author

Derek Hartley - Frayed PassportDerek Hartley is the Director of Brand & Marketing at Plancorp, a full-service wealth management company serving families in 46 states. Derek joined in 2022 to lead marketing, bringing a wide variety of experience in digital and traditional marketing, client communications, and public relations, expanding Plancorp’s ability to connect with and help more families in the years to come.

Featured image by Lawrence Crayton on Unsplash 

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