5 Tips for Expats: Health Essentials
1. Keep copies of your medical records
One of the biggest challenges when relocating is maintaining high quality medical care. By maintaining your own copy of medical records, new care providers to have access to accurate, up-to-date records immediately, and you can catch any errors before they become a permanent part of your health history. Record requests are usually made in writing to your General Practitioner/ Primary Care Physician, and need to include your name, address, date of birth, and patient number / insurance number if you have one (click here for our suggested template). They take up to six weeks to produce, so allow plenty of time before you move, and schedule your annual medical examination before you place a request so that the most current results are included in writing.
2. Make healthcare a priority.
Finding good clinicians often falls into the ‘important but not urgent’ category, until you suddenly need emergency medical care. Start your research as soon as you arrive in your new location; use your health insurance website, your relocation counselor, work colleagues, school nurses and administration staff as resources. Cross reference their suggestions with medical licensing boards, the HR department, online review sites, school networks such as the PTA and your own social networks to get understanding of their credentials, experience and standards of service. Schools usually list local medical services, so contact the school nurse – they may not make specific recommendations, but are often willing to discuss your potential choices with you and give insight into the different levels of care provided. Ensure that you visit the clinic in person before you register, and change providers immediately if your relationship isn’t working.
3. Research local illnesses, diseases and health warnings.
There are many excellent online resources, including the UK Foreign Office
, the US Center for Disease Control
and Australia’s Smarttraveler site , all which have destination-specific information for those living and working overseas. many countries also provide a registration service for nationals living and working abroad, so that you have access to help and information in the event of an emergency.
Keep up-to-date with vaccinations in your host location, and schedule an annual medical to make sure that you know of any new vaccinations, healthcare issues or diseases in your host location. Know what the signs and symptoms of local illnesses are, and schedule regular check-ups as soon as you find a new medical care provider. Keep in mind that doctors elsewhere may not be familiar with tropical diseases, so if you fall ill on a visit away from your host country, inform them of any illnesses, toxins or viruses that you may have been exposed to. Most schools have a notification system for any health issues, warnings or update affecting the student population, so sign up for their newsletter, email updates or as a volunteer to keep informed.
4. Keep a well-stocked First Aid kit
Every home should have a well stocked First Aid kit (here’s the Red Cross recommended contents list), with items appropriate to the location, and lists of allergies of family members, emergency numbers, insurance details and family contact details. Ideally, attend a First Aid training, and if you employ household staff, pay them become First Aid certificated. For the rest of the family, keep an up-to-date First Aid manual with the kit, or download a basic one from the Red Cross website. In areas with poorer access to healthcare resources, maintain a stock of emergency treatment equipment, such as syringes, bandages, gauze and saline, all with expiry dates clearly marked.
5. Go for an annual check-up
The earlier illnesses are identified and treated, the greater your chances of staying in excellent heath. Make a note of changes to your health, symptoms you may be experiencing, and any travel plans you may have for the coming year, and inform the doctor at the start of the examination. Take your own healthcare seriously and schedule an annual check-up – everything from required vaccinations to available treatments are constantly changing, and should be discussed regularly.
The good news is that expatriates have access to good healthcare in most parts of the world, so should you become ill, the need for repatriation is rare. The best outcomes, however, are reliant on you spending time and energy in making sure you have the best possible options available to you should you need them – here’s hoping you never do!