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Itís a good idea to find out whether any health precautions are recommended for the countries you plan to visit. Itís especially important to determine if you should be immunized against any diseases endemic in your destination country. 

Ask your physician or call a travelersí health clinic, the local health department, or the international travelersí hotline at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (404) 332-4559.  

By calling the hotline you can also get a copy of the U.S. Public Health Service book, Health Information for International Travel. Or you can obtain it from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The cost is about $15.00.   

  • If you should fall ill or have an accident while traveling abroad, the U.S. government will not pay for emergency transportation back to your home or local hospital. The Social Security Medicare program will not reimburse you for hospital or medical services obtained outside the United States. Certain Medicare supplement plans do cover medical care in a foreign country (up to a point) if the treatments would have been eligible under Medicare. Note, however, that you must pay for the services first, get receipts, and submit them to Medicare for reimbursement.  

  • Review your health insurance policy. Read your health insurance policy before you travel to find out what is and is not covered outside the U.S. Remember that medical and hospital costs in other countries can be higher than at home. If your Medicare supplement or your private health insurance does not include coverage while you are abroad, you should probably purchase a short-term health insurance policy specifically for travelers.    

  • Your travel agent can probably advise you about reputable travel insurance companies. In addition, you can consult a pamphlet called Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad. To get the pamphlet, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 6831, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.    

  • Trip insurance. If you are forced to cancel or postpone your trip because of an emergency, you can lose a significant sum of money. Remember that many special-fare rates are not refundable. Payment for tickets on regularly scheduled airline flights can sometimes be refunded, especially because of illness or a death in the family. You will generally be asked to provide a note from a doctor or a death certificate. 

  • Contracts for most travel packages will make you pay a penalty for cancellation (sometimes you must forfeit the entire amount!). Be sure to pay attention to the cancellation fee for any travel purchase you make, such as a package tour, charter flight, or cruise.    

  • To ensure you wonít have to pay, buy a trip cancellation insurance policy. And if you do purchase this type of insurance, make sure it will pay for most sound reasons for cancellation, such as an emergency affecting a family member (not just yourself). Some trip insurance policies will also refund your money if the company (tour or cruise operator, for example) ceases operations suddenly or somehow doesnít live up to its promises.    

  • The company that issues your credit card and/or traveler's checks may offer travel protection packages at additional cost. The policy may even combine trip protection and accident and illness insurance, which can be convenient.    

  • Trip insurance is highly recommended if you are tempted to purchase a ticket or tour package thatís bargain-priced, but for which the contract includes no guarantee of delivery. Call several insurance companies to find the trip insurance policy offering the best coverage.  

  • Of course, the best insurance against default by the company or tour operator is to travel with a reputable firm. You can always check a companyís credentials with your local Better Business Bureau, which keeps complaint records for one year.  Another source of information is the American Society of Travel Agents, 1101 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314; write or call (703) 739-2782 to ask about a travel companyís record.     

  • Medical assistance programs have some key benefits for travelers. They will pay for medical evacuation should the person have an accident or become seriously ill, or the return of remains if the person dies while abroad. They also usually provide emergency advice over the telephone. For example, the companyís representative might tell you the location of the nearest hospital or English-speaking physician. Or they can arrange for assistance or translate for you, even over the telephone.     

  • If your own health insurance policy will pay for medical expenses abroad, you still may want to consider purchasing a medical assistance policy to fill in any gaps Ė for example, to pay for the consulting and evacuation services mentioned above. This extra coverage is usually reasonably priced. If your travel agent cannot recommend an appropriate service, you can probably find the information in the advertising section of a travel magazine. Remember to carry all the necessary documentation for all your policies with you on your journey. 

  • Medical assistance abroad. If you donít have a special travelerís health insurance policy, you can ask for help at any U.S. embassy or consulate. The staff there will generally be able to give you a list of local doctors, dentists, or other health care workers. A consul can also inform your family or friends if you become ill. If you want to be truly prepared, ask for a list of English- speaking doctors in the country or countries youíll be visiting from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, 2201 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520.    

  • Medication. If you have to take medication on a regular basis, be sure to take enough with you for the entire journey and pack each type of medication in its original container. Do not use pill cases, no matter how convenient they are at home. Many countries have very strict laws on the use of narcotics so also take a copy of your prescription and/or a letter from your physician explaining why you take each drug. It is also a good idea to take note of the generic names of your medications, in case you have to buy more while traveling. If you have an extra pair of eyeglasses, take them along, too.    

  • Pack medicines and extra eyeglasses in your hand luggage. Especially if your medication is crucial, have a backup supply in your checked luggage.  

  • If you have a unique medical condition or suffer from allergies or reactions to any drugs, foods, or insect bites, consider wearing a bracelet marked with the appropriate information. You may also wish to carry a doctorís note detailing what treatment is required if you are incapacitated while traveling.    

  • Taking precautions. Air pollution in other countries can sometimes be more severe than in the U.S. The combination of air pollution and high altitude is a particular health risk for seniors or anyone who has hypertension (high blood pressure), anemia, or respiratory or cardiac problems. Problems at a high altitude can include fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath, and sometimes dizziness or insomnia. Most people will adjust to changes in altitude within a few days. If you are traveling to high-altitude regions, take it easy for the first few days, donít eat heavy meals, and avoid alcohol and exertion.    

  • Itís a good idea to avoid drinking tap water when you are traveling outside North America. Drink bottled water; or if you must drink tap water, boil it for 20 minutes first. Remember that the ice cubes in your cool drink have probably not been made with purified water and can contaminate your digestive system.  Similarly, avoid eating vegetables and fruit that donít need to be peeled before eating, or wash them first in a purifying solution.  

  • If you suffer from travelerís diarrhea, an antimicrobial treatment should be effective. Many people plan ahead and pack some, just in case. If the diarrhea is severe or lasts for more than a couple of days, visit a physician.


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