Overseas travel is a favorite pastime and/or goal for many people. Travel can provide a new experience through the chance to see great landscapes and monuments and meet new people and learn their culture, not to mention temporary relief from the monotony of everyday life. However, it is vital that a traveler stays healthy to maximize the value from such trips to foreign locales. This post will provide some tips about health and care when traveling to overseas locations.

Travel health kit

Similar to an emergency kit, the necessity of a travel health kit is probably underestimated until the hour of need arrives, by which time it may be too late. Depending on the travel destination, medical supplies may not be easily available and it is better to be cautious when in a new land, especially one where language might be a barrier. The Government of Canada travel website offers an excellent Travel Health Kit Checklist that will assist travelers in their preparation. Also, please note that a kit should have emergency contact numbers and a copy of the immunization record where applicable (more information can be found through the link above).

Protection against diseases

When traveling overseas, it is possible that one may be exposed to viruses and parasites that are uncommon in Canada. While it may be impossible to safeguard against every disease (unless one lives in isolation without interacting with others), knowing more about the diseases that could be encountered may help in identifying symptoms early and seeking medical attention at the earliest. A likely cause of illnesses is consumption of contaminated food and water. Fundamental good habits such as washing hands before preparation and consumption of food, washing fruits and vegetables with clean water, drinking bottled water or boiling water if there is no pure source available, etc. hold true in any part of the world. Nonetheless, there are many more tips about food and water that need to be remembered while away on such sojourns.

Caring for children and older adults

Traveling with children comes with its own set of prerequisites. Children are bound to have less than fully-developed immune systems that can open a path for easier infection. Hence, it may be necessary to use an accelerated vaccine plan to ensure that they are ready for the trip. Packing an age-specific insect repellant that is safe to use on children, reading more and consulting a health care provider can go a long way in mitigating the health-related risks during a trip. Similar special care may be required for older travelers who constitute a considerable proportion of the travel community.

Receiving medical care in other countries

A pleasure trip can become a nightmare if an injury or illness forces a traveler to seek medical attention in a foreign country. Consulting a health care provider before travel and packing a travel health kit are essential to minimizing potential risks. After all, safety is about recognizing risks and keeping them at a low and manageable level.

It may be worthwhile to obtain comprehensive medical insurance coverage (like on some free credit cards) that includes medical care in other countries. Please check the ‘Before you go’ section of the publication, Well on Your Way: A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad, to learn more about how to select a good travel health insurance plan.

Registration of Canadians Abroad service

Consider using the Registration of Canadians Abroad service offered by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. It is a free service that serves to keep travelers connected to Canada in the event of a natural calamity or political unrest in the overseas destination or personal emergency at home. The registration can be completed online.

Do you have any health-related travel tips for fellow readers? Are you aware of any other tool or service that overseas travelers may find useful?

About the Author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.


  1. Barry @ Moneywehave on August 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Nice Post,

    Getting the right Travel Medical Insurance should not be underestimated especially considering how expensive health care outside of Canada can be.

    The good thing is sometimes it’s free as you mentioned via credit cards and work benefits.

    I wrote a detailed post about if your free travel insurance is enough here.


  2. Al on August 14, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Tip 1 – dont take any bags/packages across any borders for anyone you don’t know

    Tip 2 – for the love of God, do not attach a maple leaf to your backpack if you are the backpacking type/age and if you aren’t of that age/type don’t dress like a damn tourist

    Tip 3 – bring your manners with you

    Tip 4 – check the DFAIT website (Canada) or the Foreign and Colonial Office (UK) of the State Department (USA) for travel advisories. Clark’s suggestion to register with your consultate may be worthwhile in, say, Iran, but kind of a waste of time in say, France

  3. Elbyron on August 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    In regards to immunizations, not only do you need to protect yourself from diseases that are more common in foreign countries, it can be mandatory to have proof of certain immunizations (like yellow fever) in order to enter some countries if you have recently visited a region that they consider to be a risk. Unfortunately yellow fever is a live vaccine and not only costs more than others, it’s also harder to obtain and temporarily compromises your immune system (and totally wipes you out for a few days). But if you’re visiting a country with high-risk of yellow fever, even if you’re staying in major cities or not going anywhere near the regions where it exists, be sure you’ve got your immunization record with you!

    I would also strongly recommend that your health kit include some Ciprofloxacin or Norfloxacin (don’t use doxycycline as there are too many strains resistant to it). Most doctors are willing to prescribe a small amount for you to take with you on vacation. These antibacterials can be taken to kill the bacteria that causes traveller’s diarrhea (usually Escherichia coli) so that you can get back to normal faster and not lose more than a day of your trip. Note that if your symptoms continue beyond the second day, you should get a doctor to check you for parasites. Oh, and despite your best attempts to avoid local water sources, all it takes is one ice cube or a vegetable washed in tap water to infect you. About 20 – 50% of international travelers contract traveller’s diarrhea, so you really should be prepared!

  4. S on August 14, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Your post reminded me of Dukoral (oral diarrhea vaccine) and the Twinrix Hepatitis A/B vaccine. Perhaps I’m just exhibiting a lack of adventure but any destination that requires a heavy regiment of precautionary pills and vaccinations is just not on my “must go to” list. Yellow fever? Yikes!

    You mention escaping monotony by travelling, I travel to destress. If I didn’t get on a plane every May to go to Europe, I’d have to quit my day job.

  5. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on August 14, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Some of the horror stories of Canadians faced with massive medical bills while travelling abroad have scared me into getting travel insurance. It’s basic coverage but it helps knowing that we will be covered in case of an emergency in a foreign country

  6. LifeInsuranceCanada.com on August 15, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I did some work on travel insurance related claim statistics last year, and there’s two things you should note:

    1) get travel insurance – even for those one day shopping trips across the border. People get rear-ended sitting in line at the border to get back into Canada – it happens. Somebody hits you from behind in the U.S. (not a medical emergency, and not your fault) and you get taken to the hospital for a checkup an Canadians get a rude awakening on why Americans are so crazy about having health insurance.

    2) many/most problems on vacation are vacation related. Same thing, make sure you have travel health insurance. Young and healthy doesn’t prevent falling asleep (drunk) at the beach and suffering severe sunburn, or falling down while rocklimbing, etc etc.

  7. Evan on August 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    As an active traveler, I’ve had all the vaccines and pills. I don’t recall the yellow fever vaccine be bad (or any of them really). Most travelers clinics operated by your local health agency are great and easy to access. You point on a map the exact places you’re going to go and they’ll tell you everything you need, how many doses, etc. Some vaccines require multiple shots which have a few months in between, so best to plan ahead. And most shots are not covered by provincial health plans, but will be covered by most work plans.
    My wife and I have traveled to over 40 countries and the only time we’ve had to go to a hospital or medical centre was in the US (gastro pain-ultrasound) and Australia (swimming injury).

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