Health Abroad

Healthy Preparation for Study Abroad

Before a study abroad experience, every student should have a general physical done by their primary care provider. This is especially important for those who have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma. Students should make sure that all of their routine immunizations are up to date. For more information, consult the website of Notre Dame's University Health Services.  Other vaccinations, medications and precautions specific to each student's destination should be reviewed by the student at the Centers for Disease Control's website.

Medical Care

Inevitably some students find they need medical care overseas. Here are some of the more common problems and how you should handle them.

  • Prescription Medications: If you regularly take a prescription medication, you must bring enough with you for the semester as it is very difficult to obtain a refill in a foreign country. Foreign pharmacies will not honor a U.S. doctor's prescription. As a back-up and/or if you must refill a prescription while abroad, ask your doctor to give you a generic breakdown (not just a generic name) of your prescription, so that you can refill your prescription overseas if necessary. When traveling, always keep your medication in the original containers and carry a letter from your doctor to present to customs officials.

    Many countries have recently tightened their drug control laws and you should not have prescription medication mailed to you. Customs officials can and will confiscate prescription medication at their discretion. If you must receive medication by mail, please check with the consulate for your host country about the legality of receiving your specific medication abroad. The consulate should also be able to inform you of the proper documentation, such as physician’s prescription, necessary for shipment. The Electronic Embassy has direct links to the web sites of all the embassies of our host countries (see link below).

  • Allergy Shots (General): If you regularly receive allergy shots and must continue treatment while you are overseas, please notify the ISP Office in writing and include this information in your Health Questionnaire. You should contact our local staff upon arrival to your host country and the staff will help you select a local doctor and arrange to refrigerate your serum, if necessary. If possible, bring enough serum for your entire semester abroad.

    As with all prescribed medicines you should:

    • Bring your medication in the original containers
    • Bring a prescription from your doctor which provides the generic breakdown and dosages
    • Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage
    • Do not mail prescription medication
  • Special Medical Needs: If you have chronic or temporary medical conditions that require special consideration or a doctor’s attention, please contact the ISP Office prior to leaving the United States. We may ask you to document your medical condition for our records. If you are not certain whether a condition you have warrants such precautions, please check with your family doctor or University Health Services. It is a good idea to wear a medic alert bracelet (in English and the local language) if you have a medical condition or drug allergies that might affect your treatment in the case of an emergency.

  • Food and Water Safety: Contaminated food and drink are the major sources of intestinal illness while living or traveling abroad. Food and beverages should be selected with care. In general, hot beverages, such as coffee and tea, and canned or bottled beverages may be considered safe to drink. Any raw or undercooked food could be contaminated. Salads, uncooked vegetables and fruit, unpasteurized milk and milk products, raw meat and shellfish often pose the greatest concern. Food that has been cooked and is still hot is generally safe.

Finding a Doctor Abroad

If you get sick or injure yourself, you should contact our local staff immediately; they will help you obtain the medical care you need. You’ll have plenty of time to call your parents once you get appropriate medical attention. We can also contact your parents if you can’t get to a phone. Most of our local program sites have a list of English-speaking doctors who have provided services to our students in the past. In some locations, an English-speaking doctor visits the local student center regularly for student consultations.

If you have chosen HTH as your study abroad insurance provider, you will have access to HTH's international physician community and online doctor search that allows users to locate a contracted, English-speaking doctor in any of 250 countries, review his/her biography, and even schedule an appointment online.

Health & Insurance Links:

Centers for Disease Control Travelers' Health

Study Abroad Handbook on Health & Nutrition

Travel Health Online

HTH Worldwide Insurance Services

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