What if you get sick overseas?

Would you know what to do or where to get help if you got sick overseas?

What if you get sick overseas?

Getting sick while travelling is not uncommon, but would you know what to do or where to get help if you got more than a cold or a 24-hour bug?

Before leaving Australia, be sure to check the health warnings for the area in which you will be travelling. Ensure all your vaccinations are up-to-date, and take all relevant medication with you, along with a letter from your doctor detailing any medications you have packed.

It is also a good idea to wear a bracelet with your details, the details of your emergency contact and any medications you take or medical conditions from which you suffer. In the unlikely event that you are unable to speak to the doctor treating you, this information will help to keep you safe.

There are a number of places you can get help. If you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, having someone to translate can be helpful. If you are staying in a hotel or hostel, ask at the reception for someone who speaks both English and the local language. Your hotel or hostel receptionist is likely to have details of a trustworthy medical professional in the local area, depending on the problem, and he or she can help you to make an appointment.

If you have taken out travel insurance, then your provider is one of your first ports of call. Most travel insurance providers will have a 24-hour assistance number you can call from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas or are involved in a medical emergency, call this number as soon as possible. The call will be much quicker if you have the details of your policy to hand. Your travel insurance provider will be able to tell you what steps to take to ensure you can be fully reimbursed, and they may be able to help you with finding a medical practitioner in the local area.

In case of a more serious emergency or illness, you can also get help from the Australian government. They can be contacted by phoning the Australian consulate in the country you are visiting. In case of emergency the government can:

  • Provide a list of local doctors and hospitals and assist in arranging a medical evacuation (at your expense)
  • Provide current information and assist with evacuation in the event of war, civil unrest or natural disaster
  • Provide advice in the case of an accident, serious illness or death
  • Assist victims of serious crimes
  • Assist if you are arrested overseas
  • Provide lists of local lawyers
  • Assist in cases of missing persons
  • Assist with arranging a replacement passport
  • Assist you to contact relatives or friends for help with money or tickets
  • Provide small emergency loans in genuine emergency situations

Do you have any tips on getting sick overseas? Have you been in that situation yourself? How did you deal with it?


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    16th Oct 2013
    I caught a kidney infection when visiting UK as part of our "mini world tour" last year and was advised by local hospital to fly straight back to Australia instead of continuing our planned itinerary. Phoned CBA credit card travel insurance underwriters Zurich and they told me exactly what I needed to do to claim - which I did immediately on return to Australia (with the aid of a letter from the UK hospital and confirmation of illness from my GP in Australia). Couple of weeks later I received full reimbursement. Very happy traveller, thanks to Zurich Assist!
    17th Oct 2013
    It seems that the local hospital did not tell you the whole truth.
    Australia & UK have a "Reciprocal Health Care Agreement" (RHCA) which means the citizens of each country are covered whilst in that country under the relevant Government Health systems at no cost the person.
    In the UK this is the National Health Service and in Australia it is Medicare. They really should have treated you as needed not sent you home!
    16th Oct 2013
    Looking into travel insurance at the moment. Almost all of them have really crazy loopholes regarding medical. For instance : if you have have had surgery, even day surgery) for any of the allowable conditions you wont be covered. I interpret that to mean that the gastroscopy I had to determine that I had gastric reflux (allowable condition) and not something else means I am not covered for that condition! And any attendance to a specialist for almost any condition means you aren't covered. I mostly go to specialists for monitoring; does that mean I am not covered? And yes, I have been to an emergency room with chest pains - turned out to be nothing. Does this mean I am not covered? It's all a minefield.

    And daughter has Crohns, which is well-controlled with medication; she has not had an issue with it in the last year or so, but she has to pay a hefty premium, However, coeliac disease, which may potentially present more problems, is covered. Doesn't make any sense to me!
    16th Oct 2013
    have just tried to find Zurich Insurance and all the links lead nowhere. Do they only underwrite for someone else?
    17th Oct 2013
    Huskie - they did treat me as needed (with a course of antibiotics). But our itinerary meant we would have moved on to South Africa, and UK NHS quite rightly said better we go home to Australia for monitoring and further treatment. Can't fault NHS treatment - all free - except it was subsequently found at St Vincents Emergency Ward in Sydney that they'd given me a "general" antibiotic rather than going the extra mile to find the cause of my infection and giving me a more specific treatment - so it all came back again after a week or so!
    Scottie - Zurich are at 5 Blue St, Sydney. They're very well known - arguably behind only Allianz - so not sure why you can't find them in the phone book (or Google?).

    17th Oct 2013
    Just a tip re air travel. Purchase some anti bacterial wipes...I purchased some Kleenex ones which come in a pack of 15 wipes (I purchased three...only $1.46 at the chemist) which will kill 99.9% germs. When you sit down wipe down the armrest and the handset you will be using to watch TV etc. Apparently these areas are rife with germs. I would also wipe down the tray if you will be using that for any period and resting your hands on it.
    17th Oct 2013
    Scottie - see last para of my post just below yours above. Also, Zurich offer waivers to "pre-existing conditions" (on application). I applied for hypertension and they accepted it!!! (NB - I have no financial interest in Zurich - but I can't say enough good things about my experience with them...)
    17th Oct 2013
    Have a friend who had an accident overseas, Was hospitalised, and contacted his insurer, who recommended that he return home for further treatment, However, he found out that by returning home, his insurance assistance ceased once back in Australia! He told them he would be staying until he felt recovered. They had no option but to agree to that. His hospitalisation ( in Thailand), was excellent treatment !
    18th Oct 2013
    Hi Jimjon - that's an excellent point. However, as always, you have to weigh up the pros and cons. In your friend's case, he might have already been in hospital in Thailand so fully covered by insurance - no problem. In my case (and I dare say many others), I would have been treated as an out-patient ("walking wounded") and with no guarantee that my eventual claim would be successful and the cost of hotel accommodation prohibitive (assuming the hotel could continue to accommodate me at short notice), I elected to take the hospital's advice and return home - and very glad I did, as it turned out (see earlier comment about being given the wrong antibiotics!).
    20th Oct 2013
    Thanks Lin.

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