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Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


In order to minimize problems while outside the U.S., consider the following subjects, each of which are covered in other sections of this article:


  • In addition to your own I.D., always carry something (such as a matchbook) with the name and address of your hotel. It is handy to show taxi drivers or people you ask for directions. It will also come in handy if you have an emergency.
  • If you need foreign currency, it is usually much cheaper to obtain it at an ATM than a foreign currency exchange.
  • A tip: Book a meal with local hosts in their own homes through a site such as offsite link or  offsite link

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Travel 101

If You Need To Buy Medicine While Outside The United States

If you need to buy medicine outside the United States:

  • Ask at your hotel whether you need a prescription to purchase drugs at a pharmacy. In many requirements, prescriptions are not required.
  • If a prescriptin is required, you can ask whether a prescription from your doctor in the United States is adequate. Even if a U.S. prescription is not acceptable under the country's laws, there may be a pharmacy that will fill it for you - especially if you are only asking for a limited quantity.
    • If a prescription from the U.S. is acceptable, and you do not have a copy with you, ask the pharmacy to contact your doctor and ask the doctor to email or fax a copy. This can be done at little or no cost if the pharmacy has access to the internet or you can get to your doctor from your smart phone or mobile device. 
    • If a local pharmacy will not accept a prescription from your doctor in the U.S., or if you need a new prescription, alternatives for obtaining a local prescription include the following:
      • Ask the hotel concierge or clerk what to do
      • Contact the nearest United States Consulate or Embassy. Many have lists of local doctors who speak English. If not, the person you speak with at the Consulate or Embassy may make a personal recommendation. (It doesn't hurt to ask).
      • Look up an English-speaking doctor on the Web site of the International Association For Medical Assistance to Travellers: offsite link.  Membership is free.
      • in all of the above cases, you will likely have to pay a fee for the visit to the doctor.
NOTE: Before taking a new medicine, If the medicine is new to you, follow the same safety procedures you would follow in the U.S. Namely:
  • Learn about the pros and cons before agreeing to take a new medicine. To learn more, click here.
  • Make sure you understand the information on the label. Ask the pharmacist for help, especially if the instructions are in language you don't understand. 
  • Understand instructions about:
    • The amount of the drug to take
    • When to take it 
    • What the drug should be taken with, if anything 
    • What to avoid eating or drinking
    • Possible side effects to watch for. 
    • When to call the doctor if a side effect occurs.

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Drugs 101: An Overview

Drinking Water Precautions To Take In Less Than Fully Developed Countries

In less than fully developed countries, consider the following tips:

  • Avoid ingesting water in ice and in drinks.
  • Do not use alcoholic drinks to kill organisms in tap water. It doesn't work.
  • Only drink from bottles or cans. 
    • If you stick with a familiar brand name of bottled water, you will be less likely to be drinking rebottled tap water. 
    • Water on the outside of containers may be contaminated; therefore wipe them dry before opening. 
    • Wipe the top clean before you drink or pour.
  • Carbonated bottled water is safe but non-carbonated bottled water is safe only if the original seal is unbroken and even then there is no guarantee of safety.
  • Avoid any accidental ingestion of tap water.
    • Use bottled water to brush teeth.
    • Make sure no water enters your mouth while showering.
    • Use only distilled water to soak contact lenses or dentures.
  • If local water must be used:
    • Bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute (3 minutes above an altitude of 6,562 feet). 
    • There are some portable water filters available which increase the safety of water. To select a proper filter read the CDC brochure entitled "You Can Prevent Cryptosporidiosis: A Guide For People With HIV Infection" from the CDC National Prevention Information Network, P. O. Box 6003, Rockville, MD 20849-6003 or call 800-458-5231 or 301-562-1098 or online at offsite link.
  • As a last resort, if you must use tap water, use tap water that is uncomfortably hot to the touch. It may be safer than cold tap water. Disinfection, boiling or filtering is still advised!

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Food Tips For Non-Developed Countries

Stomach problems should be avoided at all costs. Except in the most developed countries, consider the following guidelines:

  • When it comes to food, a good rule of thumb is boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.
  • Avoid fruit and vegetable salads.
  • Stay away from raw seafood, undercooked, runny eggs and undercooked meat.
  • Avoid un-pasteurized milk and milk products.
  • Cooked food that has been allowed to stand for several hours should be thoroughly reheated.
  • Do not try to increase your intake of roughage on your trip.
  • Avoid food from street vendors no matter how inviting.
  • In third world countries, consider having the hotel pack meals for you.

How To Avoid Insect Bites

Insect bites can spread diseases such as malaria. by using repellents and wearing long sleeves. The following time tested tips can help minimize insect bites:

  • Use an insect repellent with a high level of "DEET".  Some natural products may also provide good protection. The higher concentrations of active “repellent” will provide longer duration of protection. Apply and reapply repellant according to label instructions. 
  • Avoid applying repellents to areas near the mouth and eyes.
  • Avoid bright colors. They are attractive to insects.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants, especially when hiking.
  • Add Pyrethrum to your clothing, outerwear and shoes.
  • Avoid being outdoors during dusk and dawn, and during the evening after dark. This may reduce the day’s “prime biting” time periods.
  • After returning indoors:
    • Check for ticks when you return indoors.
    • Wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe, similarly wash “treated clothing” before wearing again. 


  • Consider taking a product with you that reduces the effect of bites. For example, offsite link
  • When considering travel in a known malaria risk area, consult your doctor about a preventive anti-malarial regimen. Ask your doctor for a description of the symptoms of malaria and the incubation time "just in case."

What To Do If You Become Ill Or Experience An Emergency While Away

If you are overseas, seek a "western-style" doctor who speaks English. Look for a hospital affiliated with a medical school. If none is available, inquire at one of the following places: 

  • Your hotel.
  • Your airline or cruise ship.
  • Your credit card company if you have the level of membership which provides help to card members.
  • The U.S. embassy or consulate. If you can't reach anyone at the consulate, call the after hours number of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, DC at 202.647.5225.
  • A U.S. Military base.
  • Employees of multi-national corporations in the area.

Hospitals associated with universities usually have English-speaking doctors as well as qualified specialists.

Europe: If you encounter an emergency or other threatening situation while in Europe, dial 112 -- It's equivalent to our 911. The number 112 is good in all the European Union countries. Employees in the call centers generally speak English, French and German, as well as the local language.

If syringes or needles are to be used, make sure they come straight from a sterilized package or have been sterilized immediately prior to your use. When in doubt, ask to see how the syringe has been sterilized (A traveling companion may step in if necessary). If necessary, buy your own sterile needles and syringes.

If you will require a transfusion:

  • Postpone any transfusion until you get back to the U.S. unless it is absolutely necessary. If a regular flight isn't available, perhaps you can be evacuated -- if not to home, at least to a country where the blood supply is trustworthy.
  • If you can't get to a place where you trust the blood supply, the Centers for Disease Control suggests you consider plasma expanders as an alternative. If you must accept blood, try to ensure that it has been properly screened for transmissible diseases, including HIV. Better still, if you have a blood-compatible traveling companion, ask him or her to donate blood for you.