Preparing to Travel Abroad
Good health is a prerequisite to an enjoyable stay abroad and crucial while you are traveling. You may be exposed to unfamiliar climates, food, medicine, and health care systems. In many cases, a good measure of common sense and a healthy respect for your own body (and its limitations) will help to avoid medical problems. A few preliminary precautions can spare you a good deal of unpleasantness. You can also use the World Health Organization as a resource for more information.
Medical and Dental Checkups
Medical and dental checkups prior to your departure are crucial. Remember: only your physician knows your personal medical history and can advise you if your situation warrants some alteration of the general preventive guidelines outlined here. Frequently, health statements from your doctor are required to obtain a visa to enter your host country, if a visa is required.
Shots and Inoculations
Some countries require immunizations before allowing foreigners in. Some countries require a health screening by a local physician after you arrive in order to allow you to get a temporary residence permit. Your program provider should inform you of any required shots and inoculations prior to departing. To find out about specific inoculations that may be required to enter your host country or countries in which you may wish to travel, consult the travel clinic at the Student Health Service (4189 Westlawn, 319-335-8730). You may also contact the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information hotline at 1-877-394-8747 (toll-free) or see the CDC website.
The CDC specifically recommends a polio booster, as many countries are not free of endemic polio viruses. Tetanus and diphtheria boosters are recommended for all students. Students traveling to the U.K. and Ireland are encouraged to get a meningitis vaccination. You should be immune to measles, mumps and rubella through vaccine or physician-diagnosed cases of these diseases.
If you were born after 1957, you should have received two doses of measles vaccine in order to be immune. A gamma globulin shot is useful against hepatitis and can reinforce your immunity to other diseases. Smallpox is considered by the World Health Organization to be wiped out, but country-to-country regulations change frequently.
Any inoculation should be recorded with the officially approved stamp on the yellow form “International Certificate of Vaccination as Approved by the World Health Organization.” Such forms are available through the Johnson County Health Department and must be properly stamped to be acceptable.
Since many inoculations require more than one visit to the clinic or cannot be taken in combination with others, it is recommended that you begin your inquiries well in advance of your departure.
What to Bring
Medic Alert Emblem
Be sure to wear a Medic Alert emblem (recognized internationally) for a specific medical problem (i.e., asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food or drug allergies). In how many languages can you convince a nurse that you are allergic to a medication and not just afraid of a needle? Call 1-888-633-4298 for information.
While living and traveling abroad, it is a wise precaution to keep personal medical records with you to be used in case of an accident or illness. A good medical record will mention ALL drugs you are taking, including any not related to disease, and identify any chronic ailments, allergies or hypersensitivities. It will also list your immunization history, blood type, eyeglass prescription, personal physician, health insurance (along with the number of the policy) and, if pertinent, your religion. Be sure to make a photocopy of your medical records in case of loss. Carry these documents in a place that is both secure and accessible by you at all times while traveling.
If you take prescription medicine, you should research whether it is available in your host country and bring a copy of the prescription for the generic name of the drug. In developed countries, you will need to take only an initial supply of the medication; in most developing countries, you will want to take a supply that will last your entire stay. Make sure all medications are in your carry-on.
If you regularly use any over-the-counter remedies, you may want to take an initial or full-year’s supply. For customs purposes, take all medicines in their original containers.
Syringes can be construed as drug paraphernalia. Bring a doctor’s note if you must bring them.
Staying Healthy Abroad
Monitor your health
Do not exhaust yourself. Moderation will pay off in the long run.
This does not mean overspending in expensive restaurants, but it does mean eating a balanced diet.
Vegetarians may find that maintaining a vegetarian diet abroad can be a challenge. It may be difficult to obtain enough quality fruits and vegetables to stay healthy, and meal plans may or may not include vegetarian offerings.
Some tips to help you through:
- Research the foods offered in your host country. You may wish to bring protein powder, vitamins, and other dietary supplements with you to ensure good nutrition.
- Talk to other vegetarians who have studied abroad. During orientation, check with the host-country coordinator regarding resources or suggestions to help you maintain your diet.
- Finally, you may need to find a tactful way to deal with social situations in which you are offered specially prepared meals that include meat.
Traveling will bring your body into contact with different bacteria; the change can unsettle your stomach or cause other health problems. Water, including ice cubes, milk, fresh fruit and unwashed, raw vegetables could upset your system until your body adjusts to its new surroundings.
Know where to get medical treatment
Find out where health care facilities are and how to access them.
Take measures to reduce the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. As always, intimate contact could expose you to bacteria or viruses that could lead to infection or contraction of STDs, including HIV.
If you consume alcoholic beverages abroad, do so in moderation. Inebriation can result in poor academic performance, higher risk behavior, and/or regretted sexual activity. In many serious accidents and deaths involving students overseas, excessive alcohol consumption plays a role. Don’t become a statistic.
Health Insurance Information for University of Iowa Study Abroad Programs
The University of Iowa mandates international health insurance for all UI students travelling abroad for education purposes- studying abroad, interning, conducting research, performing a rotation, presenting at a conference, or any other educationally-related activity abroad. This 'blanket' insurance coverage is provided through Cultural Insurance Service International (CISI). Students can find more information about this coverage on our Health Insurance Information webpage.
Pre-existing Conditions/Treatment Abroad
As part of the mandated international health insurance coverage CISI will cover treatment for pre-existing conditions, and can help connect students to local doctors to help develop appropriate treatment plans. Students are encouraged to work with their doctor in the US and contact CISI well in advance of their departure date to begin planning for any medical concerns they might have while studying abroad.