Human hand holding medical imagery

Seeking Medical Care Abroad

By:- Health Cover Now (May 2022)


This article will cover everything you need to know about planning for medical emergencies and general care while travelling or living overseas. We will also cover some of the common pitfalls and how to overcome them.


We all know that travelling abroad can be exciting, thrilling, and life-changing. But before you embark on this journey, it’s important to prepare yourself for what might come your way. Especially if you’re looking for reliable medical care in a foreign country!

Do you need to consider purchasing travel insurance or a more comprehensive insurance product like international private medical insurance? See our article on the key differences HERE

In any case, if something goes wrong or you get sick, you will have the best chance of getting the right care if you are prepared and do your homework on your destination

Cultural differences

It’s important to be aware that cultural differences can cause problems when seeking medical care abroad. If you’re traveling to a country where the language, customs, and habits are very different from yours, it can be difficult to communicate with medical professionals. You may also find that medical practices also differ from what you are used to in your home country. For example, some countries use different types of equipment or medicine than those in your own country. In addition, there may be other factors that affect your ability to receive high-quality health care abroad, such as the availability of medical facilities or supplies (e.g., blood products).

Medical costs can be inconsistent

The cost of medical care can be high, particularly when seeking international western-style treatment. It’s important to understand that the costs will vary depending on which country you’re travelling to and what type of treatment you need. They can also vary between urban and rural locations within the same country.

For example, in certain cities in China (like Shanghai or Beijing), many private hospitals and clinics will charge a flat rate for each procedure or test they offer. These are often modern, western-style facilities, and if you need an MRI scan and an X-ray, you’ll pay a flat fee for both tests, and the overall costs will quickly escalate.

Similarly, if many doctors are required to perform surgery, then this too can increase costs significantly. The bottom line? Be prepared before travelling abroad and research your destination so as not to get caught off guard by unexpected costs later down the road!

Communication barriers

When you’re travelling abroad, language may become an issue if you need medical care. If possible, find a hospital that has translators on staff or where the doctor is fluent in English. Some hospitals provide translators who can come to your hotel or home and interpret over the phone while they take notes of your symptoms and concerns. Some hospitals even have websites that can be used in more than one language. Users can choose their preferred language (such as Spanish or French) and then fill out an online form with information about their symptoms or health problems, which is then translated into another language.

But be aware as these services and the clinics/hospitals that offer them will typically charge high fees as they know you will be in a position to pay for them.  Alternatively, you may have some local friends or colleagues whom you can trust that can assist in these situations with some basic communication.

Complex medical systems

Before you travel, there are some things you should know about the medical system in your destination country.

It’s complex. There are many different types of specialized health care providers, and each has its way of working. If you’re not familiar with a particular type of care or provider, it can be hard to find what you need or get advice on how to proceed. Be sure to learn about the available services and decide which options best suit your needs before travelling.

Some countries have limited access to treatments or medications that are common elsewhere—or they may have no access at all! For example, some countries may not provide certain cancer treatments even though they’re widely available elsewhere due to cost constraints or other factors (such as strict import regulations). See our Country Guide on China for some specific information relating to their medical system.

Also, keep in mind that some medications aren’t approved for sale in certain countries because their safety hasn’t yet been proven by government authorities there. Many Westernized pain medications and those used to treat anxiety and a whole host of mental health issues can’t be readily sourced in many countries in Asia.

Most countries don’t offer general practice medicine outside major cities where hospitals exist; instead, most people seek care from doctors who specialize in specific areas of medicine, such as cardiology or gastroenterology (stomach/digestive tract)

Be prepared like a Boy Scout

Before travelling abroad there are several directories and websites you can check to find English speaking. We recommend The International Society of Travel Medicine. But remember English speaking doctors and western-style medical facilities will charge more for these services with regular doctor’s appointments starting at around USD100.

The WHO is a fantastic source of information and has the latest global vaccination advice and warnings.  World Health Organization. (

The Australian government has developed a website called Smart Traveller. which is an excellent source of information for travellers.

The UK government also has some excellent resources in places that anyone can access free of charge. So remember to check this site, which is regularly updated (Foreign Travel Advice)

Some of the above websites allow you to sign up for their free travel alerts so you can keep abreast of changing security or health concerns.

Review information about the country you’re going to online, in travel blogs, and also on Facebook and don’t be shy to jump on these forums to ask any relevant questions, particularly those about your situation. The more information you have about local health and security risks, the more you will prepare for any eventuality (and make it easier for someone back home to contact authorities if something happens)

Share your itinerary with colleagues and loved ones so they know where to find or get in touch with you if necessary – this is especially important if there are language barriers involved (e.g., between healthcare providers and assistants).

With COVID-19 throwing the travel system into chaos, it is even more important than ever to understand the requirements of your destination’s country regarding visas, vaccinations, and digital Covid Certificates.  This information can often be provided by your travel agent, but it is a good idea to double-check this on a website like the ones listed above.

Be sure to keep digital copies and back-ups of the following details: –

  • Embassy’s Phone Number
  • Local Emergency Services
  • Insurance Provider Alarm Centre
  • Assistance Company Alarm Center
  • Passports and Health Records
  • Insurance Policies

We also have some tips on our website for expats to help mitigate risks whilst living abroad.

Travel insurance or International Private Medical Insurance

If you or your family are injured or become ill in a foreign country, two types of insurance can help you:-

  • Travel Insurance
  • International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI)

Reliable providers will offer resources that allow you to seek advice on appropriate medical care around the world.  Insurance companies will typically have 24/7 Alarm Center support and medical/hospital networks to advise you correctly when seeking specific care for a condition or when you find yourself in an emergency.  Health Cover Now also has resources and the knowledge to assist you when navigating foreign medical systems and is available to support you in your time of need. We have worked at some of the world’s largest international health insurers and medical assistance companies so can give you advice when you need it most.

Travel insurance is usually purchased before departure to cover any medical expenses incurred abroad. It typically covers emergency treatment and repatriation if required, as well as some other things like trip cancellation or lost luggage.

International Private Medical Insurance is designed for those who want to maintain their healthcare arrangements long-term for 12 months or more. Benefits are typically more comprehensive, and they allow you to seek the best possible care no matter your location. It provides continuous coverage for all medical expenses not covered by travel insurance policies – including GP visits, hospital stays, and prescription medication – without having to pay any excess fees at the time of services being rendered by doctors or hospitals outside of your home country. Learn more about the differences between these insurance policies in our article here.

Travel Assistance

Some companies will also look at purchasing a travel assistance membership from companies like International SOS, Europ Assistance, or Global Rescue.  These companies provide travel risk management services and can provide an extra layer of protection to certain employees.  They all have in-depth knowledge of global medical systems and have in-country or in-region 24/7 Alarm Centers and can provide similar emergency support as health and travel insurance companies. It is however advisable to consider how these memberships operate as there have been instances where people are left out of pocket as they have failed to communicate with their insurer before following advice from their assistance company. We can give you advice on how to select the right assistance and insurance provider and ensure employees and HR understand the correct protocols during an emergency.


Should you find yourself in need of medical care while abroad, it is important to be prepared. Bear in mind that while there are many benefits of travelling, the reliability of foreign medical care is much to be desired and needs to be approached with caution. However, there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from unexpected costs when visiting other countries.

If you want more information on the topic or would like to receive some advice, then please contact us here at [email protected]