Moving to a far-flung country is a great adventure but wherever you go there are health risks you need to be aware of. From risky transportation to substandard hospitals, you could be putting your health at risk as an expat. Make your expat experience the best it can be by considering these potential health and wellbeing concerns.
1. Dangerous Roads and Drivers
Often the most important health and safety risk abroad you need to consider is the least exotic – the condition of road transportation. In less-developed countries the roads are likely to be badly maintained which creates dangerous driving conditions. Lighting is poor and cars are not always regulated. Driving standards may be lower than you are used to. Road traffic accidents cause thousands of hospitalizations among expats every year. If you are driving, pay extra attention to the road. When traveling in a car or as a pedestrian, take precautions to improve your safety such as using a seat belt and taking care when crossing roads.
2. Big Problems like Ebola
The threat of Ebola has not completely gone away. While the horrendous outbreak may be over, there are cases where the virus lies dormant, and another threat could be on the horizon. If major health problems like Ebola do occur where you are living, it is often preferable to leave to a safer country until the threat has subsided. Expat health problems are often global problems.
3. Basic Hygiene Fails
While considering the large, catastrophic events that could affect your health, many people forget that the smaller risks on a daily basis are equally as serious. Minor health complaints for expats like gastroenteritis can be more complicated abroad, as well as causing you significant distress. Make sure you wash your hands frequently, and take care not to eat food that may be prepared in unhygienic circumstances.
4. Problems with the Treatment for Minor Illnesses
If you do not have access to good standards of diagnostic care, what appears to be a minor condition can quickly become more serious. Travel to a better equipped hospital if possible so you can be sure of a more accurate diagnosis.
5. Dangerous Hospital Infections
It is a real problem that even when the hospitals are of a good standard, you are at risk of infections or infectious diseases when the place is packed with ill people. Standards may also be lower, resulting in the risk of receiving contaminated blood or an infection due to poor hygiene.
6. Language Problems
It can be difficult to get the best healthcare for your needs when you do not speak the local language, and the doctors only have a basic grasp of English. In bigger cities there will usually be staff members who speak good English, but in rural locations this is less likely. For serious health complaints, try to find an interpreter who can be with you in consultations. Write down the names of any medication you are currently taking or any health conditions you suffer from.
7. Counterfeit Drugs
You can find counterfeit medications even in the most developed countries, although it is more likely to be a problem in less developed parts of the world. Try to buy medication only from a reputable pharmacy – an international chain, or a trusted local business.
8. Insufficient Health Insurance
You may find out too late that your health insurance policy provides for only the most basic of care. Many policies do not include cover for an air ambulance or repatriation, which you will need if you fall ill in a remote area and need transportation to a better hospital. Choose a comprehensive health insurance policy that protects you wherever you are.
9. Pre-Existing Health Conditions
Having a serious pre-existing health condition should not be a barrier to living abroad, but you do need to prepare for situations that relate to your condition while you are an expat. Learn the key phrases and words to describe your condition in the local language, as well as how to talk about any complications you may be suffering from. Understand what your medication is called overseas, and where you can get it. Carry medical ID or wear medical ID jewelry.
A good quality international health insurance policy helps to minimize your health risks abroad and provide a safer, more comfortable expat experience.