Going International with Health Issues

Hospital building flat style. Ambulance and helicopter, health and care, aid and doctor. Vector illustration

Finding yourself overseas, cut off from meds and treatments you need is an emergency best avoided. So…If you live with a chronic health condition requiring periodic medical care and/or daily medication, do take the time to research medical procedures and medications available in what may soon become your new host country.

Diabetes, hyper-tension, high cholesterol and a host of other nagging yet common conditions are readily treated in most corners of the globe. If, however, you’re living with a less common condition that could be outside the expertise of the medical community at your destination, you’re advised to research whether the treatments you require will be available.

If it is specialty meds you require, bring a hefty supply with you overseas and do this even if the drug is available at your destination. It’s not uncommon for supplies to become exhausted in some locales and shipping networks can and do break down. Don’t count on having your prescription mailed to you, either. Customs duties can be ridiculously absorbent and the time your meds spend in customs may be long….too long!

On a similar note, a member writes: When I returned to the States from the African continent last Christmas, I soon discovered I had contracted a nasty tropical disease. Feeling worse by the minute and dealing with a wide range of ugly effects, I was not able to get it treated in my North American city of 650,000 inhabitants as it was, obviously, an uncommon disease in this part of the world. Fortunately I had brought meds back with me at the suggestion of our school nurse who advised all teachers to bring a supply ‘just in case.’ Lesson learned: Don’t take anything for granted! Lack of available care and/or medicine can happen anyplace in the world.

This brings us to the topic of health Insurance. Normally, schools purchase what is known as “group insurance.” This means that one or two members of the group with a costly pre-existing conditions can and do cause the overall price for the group to soar. Health issues can be a deterrent when schools consider teachers for employment. If you do have a pre-existing health issue, thoroughly read the school’s health insurance policy to be sure your condition is covered. Don’t take anything for granted, or the word of anyone telling you…”I think it’s covered.” ISR Reviews attest to teachers who found themselves overseas with a costly condition not covered by their school’s health Insurance policy. As always, we recommend research and the sharing of information and experiences. International Teachers Keeping Each Other Informed is what ISR is All About!

We invite you to post questions and comments concerning
medical issues as they relate to the International Teaching experience.

7 thoughts on “Going International with Health Issues

  1. Beware if you need any regular meds and you are considering a new country, especially psychoactive prescription meds. All the medicines I needed were available when I first arrived in 2013 except estrogen therapy. (If you’ve had a full hysterectomy it isn’t just a matter of feeling better, btw.) Okay, I could live with that. There are also many common meds which are classified as narcotics here which are not narcotics at all, like prescription testosterone for men. These meds can only be obtained with a lot of paperwork and by going to a few select pharmacies in the country. Then last winter one of my meds was suddenly unavailable and no one could say why. I finally demanded my doc put me on something else, which isn’t great for my liver, but I feel better at least. Also, I took allergy shots at home but no practitioners here offer them. Another oh, well. I have learned that this is a huge issue for consideration because it affects your day-to-day experience so much. Thank God none of my issues are life or death. Live and learn!


  2. Most developing countries do not have narcotic pain medication unless you are an inpatient.

    Heart medications and blood pressure medication quality may vary from country to country especially in developing countries. Developing countries may be using drugs developed decades ago to treat conditions because they are cheaper than the newer medication recently developed.

    If you have a chronic health condition I would suggest you:
    1) Talk to the doctor in your home country, Explain you are going overseas and are not sure about medication. Ask about alternate medications for your condition in case you need options overseas. Get a copy of the treatment protocol for you condition if one is available. Ask your doctor for a 6 month supply of medicine. Get a note from the doctor saying it is medically necessary for you to carry 6 months worth of medicine with you.

    2) Put medications in your carry on bag only. (They are often stolen out of checked baggage or subjected to extreme temperature changes.

    3)Shortly after arrival find a specialist locally, for your condition, in case you should need help. Make an appointment and talk with them. Explain your situation. Also locate a good hospital in the event of an emergency. The time to tour these places is when you are well. That way if you have a need you will know exactly how the procedure will work which can be a comfort. Ask about how the ambulance service works in the country. Sometimes a taxi is faster and an “ambulance” is only a van with benches in it and no trained medical personnel. Prepare a list of 4 or 5 taxi drivers you can call in case you aren’t able to drive yourself or get an ambulance.

    4) If you are in a developing country make sure that you have sufficient emergency evacuation insurance. It is worth paying for. 1 evacuation can cost $100,000. It would be terrible to live and have to pay that bill, right?


  3. Three years ago our school suddenly changed its health insurance policy and did NOT notify teachers. The change included: discontinuation of maternity coverage and discontinuation of mental illness treatment. This left one teacher and her husband (she became pregnant over the summer) without maternity coverage. Imagine what a surprise to have coverage when you leave for summer holiday and then when the annual insurance is renewed find out you have no coverage.

    So to the conversation I would like to add that you should contact the insurance carrier and ask them directly if any changes were made to the policy at the renewal time. Also ask the insurance company for a complete book on benefits (not the quick guide of 20 pages) and review it to see what is covered and what is not.


  4. Does anyone know about the availability of high cholesterol and hypothyroidism medication in Dubai? With so many expats there I would assume it would be available but I want to be safe if this possibility works out.


    1. Statins shouldn’t be a problem. We got Lipitor no problem in neighboring Oman. I don’t know about hypothyroidism. And before you try to bring it in, check. The UAE has stringent restrictions on the meds you can legally bring in.

      FYI: The strongest pain medicine available in Dubai is Tylenol. A friend had knee surgery in Dubai and had no pain meds other than Tylenol.


    2. It is nearly impossible to get estrogen, testosterone, allergy shots, welbutrin, and some other meds in UAE. There is one doc in Abu Dhabi who does bio-identicals but you have to pick them up in Dubai. Sorry I don’t know about statins.


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