Are you planning a trip overseas? You’re not alone. The number of Australians going overseas every year for business or pleasure is growing rapidly, by over 10% a year.
However, when we go overseas, we leave behind the health and medical systems we are familiar with in Australia.
Taking care of your health in preparation for, and during, an overseas trip can help prevent unfortunate, even disastrous, consequences.
So it’s important, regardless of your age or health, or your destination, that you prepare properly for the trip.
Talk to your doctor about any vaccines or boosters you may need before you travel.
Before departure, find out about the health facilities and services that are available at the destination you plan to visit. The services, the facilities, the local customs, weather and the geography may all be quite different from those you are used to. These can all affect your health.
Food and water
Are you going to destination(s) where food and water quality is poor? Eating or drinking contaminated food and water can put you at risk of infections such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid. Make sure you practice good hygiene and wash your hands regularly.
Where local tap water is not safe only use bottled water to drink and brush your teeth, don't put ice in drinks, only eat fruit you can peel and avoid uncooked food, including salads.
Insects and animals
In some areas of the world mosquitos transmit diseases such malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever. Ticks can also transmit diseases such as Lyme disease. Do not go near or touch animals as they may transmit diseases such as rabies.
Talk to your doctor about the best ways your can protect yourself from these diseases and if you need to take any medications or need any vaccinations.
Climate and geography
The climate may be hotter or colder than what you are used to. Wherever you go you may be exposed to influenza (flu) particularly if it is winter, so find out if there is any particular strain of flu circulating and ask your doctor if you need a flu vaccination before you go and what you should do in case you get the flu while away.
If you plan to travel to locations or undertake activities at high altitudes, you should discuss your plans with your doctor before you go. If you are planning to do more physical activity than you are used to, gradually build up your fitness before you depart.
Lack of usual supplies
Health while in transit
If you will be taking a long haul flight make sure to drink plenty of fluids and regularly exercise your leg muscles while on the flight to help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT). See your doctor before travelling if you could be at high risk of developing DVT such as if you have had recent surgery, are pregnant or have other medical conditions.
Talk to your doctor about things you can do to help with avoiding motion sickness or jet lag if these problems concern you.
It’s a good idea to make up a small medical kit to take with you, including things like headache tablets, antiseptic lotion, cotton wool, band-aids, SPF 30+ sunscreen and an appropriate insect repellent.
And remember, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common in many countries, so practice safe sex and always use a condom.
Your doctor may advise you taking some antibiotics supplies that may be used short term in cases of gastroenteritis at times you cannot access medical care.
If you take regular medications take special care before leaving to make sure that you are properly prepared. Things to do include:
- Make sure you have enough medication. Your medications may not be readily available where you are going. In some countries certain medications may be illegal – if in doubt check with the relevant country’s embassy or consulate in Australia. When carrying medications, leave them in their original packaging, clearly labeled with your name and the dosage instructions.
- Take a letter from your doctor setting out what the medication is, how much you'll be taking with you, and stating that it's for your own personal use. If you run out and have to buy medications overseas, check the strength of the medication and the active ingredient with a doctor there. Beware of imitation or counterfeit medications.
- If you use injectable medicines, you may want to take your own needles and syringes if this is permitted by the countries you're visiting. If you buy needles and syringes overseas, ensure they are sealed and sterile.
Many diseases which are a risk to travellers can be prevented by immunisation with vaccines. You should talk to your doctor about any vaccines or boosters you may need, including any booster doses of childhood vaccinations.
Vaccinations may be an entry requirement for some countries so check with the embassy or consulate of the countries you are intending to visit or transit through before you leave. In some countries you may be refused entry or required to have the vaccination at the border.
Read more detailed information on travel vaccinations .
Travelling with medicines and medical devices
Watch this video from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to learn what you need to do when preparing for your trip, including things you should discuss with your doctor.
Health costs incurred overseas by Australians are not covered by Medicare. You are strongly advised to take out travel health insurance —this can be obtained as part of comprehensive travel insurance, which also covers you for things like theft, lost luggage, travel cancellations etc. It's important to:
- Check the policy carefully to make sure it covers all medical expenses for injury or illness. This especially applies if you are relying on the travel insurance provided by your credit card company.
- Also check that your partner and/or family are also fully covered by your policy.
- Fully disclose any pre-existing medical conditions in writing, or any later claim may be disallowed.
When you return
Sometimes an illness you are exposed to while overseas doesn't become apparent until after your return. If you become unwell in the weeks after your return to Australia see your doctor, especially if you get any of the following symptoms:
- persistent vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- swollen glands in your armpits or neck
- persistent coughing or difficulty breathing
- unexplained skin rashes or lesions
- any other symptom you are concerned about.
See your doctor before you go
The most important advice for travellers is to see your doctor well before you go (preferably at least 8 weeks). Your doctor can advise you on vaccinations, medications, and lifestyle measures to take. This will help make you trip safe, enjoyable and productive.
- You can visit the Travel health information page at the Department of Health
- Visit Smartraveller by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also strongly encourages Australians to register their travel details to ensure help can be given quickly if needed or you can be contacted in an emergency. Visit the registration page to register your travel details now.
- Go to myDr for more information on motion sickness
- Read Sleep Health Foundation's top 10 tips to relieve jet lag
- Read more information on deep vein thrombosis from the World Health Organization.
Last reviewed: October 2016