Why Living Abroad Doesn’t Mean Your Health Should Suffer

Seeking medical advice can be daunting at the best of times, let alone if you’re in a strange country. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Why Living Abroad Doesn’t Mean Your Health Should Suffer

There are all kinds of regular medical checks we know we should have. Eye tests. Blood tests. Mammograms and cervical screening (Pap test) for women, depending on their age.

If we have young children we need to make sure they’re OK too – that everything is developing properly and they’re doing what they’re supposed to at roughly the right age.

It can be hard enough to fit in an appointment at the best of times, but if you’re living overseas there’s likely to be an extra challenge – the language barrier. Not to mention that the healthcare system could be vastly different from the one you’re used to.

While most of us would accept our health is one of the most important gifts we have, it’s surprising how many of us will put off seeking the help we need. Follow our tips to make the process easier.

1Plan ahead

If you know you’re on the move, research healthcare options as soon as you can and make any necessary arrangements. Once you leave the UK permanently, for example, you’re no longer entitled to free treatment there on the National Health Service; nor can most people use their UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to obtain healthcare in Europe.

You’ll need to check the criteria of your destination country to determine if you’re entitled to medical support there, or make sure you’ve budgeted for unexpected costs.

Alternatively, you could take out private health insurance; in fact, some countries insist on this before granting residency.

2Ask around

Join local online forums and Facebook groups for expats in your area and ask questions about how the health system works.

In some countries, it’s the norm to pop in on your way past to see the doctor and get your blood pressure checked, while in others it’s essential to make an appointment and there could be a long wait.

Chemists have varying levels of authority to dispense different kinds of medication depending on where you are. If you need to go to hospital you might be able to choose your consultant or specialist, so you’ll need recommendations. These are all questions you’ll want to ask.

3Support at the hospital

If you’re in an area with a high number of ex-patriates, or if it’s somewhere those from overseas often come for elective treatments, you might find your local hospital has a dedicated office for overseas visitors.

This will typically be staffed by non-medical people who are fluent in at least one language other than their own, and who will accompany you during your visit. They’ll be able to translate for you and explain what is happening, and be able to make any necessary follow-up appointments. (It’s likely you’ll only find this service at a private hospital, not at a state-run facility.)

4Get help if you need it

Most of us want to be independent, especially when we’re living overseas. We want to prove we can get by just fine, even if we don’t speak the language. Sometimes, we need to admit we can’t.

If you need to, take your own translator – this might be a friend or a professional interpreter. There are pros and cons to each. You might not want your neighbour to know all your medical details, but on the other hand you might not have the budget to pay for support.

5Be prepared for anything

It might not just be a new system you need to get used to; there could be differences in how patients are treated too.

A couple of years ago, I had a full top-to-toe health check at a local hospital in Turkey. As I waited for my mammogram – in the expected state of undress – no less than four people wandered in and out of the cubicle where I was sitting.

One was a janitor who’d forgotten his mop. I was mortified, but apparently that’s par for the course here. It’s a hospital – there are bodies on show, and nobody cares.

6Stick to your guns if you have to

In some countries, they’ll be horrified if your child has fewer than three layers even if the outside temperature is 28°C (around 83°F). Maybe there’s an unshakeable belief in the healing power of herbal tea for anything bar a broken limb.

Everywhere has its own customs and foibles, and some are worth listening to. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own common sense and accept everything you’re told – if you’re not happy with a recommended course of treatment, you have the right to say so.

The most important thing is not to skip essential check-ups through fear of not understanding the system or the language. Wherever you are, it’s unlikely you’ll be the first to go through it, and there will be help available – you just need to look for it.