Overcoming health issues while working overseas

February 04, 2020
Healthcare while working overseas is a significant concern for expats, in particular how to access it and the quality of healthcare in their destination country. As with most life changing scenarios preparation is key.

Schedule a thorough medical check-up before you leave your home country to ensure there are no underlying issues you are not aware of. This is also a good time to discuss vaccinations and any medication you may be taking. Your doctor should be able to advise you on both.

Travel vaccinations help protect you from diseases that may be present in your destination. The vaccinations you need will depend on the country you are travelling to.  It is important to know what vaccinations you need well in advance, as vaccinations need time to take effect.

If you take regular medication speak to your doctor about its availability in your destination country. If you will not be able to get the medication you take at home, consider bringing a supply or ask your doctor about an alternative that may work for you.

Don’t forget to look after your teeth. Schedule a dental check-up with your dentist before you leave your home country and have any dental work you need completed before you go. It is also worth researching dentists in your destination country.

Research the healthcare system in your destination country thoroughly before you leave, so you can get a better understanding of the quality of healthcare available and how it compares to the standards you are used to. Poor knowledge of the local healthcare system can lead to additional personal and financial stress.

It is important to register with a doctor when you arrive in your new destination, do not wait until you need their services. That way if you do become ill, you know where you can get help straight away. If your Human Resources department are providing you with relocation help, they may have a list of local doctors which are commonly used by expats and information on what you need to access them. Your embassy may also have a list of local doctors that are likely to speak your own language or a language you may be familiar with. It is also worth speaking with other expats or your new work colleagues for doctor recommendations.

It is also important to familiarise yourself with your local hospital and emergency department. Have an emergency plan, know the phone number to avail of local emergency services and research options for getting to an emergency room in the event that ambulance or other emergency services are not available in your destination. As with finding a doctor, your HR department, embassy and work colleagues are a good source for obtaining this information.

Prevention is always better than cure. The initial settling in period when you move overseas can be a hectic and stressful time, however, try to minimise the impact of this on your health. Find time each day to exercise or partake in some physical activity.

Remember to eat well. With your routine out of sync and the stress of adapting to your new surroundings, it is tempting to ‘comfort eat’ high carb and convenience foods. Try to avoid temptation, a healthy and nutritious diet containing adequate fresh fruit and vegetables will help your body deal with upheaval more effectively. 

One of the best things about living and working abroad are the culinary delights that await you. There is a lot of great food to be enjoyed, but be careful. If hygiene standards are not what you are used to you run the risk of becoming ill. Take the following precautions to stay well:

  • ensure food is freshly cooked
  • avoid unpasteurised dairy products
  • peel or wash fruit before you eat it
  • avoid undercooked or raw meat and seafood

Tap water in your new destination may not be safe to drink. Buy bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. When you are eating out avoid ice in drinks and foods that may have been prepared or washed in tap water like salads or uncooked vegetables.

Be aware of the impact a different climate can have on your body. Moving to a destination which is significantly hotter or colder than you are used to can impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing. Take precautions to protect yourself against the elements.

In addition to physical health challenges that may arise, moving overseas can bring its own set of unique mental health challenges. Being aware of these challenges can help you prepare for them, recognise them and address them if they arise. An important thing to remember is you are not alone, many of these challenges are also encountered by the wider expat community. There are actions you can take to help deal with the most common health problems of expat life.

Feelings of isolation are common amongst the expat community, being away from your usual support network can result in emotional and practical difficulties. It can be difficult to meet people socially and form friendships in your new country. Whether you have travelled alone or with your family, it is important to have friends to spend time with in order to feel truly settled and help alleviate culture shock.

Ensure you have adequate international health insurance cover to enable you to access medical services when you need them. Plan for the unexpected by including medical repatriation in case of emergency and an expatriate assistance programme if you do struggle to settle in and need some support.