Know before you go: Expat life in case of emergency

November 01, 2017

Working abroad as an expatriate is the opportunity of a lifetime.

As well as living and working in another country it also often offers the opportunity to:

  • Progress your career
  • Develop additional skills
  • Experience different ways of working
  • Work for an increased salary

However there are also some potential challenges to prepare for. While you may be aware of the steps to take in an emergency in your home country, in unfamiliar territory it may be different. That’s why it is well worth doing some research on what to do in an emergency before you go.

There are steps you can take before you leave to reduce risk and ensure you know what to do in a medical emergency abroad:

Research: investigate the healthcare system of the country you are travelling to. Our guides to national healthcare systems may be a good starting point. Ensure you know how to contact emergency services in your destination country.

Vaccinate: ensure you have any vaccinations needed for the area you are travelling to and that all vaccinations you currently have are up to date.

Medication: if you take regular medication ensure you can get it or an alternative recommended by your own doctor in your destination country. Aside from that, it is always sensible to bring a stocked first aid kit with you so you have familiar products to deal with minor incidents around the home.

Expatriate Health Insurance: to ensure your medical needs are covered while you are working abroad. Ensure your cover includes medical evacuation and repatriation costs, should they be necessary.

By definition natural disasters are difficult to predict and can happen without warning. If you are moving to an area likely to be struck by monsoons, typhoons or earthquakes, rest assured that most countries will have well established emergency plans that are put in place during an incident.

Before you leave it is a good idea to ensure you are familiar with what to do if a natural disaster does occur and where to get accurate and reliable information. It may also be a good idea to read up on making your living arrangements safer if a natural disaster does occur such as:

  • Choosing a home away from water sources.
  • Securing furniture.
  • Preparing an evacuation backpack.

Ultimately it is important to remember that major natural disasters are rare and you are most likely to live and work abroad without ever encountering anything but it is sensible to be prepared.

Although unlikely, conflict can occasionally occur, particularly in countries where the political situation is unstable. The other thing to consider is the possibility of a terrorist attack, which are happening with more frequency in cities around the world. Although difficult to predict, it is important to not allow the risk of a random attack impact on our lives overseas.

There are some simple techniques you can use to reduce your chances of being harmed in conflict or if a terrorist attack does occur:

Register with your consulate or embassy: so they know you are in the country and you can be included in any expat communications or evacuations that occur.

Plan for the worst:
 ensure your expat health insurance includes medical evacuation and you have insurance in case of a non-medical evacuation.

Is there an evacuation plan: check with your new employer to see if they have an evacuation plan and familiarise yourself with it.

Pay attention: wherever you are but especially in crowds, look at what is happening around you. Note people who look like they don’t belong or who may be behaving erratically. Although it may seem restrictive, avoid dining al fresco. Eat indoors and note emergency exits. If an incident does occur, this may save your life.

Blend in: wear similar clothes to locals and drive a similar vehicle, chances are you won’t get a second look from the majority of people.

Be vigilant but don’t let fear impact on your expat experience. The majority of expat locations are as safe as anywhere else in the world.

Although your employer should have your next of kin contact details on file while you are working abroad, it is often worthwhile leaving them with someone else in your destination country. If you become friends with neighbours or colleagues, it may be helpful to leave your emergency contact details with them so they know who to get in contact with if something happens outside of work.
If an emergency does occur while you are abroad, have a plan for how you are going to stay informed. If you are concerned about the accuracy of information from local media make sure you have a list of reliable international sources. It may also be useful to monitor social media for live updates on a fluid situation. Also check the website of your local embassy.

If the worst does happen and you have to leave, it is prudent to have considered the approach you would take. Generally you want to keep things simple:

  • Get away from what is causing the problem.
  • Follow local advice on where to go.
  • Avoid natural bottlenecks like mountains.
  • Make your way to a functioning airport.

Although during an emergency evacuation you should try to travel light, there are a number of key things that an emergency pack should contain:

  • Passports and important documentation.
  • Cash
  • Food and water.
  • Hand sanitiser.
  • Change of clothes.
  • Map and torch.
  • First Aid kit.

This will ensure you have the basics you need to travel to safety, even if it takes a few days. Again, it is highly unlikely you will ever need to use an emergency pack but it is worth considering if you are moving to a potentially volatile area.

Amongst all the preparation, don’t forget about your health while you are abroad. International Health Insurance allows you to access medical treatment should you need it. Get an individual international health insurance quote today.