It's important to take steps to protect your health while studying abroad. Being in such a new and foreign environment can add stress, and factors that may influence your health may be different than they are in Burlington. You should work with your doctors before you leave to develop a plan for staying healthy while abroad.
Make sure to practice self-care while abroad. This includes taking basic precautions like wearing sunscreen, taking medications as prescribed, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and building time into your daily life to relax and de-stress. If you do experience any physical, mental, or emotional issues while abroad, make sure to contact your on-site program staff or contact at your host university and they will help you get appropriate care.
Make a Plan with your Doctor
Keep in mind that moving abroad and experiencing a transition to a new environment, new culture, new food, etc. can exacerbate or uncover physical and mental illness. It is important to work with your health professionals to make a plan for dealing with your health abroad. For more information on what you should do to get ready to leave for your host country, see Before Departure.
- Before you study abroad, make sure you visit your doctors, dentists, and any other health care practitioners that you regularly see. During these visits, you should discuss any medical issues you have that may affect your experiences abroad.
- Make sure your health records are up to date and that you have copies of them that you can access while you are abroad. This is particularly important if you have a medical condition or if you expect to need medical care abroad.
- Research whether or not you will need immunizations or specific travel medications (like malaria pills) for your host country. International SOS can provide you with information about the health and immunization requirements of your host country, and the UVM Travel Clinic can provide you with most travel-related medications and immunizations.
If you are taking any prescription drugs with you abroad, please visit your health care provider prior to departing to discuss transporting your medications abroad.
- Learn about the legality of your medications in your host country. Some medications that are more common in the US are strictly controlled in other countries. A common example of this are medications like Ritalin or Adderall which are used for treating conditions like ADHD.
- Ask your health care provider and insurance company for guidance on how to secure a sufficient supply of medication to last through your stay.
- For safety reasons, it is best to carry your medication in their original, clearly labeled containers along with a copy of the original prescription. This will also ease your way through Customs.
- Always keep your medications in your carry-on bag.
- If you have a medical condition, consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or other notification while abroad. You might want to bring cards with an explanation of your allergies or illnesses in your host country's language to show when necessary.
- Bring photocopies of your prescriptions- even a glasses/contact lens prescription.
Make sure that you are ready to practice safe sex while abroad. Rates of STDs vary from country to country. If you have unprotected sex, you are putting yourself at risk for contracting an STD or causing an unwanted pregnancy. You should bring your preferred methods of contraceptives with you- do not assume you can easily find them in your host country, and do not rely on your partner to provide the contraceptives. Some birth control methods may be more tightly regulated or illegal in your host country. Abortion is not legal in every country.
Keep in mind that any mental health issues you may have at home will likely still be present while you are abroad. In some cases, being in the new, unfamiliar environment of your host country can exacerbate your symptoms. Make sure to keep taking any prescribed medication while abroad, and if you feel that your mental health is becoming unmanageable while you are abroad, be in touch with your program director or host university contact to get help.
Alcohol and Drugs
While you may be of legal drinking age in your host country, you should still be responsible in your use of alcohol. Follow all local laws and programs rules, and do not assume you can treat alcohol and drugs in the same way you may have at UVM or at home.
- Safety should be your first priority. Overconsumption of alcohol can make you an easier target for criminal activity of many kinds, and you will be even more vulnerable abroad where the culture, neighborhoods, and language may be unfamiliar to you.
- Most countries have a more moderate cultural relationship with alcohol than the US, and while drinks with dinner may be normal, drunkenness is viewed as inappropriate. Make sure to be respectful of the culture you are visiting.
- Many countries have stricter rules than the U.S., particularly regarding drugs. Each year hundreds of Americans are jailed abroad for drug offenses. UVM students have been arrested and imprisoned abroad for drug offenses in the past. In 32 countries around the world, you can be executed for a drug offense.
Insects and Disease
Insects can cause serious illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, zika, lyme disease, and others. Many of these diseases do not exist in the US but are prevalent in other countries. Students studying abroad have become ill with these diseases.
- Be aware of what insects pose a threat in your area and take the appropriate measures to alleviate your risk of disease.
- Use bug spray, mosquito netting, and preventative medication where appropriate
- Discuss potential threats with your travel doctor and program director or host university contact.
Tattoos and Piercings
Due to differing regulations, getting tattoos and piercings in your host country may have more risks than doing so back home. If you choose to get a tattoo or piercing while abroad, you should make sure to research the tattoo/piercing shop's practices and reputation, and the country's regulations and risks to make sure it is safe.
- Exposure to blood borne pathogens (HIV, Hepatitis B and C) is possible.
- Even in countries with strict tattoo/piercing regulations, tattoo/piercing shops may or may not follow all of them.
- Cheap tattoos and piercings can sometimes mean:
- Non-sterile or reprocessed needles
- Cheap ink, which can cause skin irritation or can fade quickly
Food and Water
Remember that food and water can make you sick in developed countries as well as less developed ones. You should always observe and follow locals’ behavior regarding food and water. Have medication that treats food and water-borne illnesses and their symptoms with you, so that you can access it easily if needed.
- Particularly surrounding water, restaurants, and street food
- Always wash your produce before consuming it.
- In countries or locations where water may not be safe to drink or your food may have come from unsanitary conditions, always cook or peel your produce.
Be aware of whether water is safe to drink or not in your new home and any place you travel.
- Sometimes you may find that some taps are safe because they are connected to a safer water supply than other taps.
- In some cases, water may be safe to drink at some times of the day and not at others.
When to Seek Medical Care
Seek Medical Attention When…
- You have a fever of 101 degrees F for 24 hours or more
- If you have severe and frequent diarrhea or vomiting
Seek Emergency Medical Attention When…
- You have a fever of 103 degrees F or more
- You feel confused or disoriented
- You are experiencing reduced levels of consciousness (fainting)
- You have a severe headache
In Any Medical Situation
- Make sure to contact your program staff or host university as soon as possible and let them know how you are feeling. They can help direct you to appropriate care and support you while you are receiving it.
UVM has contracted with a company called International SOS to provide worldwide assistance and evacuation services for all registered UVM students. International SOS offers our students travel, medical and security advice and services, as well as on-line access to information which many insurance companies do not offer. More information on International SOS and its services are available on their website and on the Pre-Departure Guidebook's Emergencies Abroad section. UVM requires all students to maintain health insurance coverage throughout the time they are abroad (International SOS only covers students during their program dates and does not include any personal travel before or after their program). Some of International SOS's services aside from health insurance include:
- Medical monitoring
- Inpatient admission and identification of receiving physician
- Emergency and routine medical advice
- Pre-trip information on travel health issues
- Medical and dental referrals
- Outpatient referrals
- Outpatient case management
- Claims assistance
- Outpatient medical expense guarantee and payment (extra fees will apply)
- Inpatient medical expense guarantee, cost review and payment (extra fees will apply)
- Translations and interpreters (extra fees will apply)
Before you go abroad, you should log in to the International SOS website using the membership number on your International SOS card (given to you at Pre-Departure Orientation) to register your emergency contact information, and any medical history or information that a health care professional would need to know in order to treat you in case of an emergency.
Please remember: International SOS coverage is only available to students starting two days prior to their program start date, and ending two days after their program end date. Students who travel for personal reasons before or after their term abroad beyond these dates are not covered by International SOS during that time period of personal travel. International health insurance is available from many different companies for personal travel.
Health Insurance Abroad
As long as you complete the UVM study abroad approval process, you will have International SOS international health insurance coverage, and some programs or host countries will require you to purchase specific health insurance policies additionally.
- It is recommended that you check with your current health insurance provider to enquire about coverage for any possible medical expenses incurred while traveling abroad.
- Many programs and/or countries may require that you purchase specific health insurance. Check with your host university or program provider for requirements.
- It is possible that you may need to pay cash for some medical services on-site. International SOS will provide you with coverage, claims, and reimbursement information.
- While traveling, you should carry your International SOS card as proof of insurance.
- If your friends and family are planning to visit you, they should plan to purchase additional health and travel insurance that will cover them in their travels.
- A number of companies provide short-term health insurance coverage for students studying abroad and their families and friends visiting them. UVM's recommended provider of health insurance abroad for students is GeoBlue. You can find out more and sign up for the insurance plan through GeoBlue here.