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Your travel health checklist

Duncan Reid: Patient Safety & Professional Services Manager | minute read
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In 2022, overseas trips from the UK were recorded to be in the region of 71 million. With so many of us heading abroad post-COVID-19, we’ve put together this handy travel health checklist to help you get to grips with how to stay well when visiting a foreign country.

The checklist is broken down into things to consider before you travel, and what you’ll need when you’re away.

Before you go

Travel insurance

Taking out travel insurance for your trip can ensure you’re covered in the event you need medical treatment while you’re away. It can offer peace of mind and protect you from costly healthcare bills. Many providers offer single or multi-trip cover, and insure solo travellers, couples, or families in some cases. Check with your bank as certain reward current accounts and credit cards include travel insurance as a benefit. If yours does, just make sure it covers you for the type of trip you’re going on by checking the policy terms. If not, you may need to take out additional cover.

For those with existing health conditions, be upfront about these when obtaining your quotes. A lot of providers offer specialist policies for pre-existing medical conditions.

When should I get my travel insurance?

It’s always worth getting your health insurance as soon as you’ve booked your trip. If you’ve opted for cancellation cover and have to pull out of your trip before you travel for medical reasons, your policy should provide cover to reclaim part or all of what you’ve spent on the trip (flights, accommodation, etc.). Curtailment cover for a set amount is usually given as an option too in case you become ill and need to return home early.  

Print a copy of your travel insurance policy schedule to take with you.

If you’re travelling to an EU country, the NHS recommends applying for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you access to state healthcare of your destination country either free of charge or at the cost a local resident would pay. It doesn’t cost anything to get the card and once you have it, it’s valid for 5 years.

Vaccinations

Depending on where you’re travelling to, you may need extra protection from infections where risk of contraction is high. Some countries in Africa, South America, and Asia require visitors to be vaccinated against certain illnesses like yellow fever. We’ve put together this comprehensive travel vaccinations guide to help you plan your travels.

As soon as you know which countries you’ll be visiting, check the health guidance for each of them on the NHS Fit for Travel website.

Travelling with medicines

If you take regular medication, check to see if there are any entry requirements for your destination country. Some medicines for example may be classified as controlled drugs in other countries. It’s advised to talk to your prescribing GP well in advance of travelling, letting them know which country you’re visiting and for how long. If you’re taking medicines away with you, keep them in their original packaging with the label and if possible, take a copy of your prescription with you too. Your doctor should also be able to provide you with a letter detailing the name of the medicine you’re taking and the condition you take it for, although they may charge a fee for this service.

How should I carry my medication?

Your medication should be kept in your hand luggage, in its original packaging and with a copy of your prescription. If it’s in liquid form and more than 100ml, get in touch with your airline for advice on security measures at the airport before you fly.

If it needs to be stored at a certain temperature, the NHS offers useful guidance on what you can do to aid this, such as taking a thermos flask or cool bag with you.

While you're away

Long-haul flights

If you’ll be flying to your destination, have a read through the NHS Fit for Travel guidance on air travel. There may be extra precautions to take if you’re at risk of developing blood clots or have an existing medical condition that could be worsened by air travel. Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you’re concerned before you travel. General health advice for long-haul flights includes regularly stretching your legs, moving around when possible. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake or avoiding it for the duration of the flight if you can. Moisturisers and nasal sprays may help to alleviate any discomfort caused by the very dry atmosphere of the pressurised plane cabin. Fit for Travel also offers comprehensive advice for travelling when pregnant.

Sun safety

Protection from the sun’s UV rays is an important factor when travelling abroad. Make sure you pack plenty of sunscreen with adequate UVA and UVB protection. The NHS recommends a minimum SPF of 30 to protect against UVB rays and at least a 4-star rating to keep your skin safe from UVA rays. Have a read of our suncare FAQs for more sun safety guidance. Other recommendations include staying out of direct sunlight when it’s strongest around midday, drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and wearing a hat and sunglasses to protect your scalp and eyes.

Hygiene and preventative measures

It’s helpful to familiarise yourself with local customs for your destination country before you travel. Wherever you’re travelling to, good hand hygiene is essential. A hand sanitiser can be taken in your hand luggage as long as it’s under 100ml and kept in a clear plastic bag to transit through airport security.

Can I drink the water abroad?

The tap water in developed countries is generally safe to drink. If you’re unsure, it’s safest to be cautious and choose bottled water instead. Alternatively, you could boil a kettle of water to sterilise it before letting it cool. Don’t opt for ice in your drinks when out and about unless you know the venue’s water supply is treated. Hot drinks like tea and coffee that have been made with boiled water will be safe to drink.

Other general precautions:

  • Note down the details of the nearest pharmacy and medical centre before you travel

  • Use a good quality DEET-based insect repellent to deter bites

  • Don’t pet local wildlife, including stray dogs and cats

  • Pack a first aid kit, equipped with diarrhoea relief and rehydration sachets

  • Avoid raw meat, seafood, and unpasteurised dairy products

  • Choose peelable fruits and remove the skin before eating

Useful numbers

Keep a note of important contact details with your other travel paperwork, including next of kin in the event of an emergency. It’s also helpful to have the details of the British embassy in your destination country. They can provide assistance if you need support while abroad.