Medical Care while Abroad! Perpetual Tourist!!

One of my Instagram followers sent me a question via DM. In it, they said they were thinking of doing full-time travel, but they weren’t sure how to get medical attention while traveling. So this time, I’ll give you advice on how to take care of your kids, get occupational therapy, and get other medical things you might need while you’re on the road.

Before we get started, I want you to know that if you have a minor issue that’s keeping you from doing full-time travel, please let me know. Shoot me a DM me on Instagram. I will research it and get you the answers. The same thing keeping you from traveling full-time is keeping other people from it, and I want to help them too.

Now, let’s go through a list of stuff you might not have considered that will help you navigate your specific medical situation.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Anything you can get over the counter in the US is available in every other country. It might not be the same brand, but you can bring the box or have a picture of it and take it to a local pharmacy. The pharmacist will find a solution based on its ingredients and what it does. 

Don’t forget: the US Embassy has a list of pharmacies in every country if you need it.

For example, we ran out of this Target-branded allergy medicine after a few months in South America. We don’t have allergies but use this medication whenever Sam has a runny nose. 

I took the actual box to a pharmacy and asked, “Tienes algo similar?” or “Do you have something similar?” and they gave me an answer. 

So if you’re looking for over-the-counter stuff, don’t worry - you’ll find pretty much everything you need to find.

Prescription Medication

Are you worried because your medication is more complicated, like blood pressure medicine or something more severe? Then I suggest you do the same thing: bring the packaging, go to the local pharmacist, and get it compared. 

But before you take the new medication, go back to your old doctor through email or a virtual meeting. Have them look at what you have and ask if you can take those as an alternative. 

That's a little bit more complicated but totally doable, so please do not let your medication keep you from traveling full-time. 

Getting Prescription Refills

Another quick tip is to tell your doctor you’re traveling full-time and see if they can give you a 60, 90, or 180-day prescription. Most of the time, they'll give it to you. That helps things along because you're not worrying about it every month.

Getting Prescriptions While Traveling Within the US

My advice for those traveling within the US via RV or AirBNB is to use a mail prescription. The vast majority of medicines can be mailed nowadays. 

If you have state-specific insurance and your doctor can't fill a prescription in other states, just have them mail the medication to whatever mailbox you're using. Then, have that place forward it to you. But if you have national insurance, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, they’ll just call the pharmacy closest to you.

Getting Prescriptions While Traveling in Other Countries

If you're traveling like Sam and I, where you're in a new country every 90 days, here's what you do: talk to your doctor in the US before you leave and tell them precisely what you’re planning. They might offer to email you or do a virtual appointment to double-check your medication as you travel. After that, you can use any of the virtual appointment services available.

You also want to have all your medical records with you when you go to a doctor in another country. It's okay if it's in English because somebody can translate it. 

Most prescription medications in the US do not require prescriptions outside the US. Meanwhile, some OTC meds in the US are illegal or not allowed in other countries. A quick email to the US Embassy of your destination country will answer all your questions. 

Remember: doctors are not pharmacists, but you should still be able to ask them to compare a medication’s ingredient list. At the end of the day, medication is just chemistry.

Dealing With Insurance

Here's the kicker: you want to avoid paying American insurance premiums once you're traveling full-time because it's super expensive. You will spend less out of pocket as you travel the world than you will just in your premiums.

The only time I’ll suggest to keep paying your American insurance premium is if you have an ongoing medical condition. You don't want to discontinue your relationship with your doctor in the US. 

Treatment Costs in Other Countries

Americans have this fear of going to the doctor because it's so expensive and can be financially catastrophic. That's just not the way the rest of the world works.

When we went to a doctor in Quito because Sam had been lethargic for a few days, I walked into a hospital right off the street. I didn't have any kind of insurance aside from my traveler's insurance, so they charged me $55 to see the doctor. That's more than my copay would have been in the US, but not by much. At least I didn't have any insurance premiums to pay.

If you go to a big socialist country, you might pay 20 bucks upfront and they'll do any procedure you need, even giving birth. But in most places, you'll have some out-of-pocket cost because you're not a citizen of that country - you're a tourist. You don’t benefit from their social system.

Of course, if you have dual citizenship and are an ex-pat, that's a different story. But if you're just starting your full-time travel journey, you'll pay out of pocket.

Planning for Major Medical Procedures While Traveling

If your kids are sick or if you don't feel good, don't hesitate - just go. It's cheaper than you think. 

You can get any medical attention you need in any country. For example, I'm undergoing IVF treatment and plan to give birth in Montevideo, Uruguay. People have babies everywhere, so I just need to check the hospital prices beforehand.

Do a price check if you know you'll have a baby or need expensive medical care. Some hospitals have a state rate, while others have variable pricing. For example, it might be $3,000 to have a baby in one hospital and $4,000 in the other, but the birthing suites are way nicer at that $4,000 hospital.

Always Declare Medication to Border Officials

I want to be clear: don't lie if you're carrying medication. Tell border agents you have them. It's not illegal, so please don't hide money or prescriptions. 

If you're concerned, email your prescription info to the embassy before leaving. They’ll tell you what to do, but always declare your medication and stay above board.

Should You Return to the US for Treatment?

Most families return for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions, so why not plan your doctor’s appointments around those? It takes a bit more planning, but you can travel full-time and return to the US a few times a year to see your doctor, get medical attention, and attend other family events.

But let's be honest: most of us don't need to do that. We just need preventative care such as annual pap smears for ladies, colonoscopies, and other preventative procedures. Medical professionals in other countries can do all of those things.

In fact, many people travel intentionally to South America to do dental work and avoid the exorbitant fees in the US. Most medical professionals are trained in the US and return to their country, so you get the same level of care.

So please keep going to the dentist, keep going to the doctor, and keep sending your kids to the pediatrician. The medical community worldwide is not handicapped just because they're not Americans.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post answers all of your medical-related concerns. As you can see, getting what you need medication-wise is easy, even when traveling. And if your situation is a bit more complicated, there’s nothing a bit of planning can’t solve.