Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(10):1809-1810

Do I need to see my doctor before I travel to other countries?

It is a good idea to have medical and dental check-ups before your trip. You should be aware of any problems and find out about any medicines you should take. Also, remember that your health insurance may not pay for treatment in another country. Find out what your insurance covers before you leave.

Depending on where you are going, you should see your doctor at least six weeks before you leave. People traveling to certain countries will need to get shots. These shots can take up to six weeks to work.

What shots might I need before I leave?

Tell your doctor where you are going, and ask if you need any shots. The shots you had when you were a child also may need to be updated. Some shots that people get before they travel are:

  • Hepatitis A or B

  • Influenza (“the flu”)

  • Japanese encephalitis (say: en-CEF-uh-LI-tis)

  • Measles-mumps-rubella (or MMR, for short)

  • Meningococcal meningitis (say: muh-NIN-juh-cok-ul men-un-JIE-tis)

  • Pneumococcal (say: NEW-mo-cok-ul)

  • Polio

  • Rabies

  • Tetanus and diphtheria (say: TET-nus, dip-THEE-ree-uh)

  • Typhoid fever (say: TY-foid)

  • Chickenpox

  • Yellow fever

What should I take with me?

Carry enough of your regular medicines to last your whole trip, with some extra in case your trip home is delayed. Pack the medicines in the containers they came in, along with extra prescriptions for them. You could also take your prescription for glasses or contact lenses. Ask your doctor if you need a prescription for an antibiotic that you can take if you get traveler's diarrhea. Wear a medical information bracelet if needed.

It can be helpful to take a first-aid kit with you (see the box on the next page).

How can I stay healthy while I am traveling?

Eat carefully if you are going to a country with a high risk of traveler's diarrhea. Steaming hot, well-cooked food is usually safest. Do not eat foods from street vendors, dairy products that are not pasteurized, or raw or undercooked seafood.

Water also can carry germs that cause traveler's diarrhea. Drink water from sealed bottles if possible, and do not use ice. Use bottled water when you brush your teeth. Remember that fruits and vegetables may have been washed in dirty water. Do not eat salads, and peel your fruits.

If you're going to a country with a risk of malaria, your doctor can give you a prescription for medicine that can help you stay well. Remember to start taking your malaria medicine before you leave for your trip, and keep taking it for four weeks after you get home.

Avoid swimming and other water activities in freshwater lakes and streams. This can put you at risk for disease in some areas.

Remember that mosquitoes can carry disease. If you are going to a country with a high risk of disease carried by mosquitos, take insect repellent. Insect repellents with DEET work the best. Cover your bed with a mosquito net while you sleep.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

International Society of Travel Medicine

World Health Organization

Travel First-Aid Kit

A first-aid kit to take with you could contain:

  • Your prescription medicines in the containers they came in.

  • Antibiotic ointment (one brand: Neosporin), adhesive bandages, and hydrocortisone cream for cuts and scrapes.

  • Tools like scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, or a pocket knife. A mirror also may be helpful.

  • Medicines for common problems, like diarrhea and upset stomach, coughs and colds, and allergies.

  • Pain medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol), naproxen (one brand: Aleve), ibuprofen (one brand: Motrin) or ketoprofen (one brand: Orudis KT).

  • Medicine for motion sickness, such as dimenhydrinate (one brand: Dramamine), and an antinausea drug like promethazine (brand name: Phenergan). Acetazolamide (brand name: Diamox) may help prevent altitude sickness.

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