Being in a foreign country and not knowing anyone needing emergency medical care is something that many do not want to think or talk about. But the truth is that it can happen to any of us at any time, so this is a question or something that every traveler should ask themselves. So what do you do if you find yourself in a foreign country and you need to find a qualified doctor or dentist? Where do you go to try to find one?
To find qualified medical help in a country you are visiting or not familiar with, you can contact your embassy. If they cannot help you, you go to where many local ex-pats may hang out and ask them where they go to get medical help. Most ex-pats are well informed on where to get medical help. Many of the International schools will also know where to get adequate medical help. You can also ask at your hotel where they would recommend. Check on the internet or ask your insurance provider to recommend where you should go for medical help.
You can do many things to try to find qualified medical care when you are traveling overseas. If your medical care is an emergency, you will need to work quickly and depend on those who can really help you.
Here are some thoughts on finding qualified medical care in the case of a medical emergency or to find some needed medical care:
Finding Good Local Knowledge
If you are overseas and need medical care, local knowledge can be really an invaluable thing to have. There are two kinds of knowledge as ex-pat knowledge and local knowledge.
Here is the difference between expat knowledge and local knowledge.
- Expat Knowledge – Expats or expatriates are those who are living overseas and away from their own country. If I am American and wanted to find a doctor or clinic that can speak English, I would first try to find some American or English speaking ex-pats to ask them where they go to find an English speaking doctor. If you are French, you may want to ask the French community if there is a French-speaking doctor, etc. The Expats living in a country, especially if they work for an Embassy or another western organization, are usually pretty clued into what is happening in the country they live in.
- Local Knowledge: This would be someone who is from the country you are traveling to. Many would assume, well, shouldn’t you always ask the person from the country and has good local knowledge? But I have found that even though someone lives in a country, it does not mean they know or understand where most westerners would go to get medical care or find an English or French-speaking doctor. In many places, the local standard of medical care and the western medical care standard is not the same.
To find good local knowledge, I would go to where the ex-pats are. First, you can start with your embassy. Many embassies will already have information about the best medical hospitals available in the country they are in. They will need to have this information for their own personal.
If the embassy does not have this or if For some reason they will not give you the information, then I would then try to find some places where the ex-pats go such as restaurants, bars and see if you can talk to some people that live there to find out where they go to get their medical help.
Most countries where the ex-pats also have some international schools. Most of these international schools would also have information on where the best doctors are in the area. If it doesn’t work for you to find out from an embassy or where the ex-pats are, you can try to talk to some international schools to see if they have any information.
If you notice in all of these, I am asking you to talk to the ex-pats directly. The reason is that I have found in some countries, especially developing countries, that even if a local person hangs out with ex-pats and seems to know them well, they may not have information on where the ex-pats go to get proper medical care.
When to use local vs. ex-pat knowledge to get guidance on medical care?
One of the keys to traveling overseas and seeking good medical advice is to know when to use local vs. ex-pat knowledge. Here are the circumstances I would see for each:
- When to use local knowledge – If I was in a country like Sweden. Norway, France, or England needed to find some good medical care; the first people I would reach out to would-be my local friends. The standard of medical care in these places is excellent, so the main knowledge I need would be to have some good insider information on where to go for good medical care or how the local medical system worked.
- When to use ex-pat knowledge – If, on the other hand, I was in Kenya, Vietnam, Cambodia, or Zimbabwe, I would try to find the ex-pat community and find out where they go for good medical care. The ex-pat community would have many valuable insights into where and how to get some western standard medical care.
But what if you are traveling to a new country and you do not know anyone? How do you then get this insider information on finding good medical care?
Here are some places I would ask and why I would ask these places to find good medical care in the country I am visiting.
Ask your hotel
Many hotels may have a list of the best places for Emergency medical care or clinics, especially if you are staying in a 5 star or western hotel. But If you are not in a 5-star hotel, they may not have this knowledge or may send you to a local hospital.
That is why unless you are sure that the hotel has the kind of qualified information that you need, I will double-check their information.
Call the US Embassy or your country Embassy
All US Embassies or consulates usually have an American citizens section and a Community Liaison Officer. These American Services sections or the Commusually Liaison Office usually has a list or knowledge of place in the country that can offer some western standard medical care.
If the Embassy or consulate is so small that they do not have an Ameican citizen’s section or a Community Liason Office, then the Embassy will always have some expatriate staff that is working there, and the expatriate staff usually always have this local knowledge.
If you are not American, you can try to call your own country’s Embassy. Most Embassies have a similar kind of office within the Embassy, or they have ex-pat staff who should also have a similar knowledge as the Amerian embassy staff.
If your country does not have an Embassy, you can try to contact the American or another western embassy to talk to their ex-pat staff and see if you can get any information from them on where to go for excellent medical care.
To find the nearest U.S, Embassy in the country you are traveling to, you can click here to see the U.S. State Department’s full list of embassies. When I clicked, for example, on the list for the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, it came up with the main U.S Embassy and the Ho Chi Minh Consulate list. They gave me an address, and a phone number shows me on the map where the U.S.Embassy is located. As I live in Vietnam, I know the U.S. Embassy has two offices here, and one of those has the American Services section.
I mention this since even though it shows the list’s address, it may not show a complete list of all the offices the U.S Embassy has in a country. It will just show the main address of the Embassy or consulate.
If you plan to visit any Embassy, you must be sure to bring your passport with you. The U.S. Embassy guards will not allow you to enter the building without this. Even U.S. Government employees must have their ID’s to enter the building.
Find an international School and talk to them
Most countries where there are U.S. Embassies will have some kind of international school. Most of these schools will also have some foreign teachers; if you cannot get to see the U.S. Embassy or another Embassy for some reason, you can try to talk to the International Schools.
Many of these international schools have mainly foreign teachers and students. As they have international students, one of their concerns is international students’ and teachers’ health and welfare. Thus, they should have some idea of what western medical care is available in the country you are visiting.
With so many school shootings and other issues around the world these days, many international schools also have security guards posted at the front gates. This is especially true if this is a school where many Embassy children attend, as many of the Embassies may insist on the school having adequate security.
I know when I have had to enter UNIS, one of the main International Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, I have had to stop at the guard station and give them my ID. So, if you decide to try to contact the international schools and have no contacts there, you may need to talk to the guards first to enter the schools.
You will probably need to give them a reason why you are trying to enter and be willing to go through their security checks. I would request to get to the front office as usually the people at the front office would have some idea or know who you can talk to find out where to get the adequate western medical care you need.
If you attend church in the country you are visiting, then ask there.
I attend a church that usually has a few western members also attending the church. So if you also attend a church or another organization you know will have ex-pat members or other foreigners who live in the country you are visiting, this is a great option to find and know where to get excellent western standard medical care in the country you are visiting.
Go to Bars or restaurants where expats go and ask them
If you do not attend a church or know of another community group, you can also try to go to bars or restaurants where many ex-pats hang out and ask them if they know where or how to get good medical care. I have found more ex-pats are usually very friendly.
In most parts of the world, especially in the third world or developing countries, there are usually certain areas of town where you can find more ex-pats than other town parts. Most of the time, this area is close to the main International school where most of the Embassy children are attending. If you go to this area, you could probably get talking to some of the ex-pats there and find out what western medical care is available in the country you are visiting.
Internet searches and social media
Today the internet and social media are a wealth of information. In many countries with many ex-pats, there are also clinics and hospitals set up for the ex-pats; many of these clinics or hospitals will have webpages you can search online. Of course, one problem is to know if the clinic you are searching for is really good or not. That is why local ex-pat knowledge is usually so valuable.
If you are interested to learn more about this, you can read this blog on medical care in Vietnam for some ideas on some clinics and hospitals that could be available. You can read the blog entitled Guide to Emergency Medical Care in Hanoi, Vietnam, by clicking here.
In many parts of the world, the ex-pat community can also be very active with online and social media sites. In Hanoi, Vietnam, for example, the ex-pat community may have several very active Facebook groups. The ex-pat community may even have some local magazines or newspapers. So you can also try to do a search online or look for some local ex-pat magazines or other materials.
Some western supermarkets or restaurants may have notice boards up that will have some notices specifically for the ex-pat community. Some of these notice boards may have advertisements for clinics or other medical care facilities.
Check International Emergency Clinics as International SOS.
One of the largest groups of International clinics in the world is International SOS. They have clinics all over the world. These clinics are set up mainly for the ex-pat community in the parts of the world they serve. In some parts of the world, they may be the only Western standard clinic around.
Many International SOS clinics have western doctors or at least western-trained doctors. You can check out their website by clicking here to find the locations of their clinics around the world. In the past, Vietnam had an International SOS Clinic, but recently they sold it to Raffles, another group with some international clinics. Even if there is no SOS clinic at the address they have listed, you may find an international clinic in the location that is serving mainly the ex-pat community.
Check with your insurance provider.
Many insurance providers will have the names of the best hospitals or clinics around the world. So if you are really unsure where to get the medical care you need in the country you are traveling to, you should try to contact your insurance provider and ask them what clinics or hospitals you should go to. In some cases, they may advise you to leave the country and go to another country to help you more with your medical needs.
Many insurance companies have what is called a Travel Assistance program. A program like that is usually open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so that you can contact them at any time. A travel assistance program should help you to identify and find good medical care in the country you are visiting.
Many third world countries or developing countries will not have the medical care you need within the country.
There are many third-world countries or developing countries that will not have the medical care or medical expertise you may need. I know that even here in Vietnam, many times for more serious problems, people may fly to Singapore or another nearby country with better medical care. If this is your situation or you do not feel confident in the doctors or medical care you are getting, you should get out of the country and get to a place to help you.
Suppose you are going to be traveling in very remote places in the world. It would help if you considered getting a medical insurance plan that includes medical evacuation. Excellent health travelers’ medical plans should include medical evacuation. A plan with medical evacuation should help you get out of the country you are in and get you to a country and place to give you the medical care you need.
Every traveler should be asking themselves if I get hurt, where or how can I find the medical care that I need? Understanding how to get that knowledge could end up being the difference between life and death. So it is best that you know and understand these things before you begin your travels and at least have a plan in place if you may need to find good quality medical care while traveling overseas.
If you are traveling with children, or you are older, or you have a preexisting medical condition, then you must have a plan in place to know where you need to go in case you need to get emergency or even general medical care for the countries and places you are traveling. With a bit of research before you travel, you should be able to have this all planned out and available just in case you may need it.
Will my insurance company cover me when I am traveling overseas?
Most insurance plans will not cover you when you are traveling overseas unless that is specifically part of your insurance policy. To find out if they will cover you when you are traveling overseas and how much they will cover you, you will need to check with them directly.
If your insurance provider does not cover you, you should purchase additional insurance coverage or purchase another insurance policy specifically for travel. It is also good to get an insurance policy that includes evacuation if you get hurt or need it.
Is Travel Insurance and Health Insurance the same?
Travel insurance and health insurance are not the same. Travel insurance is insurance you usually buy with your airline ticket or specifically for your travel plans. It will cover some basics, such as if your flight is canceled, or you have an emergency, so you must change your plans, or your baggage is delayed, or sometimes some basic medical care. But for medical care, you will really need to read all the fine print on the policy you have purchased to know what it may or may not cover.
Health insurance is designed to cover patient treatments, check-ups, and other medical care. If you are traveling for long periods of time, it would be best for you to have both policies in hand, such as travel insurance and then also some medical coverage in case you need it. If you are traveling to some remote places, I would also suggest you make sure you have a good evacuation package included as part of your insurance coverage.