Maintaining My Health Abroad

My health is always a priority and that’s been emphasised during this pandemic. When abroad, maintaining my health is even more critical as I find myself in unfamiliar and sometimes challenging situations.

I ask questions.

Health insurance, practices and products are not the same in every country. Being aware of these differences is key to my well-being.

Sometimes, a simple Google search will tell me key information. For example, feminine hygiene products are different around the world. Lip Gloss and a Backpack offers a useful guide on this topic.

In addition, I always ask my sponsor or a trusted friend about health insurance and care before moving abroad.

  • How do I get health insurance?
  • What does it cost?
  • How long does coverage last?
  • What does health insurance cover?
  • Can I get the same prescriptions in this country?
  • Are there English-speaking healthcare professionals?

There’s never a stupid question especially when it comes to health.

I make points of contact.

If I have a sponsor who helps me obtain and utilise my health insurance, he or she is my go-to person when I have questions. One of my employers was extremely informative and attentive. She scheduled all medical appointments on my behalf. At the same time, not all sponsors take on this role, and I need to be mindful and selective when disclosing my medical information.

If I don’t have a sponsor to assist with healthcare, I find another point of contact. In the Czech Republic, I was part of a writing group in Prague. Several of the members were English-speaking expats who were extremely helpful when I had questions about healthcare.

I express my needs.

My health is a priority, so I have to communicate my needs before and during my time abroad.

A few years ago, I experienced severe emotional distress after being sexually assaulted at a nightclub in Italy. At that time, I was in an abusive, long-distance relationship which exacerbated the situation. I withdrew from my friends, and my mental health quickly deteriorated. After several weeks, I reached a breaking point and finally asked for help. Since then, I’ve become much more assertive about my needs.

I stay proactive.

Before going abroad, I get a check-up with my primary care physician. If it’s been a while since I’ve seen my ophthalmologist, dentist or gynaecologist, I schedule additional appointments to make sure everything is okay.

While abroad (and at home), I tell someone immediately if I’m unwell. Going to a doctor in a foreign country stresses me out, but delaying action can cause a more serious situation. I’ve yet to visit an emergency room in a foreign country (knock on wood).

I plan ahead.

Planning ahead is a necessity for travelling abroad especially when it comes to prescriptions. For example, if I’m not sure that I can get my prescription in a different country, I request to have it filled for the entire length of my stay. Unfortunately, my insurance company doesn’t make this easy. Sometimes, getting larger supplies of a prescription isn’t possible. (Frankly, I don’t understand year-long birth control isn’t a thing. A study through the Veterans Affairs health system indicated that dispensing year-long prescriptions would save money and reduce unintended pregnancies, according to an article from Insider.)

Note: Prescriptions can’t be mailed internationally.

I bring a friend.

Going into public places when one doesn’t speak the local language can be daunting and going to the doctor is on a different scale. While many Czech doctors speak English, it’s not necessarily easy for them to explain a condition I might have. Sometimes, it was better for me to bring a friend to help translate.

I establish routines.

When I’m experiencing a lot of change in my environment, it’s important to keep some constants. Activities like daily runs and weekly lunches with friends keep me balanced.

In the Czech Republic, I started making smoothie bowls every morning. It made breakfast both fun and healthy and added structure to my day.

I adapt.

Adaptability is the essence of travelling and living abroad. When it comes to health, sometimes I need to consider and try alternatives.

One time, I ran out of birth control a month before going home. I had two options: 1. get a prescription from a Czech doctor or 2. do nothing (aka stop taking birth control for a month). I have intense hormonal fluctuations which are reduced by birth control, so I didn’t want to stop taking it. However, I learnt that I couldn’t get the same birth control that I’d had in the States. After discussing it with a Czech gynaecologist, I decided to try the Czech prescription. Thankfully, I didn’t have any adverse effects.

Travelling and living abroad have given me some of the most enriching experiences, and they’ve also taught me a lot about self-care. Wherever you go, stay happy and healthy.

Thank you!

This week, I’m saying thank you to Rhian HY, a lifestyle blogger. While she specialises in beauty and healthy living, she’s a major advocate for mental health awareness and shares personal experiences and advice about anxiety, depression, ADHD and cyclothymia. I struggle to maintain my own mental health, and her story is incredibly enlightening and empowering. Thank you, Rhian!

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