Preparing for a Healthy Overseas Assignment
Frank Gillingham, MD
Of the many goals that expatriates, accompanying family members, and employers have for an international assignment, none is more important than having a safe and healthy experience both abroad and upon repatriation. As with any business objective, the key is careful preparation, in this case oriented to health and safety.
The practical points noted below allow the well-prepared expatriate to avoid considerable anxiety and frustration when the inevitable illness strikes. These points were developed with the help of dozens of international physicians and expatriates themselves.
Visit your primary physician and dentist and obtain appropriate records.
Choose a physician in your host country, for each family member, and arrange an introductory appointment.
Learn about specific health risks of your host country and obtain vaccinations from a qualified physician.
Translate the names of prescription and over-the-counter medications you use.
Pack self-help tools for family care, including a reference book about common medical conditions and an extensive first aid kit.
Understand the healthcare system in the host country.
Learn local medical lingo so you can communicate effectively with healthcare providers.
Develop a contingency plan for serious illness.
Anticipate the psychological effects of expatriate life.
Don't dismiss foreign healthcare, which is excellent in many places. Differences with US care exist, but that doesn't meant the U.S. way is only effective way or even the best.
If you are bringing children on your assignment:
Schedule well child visits prior to leaving.
Become knowledgeable about childhood vaccinations.
If you have a chronic medical condition or see a doctor regularly at home:
Arrange an appointment with appropriate specialist in your post country.
Consider obtaining a bracelet or pendant indicating your important medical condition.
Be vigilant for symptoms and other signs that your condition is worsening.