What to Expect When You Visit a Doctor Abroad

Posted on September 1, 2011


Visiting a doctor in a foreign country can be a scary experience.  You don’t speak the language, and you don’t know the rules, so most people will avoid going to the doctor’s at all costs.  However, it’s not nearly as bad as people think, and a quick trip to the doctor’s will prevent you from having to spend your whole trip sick.  This article is here to guide you through your doctor visit abroad, how to prepare, and what to expect.

By Susannah Watson

Before You Leave the US:

  • Get your health insurance straight.  Contact your insurance company and make sure that you will have coverage while you’re abroad.  Some study abroad programs offer health insurance as part of their package, talk to the people in charge and find out the details.
  • Get your prescriptions filled.  If you take prescription medicines, make sure to bring enough with you to last the trip.  This is true especially for those who have ADD and ADHD, as the medications for these are illegal and thus unavailable in some countries in the EU.

Getting to the Clinic:  In some cities the doctor’s office can be difficult to find.  Often times the clinic will be on the second story of a building, with no street view.  The door can be tucked away and hard to find with little visible signage to point patients in the right direction, so be prepared to spend a few minutes looking.

Expect Smaller Clinics:  Clinics tend to be a little smaller in Europe, especially the traveler’s clinics that you’re likely to go to.  In the clinic that I visited, there were no nurses or any other type of staff, just the doctor and three examination rooms.  You put your name on a waiting list, and wait for your turn.

No Insurance Paperwork:  In many walk-in clinics here in the US, they require you to fill out your insurance papers before agreeing to treat you.  In traveler’s clinics abroad, you don’t have to have insurance, you just have to be able to pay for your visit.  Most doctors will take credit card, but just in case be sure to bring about €60 in cash.

Same Procedures:  These are doctors who went to medical school just like any doctor here in the US.  Medical procedures don’t really change much from country to country.  The doctor asks you what is wrong, and then he or she takes a look at the problem areas.  Most doctors will speak some English, but if you can, bring along a friend who can speak at least a little bit of the local language. 

Filling a Prescription:  If the doctor gives you a prescription, it is much easier to fill than it would be here.  All you have to do is head to the closest pharmacy and hand the prescription to the people behind the counter.  They will fill it while you wait, and then you pay and leave.  Again, there is no bother with insurance or paperwork.

Keep Your Receipts:  Because you’ll be paying out of pocket for your health care abroad, keep your receipts until you get back home.  When you get home, depending on your insurance plan you can submit the receipts to your insurance company and they will reimburse you.

Visiting a doctor abroad can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be if you know what to expect.  The procedures are generally the same, and the doctors know what they’re doing.   So don’t be afraid to take a visit to the doctor if you’re feeling ill.  A quick trip to the clinic and your experience abroad will be sick, but you won’t.

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