Staying Healthy Abroad

Take Care of Yourself

  • Wash Hands:  Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before meals and after using the restroom.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel to clean your hands.
  • H2O:  Be aware of the water safety/contamination of your host country. If you are traveling to an area with non-potable water be sure to boil your water, or if unsure drink bottled water or carbonated beverages with an intact seal. Remember, ice cubes could be made of unfiltered water and pose a chance for infection. In addition, brushing your teeth with tap water is not advisable in places where you must drink bottled water. While you should be aware of the water you drink, make sure you’re drinking enough of it. Heat and lots of walking can result in an increased risk of dehydration, as can drinking alcohol. Make sure you’re keeping yourself adequately hydrated.
  • Food:  Foods readily available in the US may not be available or easy to find in your host country. Watch for raw fruits and vegetables that may be washed in unfiltered or tap water. Watch for raw or undercooked meat, shellfish, or un-refrigerated foods and dairy – food storage temperature requirements in some countries are often less enforced or simply different than they are here and your system may not be ready for this.
  • Recommended vaccinations: Prior to departure, you will be visiting a medical provider for a physical exam and possibly meeting with a travel nurse for your travel consultation. Some parts of the world may have required vaccinations, while others will have optional vaccinations against diseases which may be prevalent in the area. Follow the advice of your provider and get the recommended vaccinations or update boosters for some vaccinations such as tetanus if necessary to prevent possible illness while traveling. Some diseases are not so exotic but have gained increased prevalence in many parts of the world, such as measles, and it is important to make sure you’re up to date on these vaccinations as well.
  • Take prescribed medications: If you were prescribed medications prior to your trip, either for an ongoing condition or as a preventive measure against diseases in the country you’re traveling in, it is important to continue taking medication as prescribed.
  • Report medical conditions:  We strongly encourage you to inform your site director or faculty leader of any medical or psychological conditions as soon as possible.  The stress of being overseas may cause conditions for which you have successfully been treat in the past to recur.  Please reach out for support when needed.  Don’t wait until the condition worsens.
  • Eat well, exercise, and get adequate sleep:  An important part of maintaining your health while you are abroad is maintaining a healthy diet, exercise regiment and getting enough sleep. Remember that in addition to the psychological and cultural adjustment you will be experiencing, your body will also be going through a physical adjustment to a new climate, a new time zone, new food, etc.

In some locations, additional precautions may be necessary to avoid falling victim to food poisoning, drinking contaminated water or exposure to insect-borne diseases. You will also find that you get quite a bit of exercise by simply walking more than you normally do. Make sure that you allow time for your body to adjust to new food, environment, exercise and sleeping patterns. Getting plenty of sleep will allow your body to recover more quickly so that you can enjoy the excitement of your new location and experience.

Additional Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Resources for Travelers

Medical Care Abroad 
At some point during your time abroad, you may become ill. It may be something simple and related to changes in food and water, insufficient sleep, or stress of travel. It is essential that you give yourself time to adapt. Jet lag, a new language, exotic foods, registration, beginning classes, and even changes in the weather can take their toll. Use the same stress-relief techniques you use at home—exercise, meditation, reading, etc. Prolonged periods of stress can be quite harmful and hinder your adjustment and health.

Learn how to get medical help, whether routine or emergency, before the need arises. On-site program staff will help students contact an appropriate physician or other services when attention is required. You can also check the Citizens Services page of the United States Embassy webpage of your host country. There you can find a listing of hospitals, pharmacies and medical specialists in different towns and regions of the country.

GEO travel insurance does cover pre-existing conditions while you are abroad, and information about coverage is available upon request from your GEO advisor. If you have a pre-existing medical or mental health condition and may need care while abroad, your GEO advisor can assist with determining if a care provider is available in your study abroad location and advise on how to work with the insurance company in these cases. Being proactive and discussing your needs before departing on your program will make for a smoother transition to your time abroad.

Additional Resources
8 Tips for Safe Travel with a Medical Condition

If you are currently using professional help with emotional or mental health concerns, talk about your plans to study abroad with your care provider before making the final decision to go. The added challenges of adjusting to a new environment coupled with the absence of a familiar support system may exacerbate existing conditions.

If you think you are in need of assistance while on the program, let your faculty lead or on-site staff and GEO advisor know as soon as possible. Should you need professional services abroad, your program staff can help to make arrangements for services that may be covered under the program insurance. Note that English-speaking therapists and psychiatrists may not be available in all locations where GEO has programs.

Additional Resources
GEO Mental Health Abroad Video
Managing Mental Health While Abroad
8 Tips to Handle Study Abroad Stress
Successful Study Abroad with a Mental Health Condition
Preparations for Travel with Mental Health Conditions
Alcoholics Anonymous Abroad
SMART Recovery International

If you need to purchase medication while abroad, local pharmacies should be available. However, if you need a specific prescription medication, you may not be able to find it at a local pharmacy or you may need a prescription from a local doctor, including for some medications that are available over the counter in the U.S. Some tips regarding medications include:

  • Bring an adequate supply of prescribed medication that you will need for the duration of the program.
  • Bring prescription medicine in its original containers.
  • Pack all medicines in your carry-on luggage and in original pharmacy containers (with Rx labels).
  • Make sure you have made all of the necessary prescription arrangements with your primary physician before traveling abroad.
  • Discuss how major time zone changes may affect your medication schedule with your primary physics before going abroad.
  • Ask your doctor for the generic name of your medication, as brand names are frequently different in other countries.
  • It may also be helpful to bring along an additional prescription written in the host country’s native language should you lose your medicine and need to replace it.
  • It is recommended that you bring a note from the prescribing doctor stating your name and the medication prescribed
  • It is recommended that you bring your own basic medicines for headaches, colds, coughs, stomach aches, hay fever, diarrhea, and so on.
  • Medical use of cannabis in any form, including CBD, is not allowed in most countries. Do not attempt to bring any form of cannabis with you when traveling abroad.

Be aware that it is illegal in most cases to send prescription medication through the mail internationally. If you run out of your prescribed medications while abroad, your family/friends will not be able to send you an additional supply through the mail. In such cases you will likely need to get a local doctor to provide a new prescription.

Note that some countries have restrictions and regulations on medications that differ from the U.S. and some medications that are allowed in the U.S. may be illegal in other countries. Make sure to research whether specific medications that you use in the U.S. are allowed in your host country. There is no single database of restrictions on medications for all countries. You can check embassy and ministry of health websites of your host country, or entry regulation and visa websites to find out about restricted medications before you go. You may also contact the U.S. Embassy in your host country for information about specific medications.

Additional Resources
CDC: Traveling Abroad with Medicine
IAMAT: What You Need to Know About Travelling with Medications
New York Times: How to Make Sure You Travel with Medication Legally

Sexual Health Abroad
If you plan to be sexually active while abroad, be certain to exercise the same common sense safe sex practices that you would at home, including always using a condom, don’t succumb to the moment when high or drunk and stick to your original plans for the evening (including leaving with who you went out with and your transportation plan for getting home), and always practice consensual sex.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are as common abroad as they are at home, and contracting one can impact not only your experience abroad, but also have repercussions that last long after your trip has ended. If you do suspect that you have contracted an STI, go to a clinic for treatment as soon as possible.

Condoms are widely available in most countries, but you can also get condoms before you go at no cost through the UO Health Center’s Protection Connection.

For students taking oral contraception, make sure you plan to have enough to last for your time abroad, or talk with your GEO advisor about how arrangements to fill prescriptions can be made while abroad.

Additional Resources
UO Health Center Protection Connection Safer Sex Guide
Health and Safety Abroad: Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Video)