My First Overseas Health Scare – Emergency Room in Rio de Janeiro

I’ve been abroad for almost three years now.

Up until last week, I’d never had a health problem.

For two years in Thailand, I was without traveler’s insurance (really really NOT smart), but I thankfully never once had an issue… aside from minor food poisoning and a touch of the flu.

About one year ago, I decided to be more responsible and proactive about my financial and physical health. In addition to getting my finances in order, I signed up for expat health insurance.

Two weeks ago, I suffered my first overseas health scare.

It started pretty small. I felt like I was getting a UTI (really common in women).

No big deal, I drank a bunch of water and cranberry juice and figured it’d go away.

It didn’t.

About 4 days passed, and the UTI feeling stayed.

More symptoms started showing up.

I started to get severe pain in my stomach, which later spread to my back.

I lost my appetite (a first ever for me! I really really really love to eat) and felt really nauseous, almost without end.

Everything hurt so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night.

On the fifth day, the symptoms were at their worst, and I started getting severe chills and bone pains.

After a really hot shower couldn’t warm me, and I couldn’t stop crying from pain while feeling like I was going to throw up at the same time – my fiance insisted that I go to the hospital.

I gave in.

Overseas Emergency Room Visit


Now, you’re probably thinking I sound ridiculous for not going to the hospital. But I REALLY REALLY REALLY didn’t want to go, for a few reasons:

I know how Brazilian systems work.

Regardless of the system, regardless of what you need, two things usually happen.

ONE – You wait and wait and wait. I didn’t want to be sitting in a lobby feeling THIS bad. I wanted to try and see if it would go away on its own first.

TWO – Whatever you’re waiting on turns out to be of a lot lower quality than you’d expect for the time and money you’ve invested.

I don’t like to spend money.

Especially too much money on something that isn’t worth it (see above).

I’m a bit afraid of hospitals.

I worked in a hospital for a year during college (as a phlebotomist), I worked with hospitals for two years in Bangkok, but I’m still afraid of them.


Hospital Overseas Health Scare Rio de Janeiro

even with a kidney infection I don’t know how to take a photo without smiling

After going to the hospital (which was a severely demoralizing and disappointing experience and makes me scared for the Olympics), and being diagnosed with a kidney infection, we filled a prescription for antibiotics and I spent the next four days recovering in a painful, sleepy haze.

I’m now over a week out from my hospital visit, and I feel back to normal!

If I can offer any advice to you – it’s to make sure you have health insurance while traveling (whether you choose traveler’s insurance or expat’s), and to treat an illness or problem as soon as it comes up.

If I would have gone to the doctor earlier when I was experiencing symptoms, the illness would not have progressed to a kidney infection and I would have saved myself hundreds of dollars.

Another friend in Thailand had a bacterial infection, which he didn’t treat (he didn’t have traveler’s insurance and was trying to save money). Eventually, the problem worsened to the point that he had to be admitted into the hospital in a scary life-threatening situation, and ended up spending thousands of dollars. He had to cut his trip short and go back to the US.

Don’t let it happen to you. Pony up for the dollar-a-day traveler’s insurance, and get your issues treated as soon as they pop up! Traveling when sick isn’t fun, and your life and health are too precious to risk.

Battling your own health issue? Check out tips for visiting foreign emergency rooms by clicking here.

Overseas Emergency Room Badge and Passport

Necessary Details: Rio de Janeiro

What Else to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Check out my full guide to Rio de Janeiro here, which includes the best suggestions for hiking (including my favorite Morro do Leme hike), where to eat, weekend getaways from the city (including Buzios), and the best beaches.
You can read every article I’ve ever written about Rio de Janeiro (and there’s a lot: I lived there for almost two years!) here.
Viator offers a bunch of different Rio de Janeiro tour options, including for visiting Christ the Redeemer, and provides excellent customer service and refunds if anything goes wrong — much more than local operators would do.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
If you have around $100 per night to spend, you can’t get a better value than Rio 180 hotel — each room is a suite and has its own private hot tub along with incredible views!
For a wider range of pricing options, check here
How to Arrive to Rio de Janeiro 
You can take the bus into Rio de Janeiro from many destinations within Brazil, but most people choose to fly. While Copa Airlines isn’t my favorite carrier, they do usually offer the cheapest flights. To check the latest low prices on airfare to Brazil, try Skyscanner , or if you have some date and/or destination flexibility and want to score the absolute lowest prices, try
Visa information for Brazil and Visa Renewal in Rio de Janeiro
I’ve written an extensive post (along with Q&A about the topic in the comments) here

Have you ever had a health scare overseas? Any advice or anything you’d do differently?



A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook


  1. Andreas Moser
    October 29, 2015 / 9:06 am

    Unfortunately, I can’t afford health insurance, so wherever I move, I have to get to know a cute doctor and bewitch her with my charm, so that she would treat me for free if necessary.

    • October 29, 2015 / 9:34 am

      Not even a dollar a day?? A lot of international healthcare providers offer plans at less than $30 a month. Your health is priceless!

  2. November 1, 2015 / 9:05 pm

    I have to second what you say Steph. Travelling without health insurance is a pretty crazy idea. I can understand sometimes we don’t have much money, but really, making savings at the expense of one’s health…

    It only takes a half-serious health problem to make it worth it, plus you get the peace of mind of knowing that you are covered no matter what (be sure to read the fine print before buying your insurance though).

    If the worst happens (well, or nearly), you could have to spend thousands of dollars to be treated or carried back home. Not to mention the big scare for your travel companions or your family back home if they had to suddenly organise your repatriation with your life on the line, and without the assistance an insurance company would provide.

    Seriously, the risk is not worth the few hundred dollars in savings.

    • November 2, 2015 / 8:29 am

      Totally! Aside from the health risk (as you said, repatriation is difficult, and some hospitals will even turn you away without proof of insurance), is the HUGE financial risk. Having an accident (such as a car accident) can rack up huge debts that you’ll end up paying for the rest of your life.

      Agreed with you – the risk isn’t worth it. And the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re all set with health insurance is priceless!

  3. November 9, 2015 / 10:35 am

    Agreed! Health insurance is a must. Luckily the times I got really sick overseas I was covered by insurance. While teaching in South Korea I ended up with pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week overseas. That was scary. Then in Brazil I had some horrible stomach virus. Like you in your picture, they hooked me up to an IV and gave me a bunch of medicine and I started feeling better almost immediately. Also like you, I tend to wait until the last minute in Brazil before going to see a doctor or going to a hospital because it is so difficult to do when you feel awful. You know it will take a lot of time, and then you have to try and concentrate really hard in another language while sick. It’s not fun! That said, I had a minor surgery here in Brazil (not cosmetic) and the treatment I received was excellent and everyone was really nice. I’m glad you are feeling better!

    • November 9, 2015 / 2:05 pm

      Oh no that is so awful! So you’ve had a lot of experience with overseas health stuff!

      I’m glad the minor surgery went well!! The doctors and nurses were quite nice when I was in for the kidney infection as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.