Top Tips for Overseas Emergency Room and Hospital Visits

Being sick sucks.

Being sick overseas sucks about a thousand times worse.

Whether you have travel insurance, expat insurance, or no insurance at all – overseas emergency room and hospital visits can go a lot smoother and less painfully with these tips.


Top Tips for Overseas Emergency Room and Hospital Visits

Overseas Emergency Room and Hospital Visits

Have copies of important paperwork

Do this now, before even getting sick.

Make copies of your insurance card (front and back), your passport, and your insurance policy (showing what is covered).

If you’re being extra careful, make at least 4 copies, and email the originals to yourself. Give one to a trusted friend or partner, keep one with you, and have two for spares or to give to the hospital as needed. It’ll save the hospital time from copying and you won’t have to hand over the original.


Google symptoms in advance

Overseas Emergency Room Visit

Write down any symptoms in the local language. Even if the hospital you’ve chosen is supposed to have English staff, maybe they won’t be on shift or maybe you’ve been duped entirely.

Regardless, you’ll want to be able to communicate as best as possible and without misunderstanding. Write down your symptoms, and give the paper to the hospital staff.

 Call or email your insurance provider in advance

If you have the time, alert your insurance provider to your symptoms.

Let them know which hospital you’ll be going to.

Provide the name and contact information for the hospital, and if the insurance can contact them directly before you arrive, that will save you time and also headache. You don’t want to be discharged and ready to go home and be held up by paperwork.

You’d be surprised how many hospitals don’t even bother calling your insurance, and just demand that you pay out of pocket (COUGH COUGH Copa Dor in Rio de Janeiro COUGH COUGH).

Bring a credit card and cash enough to cover a large bill

Money for Overseas Emergency Room Visit

Even if your insurance is supposed to cover it, you don’t know the level of service that the hospital will provide. As above, maybe the hospital won’t even contact your insurance, or they’ll claim that it isn’t covered because they prefer an instantaneous payment from you.

You don’t want to be stuck in the hospital or required to run to the ATM.

Wear comfy clothes

Not every hospital will provide you with a bed and blanket or a hospital gown.

Wear comfortable, non restrictive clothes and non-embarrassing underwear… or remember to wear underwear in general.

Dress in layers, including bringing a light jacket or sweater, and a pair of socks. A lot of people tend to get cold when receiving IV saline fluids, myself included.

But the hallways and rooms of the hospital may not be air conditioned, especially in developing countries, and the last thing you want is to be bundled up in 80 degree weather.

Layers layers layers.

Bring something to do

Likely, you’ll be waiting a long time. Either in the initial waiting room, for treatment, for scans, or even to be released.

Bring a book, a Kindle, a phone with the Kindle app (it’s free for iPhone and Android), phone with podcasts, or some homework or something to do.

It’ll make the time pass quicker, regardless how long it takes.

Bring provisions

Even if you aren’t hungry or thirsty before you leave, there’s a good chance that 7+ hours might change your mind.

Once you’re inside the emergency room, you don’t want to leave (and lose your place) even if you’re allowed.

Bring a water bottle and a small snack (like crackers or fruit) with you.

Let someone know

Either bring a friend with you (best choice!) or make sure to let someone know where you are.

Don’t cause friends and family to worry unnecessarily, especially as a “quick” stop to the ER could end up being overnight.

Go to the best hospital you can afford

Getting good treatment the first time around can save you money in the long run.

Plus – your health is priceless.

Try to go to the best hospital you can afford, and it is even better if you choose your hospital based on a personal recommendation of someone who has gone there and experienced the services. Nice websites and an attractive facade don’t mean that the doctors are well-trained or that sanitation standards are upheld.

Have you ever gone to the emergency room overseas? How was your experience?

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Overseas Emergency Room and Hospital Visits


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!

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