Looking After Your Health While Living As An Expat

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Medical care is one problem that needles expats the most when they move overseas.

Living and working abroad comes with risks, especially in less developed nations, that seep into day-to-day life.

Many expats struggle to come to terms with hygiene and health standards in some countries.

At home, life was often simpler. Turn a tap on and clean, drinkable water comes out. Put the garbage out and someone hauls it off to a tip before rats and other vermin infest the bins.

Food sellers should obey hygiene regulations, while restaurants and stores should store food safely.

It’s easy to take these things for granted and get caught out when relocating to another country.

High risks

One of the most overlooked but important job benefits or ‘things to do’ is medical care.

Not just any medical insurance will do. The package should be adapted to the country where the expat intends to live.

The risks are especially high in the tropics, where heat and standing water are breeding grounds for all sorts of nasty diseases.

Expats have to think about hygiene and health all the time – for instance peeling fruit, checking ice is frozen from clean water and how food eaten out has been stored and prepared.

Getting into a hygiene routine is always worthwhile –

  • Wash hands before and after handling food
  • Only drink bottled or boiled water
  • Eat fresh food which is still hot but not reheated
  • Avoid ice
  • Do not eat or drink anything that you suspect is unhygienic, even if you may embarrass your host

A posting to a ‘safe’ western country does not make expats exempt from contracting a serious illness, but it’s more likely hospitals and clinics will have the drugs and expertise to deal with the problem effectively.

Dangerous diseases

Many of the most dangerous diseases are prevented by vaccination before leaving home. Hepatitis, typhoid and malaria are all preventable and doctors will have the latest details of danger areas and which immunisations to give.

Health cover in many developing countries – even those in the Middle East and Far East where standards are higher – should include 24/7 free phone helplines and repatriation options to make sure emergency medevac is available to get the patient to a suitable hospital, even if it’s in another country.

Don’t cut corners by relying on travel insurance for extended postings – the firm will not pay out.

Likewise, bilateral arrangements between national health services in Europe are often ‘buy now, get repaid later’ arrangements.

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