Staying Healthy Abroad
In order to stay healthy during your study abroad experience, it is best to prepare before you go and practice healthy behaviors. These suggestions will help you make the most of your experience.
Before you go:
- Schedule a Routine Check-Up
Some programs will require you to have a physician's release form signed before you leave while others leave it to you to prepare responsibly for your time abroad. A visit to your physician, gynecologist, optometrist, and/or dentist will ensure that you are in good health before you leave and thus lower the risk of emergencies abroad.
- Consider Pre-existing Conditions
If you have any on-going medical issues or chronic conditions, talk to your health care professional and your Education Abroad Advisor before you leave. Taking care of these issues may be rather uncomplicated in some countries and prove more difficult in others. Make copies of any important health records and know how to contact your physician or therapist from abroad.
- Double-check Immunization Requirements
Immunization requirements and suggestions vary from country to country. All travelers should be up-to-date on basic immunizations (tetanus, polio, diphtheria, etc.), and must check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest requirements for each country. Discuss your travel destination(s) and plans with your doctor or make an appointment with the UMass Travel Clinic.
- Plan for Prescriptions
If you require regular medication for any chronic condition, make sure you have planned for access while abroad. Do not assume that medications approved in the US are approved in other countries. Some medications regularly prescribed in the US are illegal in some countries, others might not pass immigration and customs inspections at the airport or may not be available for purchase at your destination.
If you take prescription medications regularly, bring supplies to last throughout your time abroad, if possible, and make sure to carry copies of your prescriptions, you will need a physician’s signed prescription for medication or medical supplies to pass through foreign customs. Please note that medications abroad may not be the same as those in the US. You should do some careful research on the names under which your medications may be sold in your destination abroad. Find out about the active ingredients and generic names of your medications and consider changing to a different medication easily available in the US and abroad. It is wise to have a letter from your home physician or pharmacist describing the condition being treated and your medications, their dosage and a generic name for them. This way, you will be able to obtain prescriptions you need while you are abroad, if necessary. Talk to your physician about the prescriptions you need and how to maintain good physical and mental health while abroad.
Here are some useful resources about traveling abroad with medicine:
While you’re abroad:
Food and Water
The food in your host country will likely be different from what you accustomed to at home. While your stomach is still adjusting, you may wish to include some familiar foods in your diet. Always wash your hands with soap and water or use hand-sanitizer before eating. In the developing world, diseases causing vomiting and diarrhea are commonly found in unpasteurized dairy products and raw or under-cooked foods, such as salad and food from street vendors. In many parts of the developing world, tap water is not safe to drink; drink only bottled, boiled or otherwise purified water. If you are going to be living in a remote area where bottled water is not readily available, bring a high-quality water filter or purifier. To avoid getting sick from a food or water-borne illness, follow recommendations for food and water precautions from your program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Regular and safe exercise will help to invigorate you and ease your cultural adjustment. Throughout your time abroad, you'll feel more energetic and less stressed if you stay active.
Make sure you understand the laws regarding alcohol consumption in your host country, and remember that you are bound by these laws, not US law, while in that country. Be sensitive to cultural norms about alcohol in your host country, including acceptable levels of drunkenness and loud and rowdy behavior. Understand that drinking responsibly is essential to your overall health and safety, and remember that you are representing UMass Amherst, and Americans in general, while abroad.
Do not consume any illegal drugs. If you are caught using or carrying illegal drugs in a foreign country, you are subject to the drug laws of that country, which can include imprisonment. The only service the US government will be able to provide is contacting an English-speaking lawyer for you.
AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases
HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes, are present worldwide. To reduce the risk of contracting these diseases, use condoms. If you intend to be sexually active abroad, consider bringing condoms with you, as the quality of condoms in some countries may not be reliable.