Waking up in hospital overseas

For many travellers, waking up in a foreign hospital is a nightmare come true. Different standards of health care and frustrating language barriers can be a recipe for disaster.

All travellers should be prepared for the unexpected, no matter how unlikely it might seem. With some smart planning you can give yourself the best chance to stay safe, even if you do need to visit a hospital overseas.


Understanding medical care around the world

Rules, etiquette, quality and costs vary from country to country when it comes to medical care. Visiting a hospital in Norway will be a very different experience to visiting one in Vietnam, and it pays to have a good understanding of what to expect in your destination.

For example, if you’re travelling to Singapore, you can expect a high quality of medical care but also high costs. In the USA, you may even be required to present your travel insurance certificate before being given treatment. In many hospitals in Europe, nursing care isn’t provided, and your family or friends are expected to perform this duty.

Knowing what to expect will help you to get the care you need without misunderstandings or unexpected costs. And if you’re travelling to countries with high healthcare costs, it’s worth being that little bit extra careful!

As always, we recommend you visit smartraveller.gov.au to find health information specific to your destination.


Safety preparation before your trip

Enjoying a safe and stress-free holiday is often a matter of careful preparation. Here are four packing essentials to keep you safe if the unexpected happens.


1. Phrase books and translation apps

When it comes to something as important as medical treatment, language barriers can be frustrating, nerve-racking and even potentially dangerous. Phrase books and translation apps can be a traveller’s best friend.

The Google Translate app is a translator with over 100 languages available. It even allows you to take photos of foreign text and provide real-time translations.


2. List of key contacts

If you protect yourself with Southern Cross Travel Insurance, you can travel with confidence knowing that our dedicated Emergency Assistance team are only a phone call away, 24/7. However, keeping a copy of other key support contacts is another great safety net that might come in handy.

Before you leave, create a physical and digital list of contacts like:

  • The address and phone numbers of the nearest Australian Embassy.
  • The phone numbers of local authorities, like ambulance, police and firefighter services.
  • The contact information of your travel insurance company, including emergency assistance numbers.
  • The contact details of your general practitioner at home, in case you need guidance or advice.
  • The contact details of the hospital nearest to where you’re staying.

You’ll be able to find information on where to get help overseas on websites like smartraveller.gov.au, or by asking your accommodation provider.


3. Generic names of medicines

Travellers receiving treatment overseas have been known to refuse medications because they’re unfamiliar with their name. For example, most Australians will know pain relief medication as Panadol or paracetamol, but in the USA, these are known as Tylenol and acetaminophen.

It’s understandable to be cautious about the medications you’re prescribed, but also important that you research the generic names of common medicines to avoid confusion. Keep a printed and digital cheat sheet of generic medical names with your other travel documents, which you can find online. You can also talk to our Emergency Assistance Team whilst overseas for information on foreign medicines.


4. First aid kit

You may be planning to spend your vacation reclining on a sun lounger by the pool, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan for the unexpected. A basic first aid kit can be a lifesaver, even if you’re not enjoying any adventure activities.

Your first aid kit should contain items like:

  • Bandages
  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers and scissors
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Distilled water to wash cuts
  • Disposable gloves
  • Sticky tape
  • Eye wash
  • Painkillers

You can buy pre-packed first aid kits from outdoors shops and chemists. Remember to pack these in your checked luggage as they may not be permitted in carry-on bags.


Overseas hospital visits: do’s and don’ts

If you’re unlucky enough to have to visit a hospital overseas, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure you stay safe. Here are some simple do’s and don’ts of overseas hospital visits.


  • Contact us straight away if your medical costs are likely to exceed $2,000, not when you’re being discharged from hospital.
  • Sign a medical release form allowing our Emergency Assistance Team to liaise with the hospital directly about your care.
  • Contact your family and friends and let them know you’re safe, and give us permission to share your medical information with them.
  • Respect hospital staff and try to remain calm.
  • Be patient with language barriers and contact us for translation assistance if needed.
  • Pack more essential medication than you think you need, in case your trip home is delayed. However, make sure you do some research to find out whether your medication is legal at your destination as laws can vary.
  • Keep printed and digital copies of important travel documents, such as your travel insurance certificate and passport.
  • Keep a copy of all necessary paperwork, including receipts, proof of refunds, translations, medical reports and correspondence from registered medical practitioners.
  • Check your vaccination requirements at least three months before you travel, as it may take some time to book these and there may be a lead time for administration.
  • Understand the food and water safety protocols at your destination.
  • Wash your hands regularly, as hospitals, especially in developing regions, can be a breeding ground for bacteria.


  • Have several family and friends contact us. It’s best to have just one point of contact to avoid confusion and conflicting information.
  • Pay upfront if you’re admitted into hospital for treatment – give us a call as we may be able to arrange to pay the hospital directly, once your claim has been confirmed.
  • Go to a private hospital if public healthcare is available. If you’re not sure about what medical facility to visit, contact us first so we can talk you through your options.
  • Fly before speaking with our Emergency Assistance Team to confirm whether you’re fit to fly.

The content of this article is general and provided for information purposes only. Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) doesn’t guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness or currency of the articles.

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