How to stay healthy when you move abroad

Impressed the interviewer with skills and experience? Check. Accepted the job? Check. Booked the plane ticket? Hang on… check. It’s easy to get excited about jetting off somewhere new. But don’t forget to take your health into consideration! You don’t want to come down with a miserable cold in your first week of teaching, or catch something nastier that could have been prevented. Here are some ways to stay healthy when you move abroad.

Before you go

Get your vaccinations. Find out which vaccinations are recommended, and whether you will need to take antimalarials. Some vaccinations need to be given well in advance, so make sure you leave enough time.

health insuranceCheck your travel insurance. Make sure you have adequate insurance to cover your trip, and any time you will spend in-country before your health insurance kicks in.

Be prepared for pre-existing conditions. If you have any severe allergies or conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes, make sure to take adequate supplies of the necessary medications. Learn words or phrases to explain your condition in the language of your destination country in case you need medical attention at any time.

Pack some essentials. You don’t need to go overboard as most items are readily available around the world, but take a few things to tide you over. Include basic painkillers, allergy tablets, plasters, indigestion tablets, and sanitary supplies.

On the way

handsStay hygienic on transport. Dozens of travellers from different countries packed into a tight space – is it any wonder that planes and trains are ideal places to pick up a virus? Take hand sanitizer and tissues in your hand luggage, so that you can still clean up if the toilets are less than spotless. Avoid touching any surfaces in public places, and clean your hands frequently, especially before eating.

Stay hydrated. Air travel seems to be a conspiracy to dehydrate people. They confiscate your drinks on the way through security, and then on the plane they only give you hamster-sized drinks. Grab extra water after you go through airport security. It will be more expensive, but it’s worth it. On that note, grab some extra snacks too, in case the aeroplane food is terrible. Fruit and nuts are ideal if you can find them.

When you arrive

Check out your health insurance. Many international schools offer health insurance as part of their benefits package, but check what’s included before you need it. If the school is in a developing country or remote location, check that the policy covers emergency evacuation. If the basic policy is lacking, you may be able to upgrade, or take out extra coverage if you feel it’s necessary. Research the options to find one that you’re comfortable with.

Find out emergency phone numbers for fire, police and ambulance.

Locate a good pharmacy, doctor’s surgery, and emergency room in case you need them.

Pharmacy
In your first few weeks

Be cautious with food and drink. In developing countries, avoid raw fruit and vegetables, and choose cooked dishes served hot such as curries or stir fries instead of salads. As for drinks, avoid fruit shakes and draught beers – go for canned or bottled drinks as they are less likely to be contaminated with bacteria. Be careful of tap water – even in countries where the tap water is safe to drink, your stomach might get upset just because it’s different. If you do get a dodgy tummy, stick to bland foods such as boiled rice, porridge, and plain chicken until you feel better.

Be cautious of mosquitoes. When you’re new somewhere, you seem to be more attractive to mosquitoes for some reason. Avoid bites and mosquito-born diseases by going nuts with mosquito repellent when you first arrive somewhere tropical. Buy a mosquito net for your bed if you have to.

Acclimatise. Take it easy if you’re moving to a place that is much hotter, more humid or at a higher altitude until you get used to it.

Get some exercise. Walking or jogging is a great way to explore your new city. Alternatively, the local gym or pool could be an ideal place to meet some people. Look up local running or cycling groups, or find out about exercise classes such as yoga and pilates. A healthy dose of exercise will help you to recover from the stress of travelling, and avoid the new-country blues.

How do you stay healthy when you move abroad? Have you mastered the art of not getting a cold in your first week in a new job? If you find out, tell me how!

Written by Sammy Tame, who lives and teaches in Cambodia. Sammy has her own blog.