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Travelling abroad

Travelling abroad when you have cancer might not affect where or how you travel. But sometimes you could have a few extra things to think about.

Preparing for your trip

You might have particular physical needs since your treatment. You might be more tired or have a higher risk of getting an infection. Or you may be more sensitive to the sun after having radiotherapy or certain cancer drugs.

There could also be practical issues to think about, such as whether you’ll have the facilities you need if you get tired easily, or whether you’ll need wheelchair access.

You also need to think about when to travel. There are times when you shouldn’t travel. For example, you shouldn’t fly too soon after surgery. It’s worth talking to your doctor or nurse so they can advise you.

Photograph of open suitcase for travelling abroad.

It’s also very important to get travel insurance in case you need medical treatment while you are away. The insurance will cover the costs for you. A good policy will also pay for you to be flown home if you become ill.

Your journey

Some cancers and their treatments can increase your risk of getting a blood clot. Sitting still for a long time can increase the risk, whether you are travelling by plane, car or bus.

So however you’re travelling, think about how long it will take and whether you can manage the journey comfortably. 

If you are travelling by plane and need oxygen, you need to arrange this with the airline in advance. Allow plenty of time to sort it out because it can take some time. 

Help from airlines and travel companies

Travel companies and some airlines have a medical officer who can give you advice about your journey.

Almost all airlines will have advice on their website or a customer service department (specialist assistance) you can contact. Let them know about any disability you have and the equipment you might need. 

They will be able to arrange any help you might need including:

  • early boarding and finding a suitable seat
  • wheelchairs
  • transfers to and from the airport
  • help organising oxygen

Your doctor might need to fill out a form or a letter showing that you are well enough to fly. Ask your doctor for this several weeks before you travel. 

This can all take time to arrange. So contact your doctor, travel company or airline with plenty of time before your trip.

Healthcare in Europe

On the 31st of December 2020, we left the European Union (EU). This means there are changes to the healthcare agreements between the UK and European countries.

To be able to receive state provided healthcare when visiting an EU country. You should hold either a: 

  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

These cards mean you can get necessary healthcare free or at a reduced cost in the EU country, you are visiting. This is healthcare that cannot wait until you get home. It means you’ll have the same care as a citizen of the country you’re visiting. Remember, the cards might not cover everything you'd get in the NHS. This is because each healthcare system is different.

Ask where you are being referred to. Sometimes people are sent to a private practice or hospital. If this happens, you may not be covered for the costs of care unless you have travel medical insurance. If you have insurance, check the terms and conditions of the policy before agreeing to any treatment.

If you still hold a valid EHIC card you can use this until it expires. You will then need to apply for a UK GHIC. The EHIC will still be around but will only apply to some UK residents. To see if you should apply for a UK issued EHIC find out more on the NHS website.

The guide below gives you information on the different healthcare arrangements and systems in countries abroad.

The EHIC and UK GHIC doesn't cover the cost of any medical treatment that you planned in advance, only for unexpected needs. But if you need continued treatment for an ongoing illness while you're abroad, such as regular injections, the EHIC or UK GHIC covers this.

The EHIC or UK GHIC doesn’t always cover the full cost of treatment. For instance, it won’t cover the cost of getting you home in an emergency. So it’s important to have the right travel insurance even when travelling in the EU.

You still need an EHIC or UK GHIC because your insurance company might not cover the cost of treatment that the card covers. If you try to claim in full, they might say you should have had the EHIC or UK GHIC. 

There are a couple of countries in the European Economic Area that do not accept EHIC or GHIC, these are:

  • the Channel Islands, including Guernsey, Alderney and Sark
  • the Isle of Man
  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • the Vatican

It also does not cover you if you are on a cruise. And it doesn’t cover the cost of flying you home.

Cruises

Medical care on cruise ships is quite expensive. You should have travel insurance to cover any medical care costs. If you require additional medical care that cannot be provided on board the ship, you will be transferred to medical facilities on land. What you are covered for depends on the country the cruise ship drops you in. So, it is not a good idea to rely on the EHIC or GHIC. You need medical care cover for anywhere that the ship could stop in. This includes unscheduled stops.

It’s important that if you’re travelling to the EU that you have the correct travel insurance even if you have an UK issued EHIC or UK GHIC.

Healthcare outside Europe

You will need to pay for healthcare in most countries. So you should get travel insurance, as this could be very expensive.

The UK has agreements with some non-European countries so that people can receive free or low cost emergency care if needed.

Protection against mosquito-borne diseases

Before you travel to a tropical country, it’s important to check whether you need any anti malaria medicine. There are different medicines available. You start some 1 to 2 days before you travel and others 2 to 3 weeks before you leave.

You must keep taking the medicines while you’re away and for 1 to 4 weeks afterwards, depending on the drug.

Your doctor can check which medicines are suitable for the country you’re going to. And they can tell you if it’s safe to take them with any other drugs you’re having.

Although these medicines work very well, they can’t give 100% protection. So you still need to take care to avoid mosquito bites while you are away. Use an effective insect repellent at all times.

Mosquitoes in some countries can also carry other diseases such as dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya. So using an effective insect repellent at all times can help to protect you against these diseases.

Avoiding mosquito bites

To avoid mosquito bites you should:

  • use insect repellent on your skin. You can use some repellents or insecticides on clothing also
  • sleep under a mosquito net that has been treated with insecticide, if your room doesn’t have air conditioning or screens on the doors and windows
  • keep covered up with long sleeved tops and trousers, especially if you’re going out at night. You can apply DEET based insect repellents to cotton clothing and natural fibres

What to do if you become ill

The most common symptoms of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are: 

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • sweats and chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches and pains
  • cough
  • diarrhoea

The symptoms of malaria usually develop within 4 weeks of infection. But in some cases, it can take up to a year.

See a doctor straight away if you become ill with a fever or flu-like symptoms after travelling abroad. Let them know where you have been.

You can check if you need anti malaria medicine, click on the links below based on where you live. Then select the country you will be visiting.

Taking medicines abroad

Think about any medicines you’re taking. You’ll need to plan how much you need to take with you and get those prescriptions before you go.

It’s a good idea to take supplies for a few extra days, in case you’re delayed getting back from your trip.

You might need to make special arrangements if you’re taking any controlled drugs, such as morphine based painkillers.