If you’re planning a trip outside of the United States, you may need to complete a medical checkup before you leave. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that you see a health-care provider that specializes in Travel Medicine weeks before you leave. Such medical professionals are aware of the risks Americans take when traveling to certain areas of the world, people who can advice you on the needed shots or medicines.

Even without direct access to a Travel Medicine professional, you can still get adequate medical care. A visit to CDC.gov is in order to discover the current travel health information for your destination, details that you should share with your doctor. Let’s take a look at the medical steps to take before you embark on your trip.

1. Discover and learn. The CDC website offers detailed information to travelers about each destination. Find your destination and read what travel notices are currently in effect. For example, if you are traveling to Guatemala, you need to give yourself four to six weeks to allow certain vaccines and anti-malaria drugs to take effect. Your routine vaccinations should be up to date and these will usually include chicken pox, polio, measles/mumps/rubella, DTP, polio and influenza.

Some countries require a vaccination for the Yellow Fever, especially if you have visited a country where this illness is prevalent. Other countries may have an outbreak of Dengue fever, a condition that can cause a rash and high fever. Know what the conditions are in the country you are visiting before you leave.

2. See a doctor. Make an appointment to see your physician before traveling. Discuss your plans and what you have learned from the CDC. Your doctor will advise you on the vaccines you should receive and the medications you should check.

Your doctor may also want to do a more complete physical. This is important if you are older or are susceptible to certain illnesses. If you are currently on medication for a condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or iron deficiency, your doctor may need to give you enough medicines for your trip.

3. Bring a letter. When traveling with certain medicines, those drugs can raise a caution flag with customs officials. The U.S. Department of State advises travelers to carry their medicines in its original, labeled container. You can still bring your 7-day medicine container, but while you’re passing through customs, keep your medicines in the prescription bottle.

For certain prescribed narcotics, the State Department advises that you bring with you a copy of your doctor’s note. Your medicine may be needed for your condition, but a doctor’s note can attest to that need.

4. Pack your medications. Never check your medications with your luggage. Instead, put your medications in a carry-on bag and keep these items with you at all times. Checked luggage can get misplaced!

In addition to your medications, there are several other items you may want to bring with you. Sunglasses and sunblock are important to help reduce your risk of eye or skin damage. Antibacterial hand wipes or a similar hand sanitizer can be useful for those times when clean water and soap are not nearby. Some travelers bring along iodine tables and portable water filters to purify their own water. Insect spray to clear rooms of mosquitoes and other bugs can come in handy. In some countries bed nets treated with permethrin is ideal for malaria-risk areas.


When traveling abroad, leave your itinerary with a relative or friend. If you run into trouble while outside of the country, there are more than 250 embassies and consulates of the U.S. government to aid you.

Finally, contact your health insurance provider to see if your coverage is in effect while traveling abroad. Most likely it is not, requiring you to buy a separate policy just for your trip. You’ll want to find coverage that offers medical evacuation too in the event that the care you need is not available locally. Follow these four steps and you’ll be able to enjoy your travel abroad, leaving your medical worries behind.

Author Information

Dan Ripoll is a frequent international traveller and founder of Passports Without The Stress – a service specializing in same day passport renewals in Los Angeles.