Essential health information for international assignees

Traveling abroad under any circumstances requires a good deal of preparation, even if you’re just planning a family vacation. When it’s a long-term international assignment for your career, though, those considerations increase. One thing international assignees must deal with is how they’ll pay for medicine, vaccinations or procedures in the foreign nation, should they be necessary. Depending on the country and region, there may be different options and recommendations.

For sub-Sarahan Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and the Pacific Islands, a malaria vaccination is a distinct requirement, according to Investment International. In regions with high concentrations of people, it’s a good idea to brush up on how best to avoid catching common diseases – especially those which your immune system may not be acclimated to. Above all, expats must work with their organization to understand how varying insurance policies work, when to accomplish certain steps and how best to prepare for the differing health environments.

Does your health insurance provider have a global option?Does your health insurance provider have a global option?

1. Know how far your insurance goes
When you prepare to travel abroad, find out if your organization’s insurance plan can travel with you. Most companies that ask employees to go on international assignment and who offer benefits will provide some sort of global package, according to KPMG. In these instances, you will keep paying into your plan as usual.

However, not all companies offer such benefits. If you’re not covered, you may have to find an expatriate plan in the destination country or seek coverage under a state-run health plan. It’s best to try to avoid buying private health insurance in another country. These providers can be pricier and it can be more difficult to understand which plan is right for you, particularly when dealing in a foreign language.

“For new vaccines, give yourself at least 4-6 weeks before you travel.”

2. Update your vaccines and seek out the new ones
In the developed world, it’s easy to forget that infectious diseases still ravage other parts of the globe. Most people in the U.S., for example, are vaccinated at birth against diseases like polio and tetanus. But in the rest of the world, those diseases are still at large and outdated vaccines can leave you susceptible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depending on where you go, when you go, what you do while you’re there and the status of your own vaccination history, you may be at higher or lower risk.

For new vaccines, give yourself at least 4-6 weeks before you travel to complete the series and allow the vaccine to take effect within your body. Some countries require a proof of yellow fever vaccine, so find which countries require that and locate a registered provider to receive the vaccine and a stamped certificate.

3. Determine the requirements for obtaining a work visa
In most cases, you will have to obtain a work visa before you begin your international assignment. Some countries require a medical exam before they award a visa, according to KPMG, and even if they don’t, it’s still wise to get a check-up before you go. Even if you’ve nailed down your insurance coverage during your stay, you don’t want to be forced to use it if you can avoid it.

The nature of the medical exam will vary. Some countries might want a general examination, while others may only require a few specific checks, like an X-ray or blood work. In Shanghai, for example, a medical check is necessary unless you have health check results from Japan, Singapore or Hong Kong, according to Expatica. All others are subject to an exam that seems difficult and intimidating but is generally straightforward and easy to pass. It’s just another part of the immigration process.

It’s important to remember that, while these items apply to all foreign travel, the details may change greatly from one nation to another. It will require a bit of research on your end, along with some assistance from your company’s corporate relocation services. Global relocation requires a fair amount of legwork and logistical maneuvering – organizations should be prepared to walk their expat candidates through every step of the process. Don’t be intimidated by the need for health coverage or the potential for foreign diseases. As long as you stick to the necessary steps, you should have a healthy and productive time abroad.