Risk Insights
September 12, 2019

Medical Preparations for Foreign Travel

Denver International Airport
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

With the launch of Stratfor Worldview Enterprise, business leaders from a variety of backgrounds share their opinions on geopolitical risks and business strategies.

In this blog post, the fifth in a series, Thomas Pecora writes of the need to have a plan for medical emergencies prior to business travel. He is director of Pecora Consulting Services, which provides consulting services in security vulnerability and threat assessments in Asia and the United States, as well as personal safety and crime prevention and avoidance, and travel security skills training. Pecora is also author of the memoir, Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA's War on Terror, and served 24 years as a CIA senior security manager. He managed large complex security programs and operations in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and in war zones.

No one plans on having a medical incident or emergency but when you are away from home on a business or personal trip this is one area you do not want to omit in your preparatory activities.

Pre-Trip Medical Considerations:

Prior to your trip, learn about the health and medical risks associated with your planned travel to include if there are any indigenous diseases, air, food or water quality issues that may impact your trip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent way to get current info on a specific location or country. This site provides specific information and recommends you work with your primary care physician at least 4-6 weeks prior to a trip to determine what vaccinations you will need.

They may advise you to bring along some preventative measures — repellents, nets, as well as medicine to prevent acquiring a disease.

If you have a medical condition you may want to have all your applicable medical records scanned into an email so that you can provide this information to a doctor in a foreign hospital. This can be critical to receiving proper treatment. At a minimum, carry any medic alert documentation when you travel (translated, if possible, into the language of the country to which you are traveling).

Acquiring a Doctor Overseas:

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) has been in around for more than 50 years and is an aggregate of information from local medical and public health coordinators all over the world. They have up-to-date health information, an international network of English-speaking doctors, as well as a list of participating clinics and doctors world-wide and can help you find appropriate medical care wherever you are. Their website also offers site-specific information on traveler's health.

Medical Insurance:

Be sure you have adequate medical coverage before traveling to another country. You may want to purchase special travel health and medical evacuation insurance if your destinations include countries where there may not be access to good medical care. Many insurance companies will reimburse you for medical expenses, but you may still need a way to immediately pay for the services rendered (credit card or cash). Business travelers should work with their company to provide this type of insurance or to compensate you for some of the costs.

In some countries, you may be better off arranging for emergency medivac services so that you can get advanced care in case of a major-medical emergency. These services are not cheap, and they will not work for patients that are medically unfit to travel. "SOS" is one of the more famous companies providing this type of service.

For more information, review the information provided in the CDC website entitled Travel Insurance, Travel Health Insurance, & Medical Evacuation Insurance.

Medical Treatment and Hospitalization:

Pre-trip research should also cover the level of medical care available in the locations where you will be traveling documenting the locations of the primary and secondary medical facilities in the area. It is important to understand that in a major medical incident, especially in a mass casualty event, the local medical facilities in the area will be immediately overwhelmed. This is true even in the United States. You should factor this into your trip planning.


Learn basic first aid, CPR, and Stop the Bleed protocols before traveling abroad. It is also a good idea to build your own basic travel health kit, customized to the country or countries you will visit and any activities you may do. Your primary physician may be a great resource for putting together a medical kit that fits your health situation.

Doing your homework and learning what you need to do medically prior to your trip can dramatically improve your ability to deal with a medical emergency, significantly increasing your personal safety, and give you more confidence.

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