A Step-By-Step Guide on What To Do During a Medical Emergency in Another Country

Travel insights from Abe Medina, founder of Global Executive Medicine


When you’re getting ready to go on a trip to a foreign country, the last thing you want to worry about is a medical emergency. But unfortunately, these can happen while you’re on vacation just as easily as when you’re at home. That’s why it’s important to prepare and know what to do in the case of one.

Nothing Beats Preparation

By preparing for your trip in a few practical ways, you can best manage a medical emergency if one should occur.

First and foremost, assemble a first-aid kit to take with you. This should include a wide range of over-the-counter medications, as well as any prescription medications you take. Add in some bandages of various kinds, disposable gloves, tweezers and scissors, and you’ll be able to care for many minor injuries right from your hotel room.

Before you leave, it’s also advisable to create a document with your medical history and allergies, as well as contact information for your doctors and other key medical providers. Print this out so it’s readily accessible. Providing this to medical personnel greatly speeds care.

Next, make sure to register your trips with the US Department of State. Their free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) ensures you receive important safety information about your travel destination and allows you to designate an emergency contact. In addition, it facilitates the embassy in contacting you in an emergency, whether it’s a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.

Finally, research medical facilities and locate those that offer care near where you will be staying. Add their phone numbers to the contacts list on your phone. It’s also a good idea to print out this information.

Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world can’t prevent a medical emergency from happening. In the event that one does, here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Stay Calm

The first thing to do when confronted with a medical emergency is to stay calm. While these events can be upsetting, it’s important to keep your head and assess the situation. Evaluate the severity of the medical emergency to determine the appropriate response. Call the local emergency number and provide first aid.

Step 2: Seek Assistance

In many countries, the emergency number is 112 or 911. If you're unsure of the local emergency number, ask someone nearby. Most locals will know this information, and many will be willing to make the call themselves.

If you're with someone, ask them to help. They can find an AED if needed and seek help from local authorities, hotel staff or passersby, who may be able to guide you to the nearest medical facility or help communicate with the local emergency number dispatch operator. A trained first aid provider could be nearby, so don’t be afraid to call for help.

Step 3: Cooperate Fully With Medical Providers

When paramedics arrive or you reach a healthcare facility, provide them with information about your condition. Your past medical history, allergies, current medications and events leading to present injury or illness are important for your healthcare team to know. Also give them any necessary documentation, such as your identification, insurance details or travel documents. Cooperate fully and follow their instructions.

Step 4: Contact the Embassy or Consulate

Inform your country's Embassy or consulate as soon as possible about the situation, especially if the medical emergency is significant or requires extended hospitalization. They can provide guidance, connect you with local resources and assist with communication between you, medical professionals and your family back home.

Step 5: Notify Your Travel Insurance Provider

Contact your insurance provider as soon as possible. They can guide you on the coverage, reimbursement process and any specific steps you need to take. Keep copies of all medical documents and bills for insurance purposes.

Step 6: Inform Your Loved Ones

Reach out to a trusted family member or friend. Inform them about your illness or injury and provide them with the details of your location, hospital and attending physician’s name and contact information.

The More You Prepare, the Better

While knowledge and experience enhance risk management, anyone can evaluate potential risks and take measures to reduce or avoid them. No one wants a medical emergency when traveling abroad, but it can be managed effectively if you prepare ahead of time and follow the above steps. The more you take a proactive approach and plan for unforeseen circumstances, the better outcomes you can expect. For this reason, do yourself a favor — prepare for the possibility of a medical emergency before your trip. It is important to note that for a complex or high-risk travel itinerary, seeking professional advice or consulting an expert in the field may be advisable. A risk management expert can identify, assess and prioritize risks to implement strategies to mitigate them.

This article is written by Abe Medina, founder of Global Executive Medicine. Medina served 22 years in the U.S. Army, was a senior Tactical Medical Officer in the White House and advised as the Director of Medical Operations for an executive protection team of a prominent international financier and philanthropist. His extensive practical experiences allowed him to identify capability gaps in medical travel assistance for clients requiring personalized and exclusive services. As the founder and creator of Global Executive Medicine (GEM), Abe develops innovative solutions tailored for clients with travel, time, privacy and security demands.