If you’re preparing to travel in the next few months, you may need to have more health-related information on hand than usual, since some destinations continue to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
But there are other health documents that are extremely useful for you to have access to when you’re away from home, in case you become ill or have any sort of medical emergency.
“It’s always better to be prepared,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, an email subscription service for flight deals. “During your vacation, while you’re actually there, you want to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Documentation, including insurance information, is easier to manage in the digital age thanks to email, websites and mobile apps, notes David O. Freedman, M.D., professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He recommends emailing all of your health information to yourself, as well as to a relative or friend — but also bringing paper copies, in case you’re in a situation where you can’t easily access the internet.
Here are six types of health information travelers may need, depending on their destination and medical condition.
1. COVID-19 vaccination card
While some U.S. cities have required proof of vaccination to participate in activities like indoor dining, those rules are rapidly being dropped as the recent COVID-19 surge abates. But many countries and the major cruise lines still require proof and/or a negative COVID-19 test. At least two cruise companies — Grand Circle Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — require passengers to show their original paper vaccination card
Rules vary, but generally travelers must carry either their paper vaccination card, a digital image of the card or be able to access the information through a website or app. Some U.S. states and some countries offer digital health passports that generate a QR code to show as proof. Other apps, including those offered by Apple, CLEAR, IBM and SMART, help users manage all their health information.
Consider protecting your paper card inside an inexpensive plastic sleeve or case, suggests Vicki Sowards, director of clinical resources for Passport Health, a Phoenix-based provider of travel medical services. You can laminate the card, although then you can’t add more immunizations, she notes.
Carrying a paper and digital vaccination record is especially important internationally, says Sarah Fazendin, owner of Videre Travel in Denver. “The rules and regulations are changing all the time,” she explains. “It’s hard to predict what will happen two weeks from now.”
2. Proof of other vaccinations
Americans traveling to certain countries may want to carry the yellow paper card (no digital version exists) recording the vaccinations, they’ve had — for hepatitis, for example, typhoid or yellow fever — that are recommended in other parts of the world. The “Destinations” page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website provides recommended vaccinations and health notices by country.
While you don’t generally have to show official proof of those vaccinations, you do for certain diseases in certain countries. Tanzania, for instance, requires proof of vaccination for yellow fever.
3. COVID-19 test results
Some countries and cruise lines require that travelers show a negative COVID-19 test. Even the United States requires it for reentry into the country, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status.
Showing an image or email is usually sufficient, says Keyes, though he recommends carrying a print copy as a backup. “Let’s say you’re taking a taxi to the airport and you forget to charge your phone and can’t access email or your photos,” he says. “I’d rather have it just in case. If you have access to a printer in your hotel, take the 30 seconds to print it out and stuff it in your bag.”
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4. List of your medications and copies of your prescriptions
Carry a list of your prescription medications and dosages, on paper and digitally. This is one of the first things a medical professional is likely to ask you about if you have a health emergency. The same goes for copies of your prescriptions; bring them in case you lose or run out of your medicine. You also can keep the information on your phone’s lock screen or on a wearable device — “like a modern EMT bracelet,” Keyes notes. “If you don’t speak the local language, many medicines and prescriptions translate pretty well.”
5. List of your allergies
Carry a list of any allergies or chronic health conditions that might be important to a health professional in an emergency. Consider creating a laminated card to carry in your wallet and put the information on your phone.
6. Health insurance information
U.S. health insurance policies don’t necessarily cover you overseas, but check with your insurance provider. (Medicare, for example, doesn’t.)
If you have private insurance or buy special travel insurance, you don’t need to print the entire policy, but make sure you carry a copy of your insurance card and know where to find the policy on a website or app. “That’s absolutely essential to have, because many hospitals overseas, especially private hospitals, may not take you [without proof of insurance],” says Freedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Write down and email yourself the policy number and your insurer’s contact information. Your insurer is likely to have a number you can call when you’re away from home to get guidance on handling a health issue and advice on filing a claim when you return (you may need to pay for medication out of pocket and then file a claim when you return, for example).
A few more tips for safe travel:
- Consider bringing extra medication, in case your trip gets delayed. If you’re flying, pack all prescription meds in your carry-on bag rather than in your checked luggage.
- Check with the CDC for country-specific health advisories on your destination (see its color-coded map). Also consult the U.S. Department of State, which sometimes offers slightly different warnings for travelers on related issues, like crime.
- Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, which allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The benefits of enrollment include receiving safety information about a destination and the embassy’s ability to reach you in an emergency.