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Traveling Soon? Don’t Forget These 6 Health Documents

Keep this medical information with you, both physically and digitally

spinner image a suitcase ready for travel with passports and covid vaccination cards
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Although COVID-19 travel restrictions have relaxed substantially, there still are many reasons why you should carry certain health-related information when traveling.

With air travel forecast to be busy this summer, having your health documents in order and easy to access may mean the difference between breezing through checkpoints or facing delays.

“It’s always better to be prepared,” says Scott Keyes, founder of the travel website Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). “During your vacation, while you’re actually there, you want to enjoy it as much as possible.”

In addition to COVID-19 health documents travelers still may need, especially for international travel, it’s useful to have access to other health information when you’re away from home if you become ill or have a medical emergency.

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When Mark Harris, an author and university lecturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, traveled to Poland in late 2021, he had to carry and show his vaccination card and a negative COVID-19 test in every airport. On four domestic flights since then, he didn’t have to bring any health documents.

“It was a hassle … but I didn’t mind it because you really are trying to protect everyone from major sickness,” says Harris, 63. “If COVID taught me anything, it’s how to live in a world where there are communicable diseases.”

Documentation 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 — and 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. 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 will ask about in a health emergency. Bring copies of your prescriptions 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. “If you don’t speak the local language, many medicines and prescriptions translate pretty well,” Keyes notes.

For international travel, check the rules in the country you plan to visit. Sarah Fazendin, owner of Videre Travel in Denver, has been fielding many traveler questions about what prescriptions they can take to places like Japan, which has strict regulations on medicine brought into the country. Some over-the-counter medicines common in the United States to treat pain, anxiety and allergies are not allowed in Japan, she says. Visitors may have to apply for permission - an import certificate called “Yunyu Kakunin-sho” - to bring certain drugs or more than one month’s supply and receive it before you depart.

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2. List of your chronic health conditions

Carry a list of chronic health conditions, including allergies, that might be important during an emergency, Keyes advises. Also note any major surgeries, such as a heart bypass or organ transplant, you’ve had, says Vicki Sowards, director of clinical resources for Passport Health, a Phoenix-based provider of travel medical services. 

Consider creating a laminated card to carry in your wallet, and put the information on your phone.

3. Health insurance information

U.S. health insurance policies don’t necessarily cover you overseas. (Medicare, for example, generally doesn’t.) Check with your insurance provider.

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],” Freedman says.

Write down and email yourself the policy number and your insurer’s contact information. Your insurer likely can provide a number you can call when traveling 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 home).

4. COVID-19 vaccination card

Most travel restrictions within the U.S. and other countries have all but disappeared. But some destinations, such as the Turks and Caicos, and Ghana, still require proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 

While most cruise lines have ended their vaccination and testing requirements, a few still require them. Passengers on Tauck, Aurora Expeditions and giant Viking Cruises’ ocean, river and expedition voyages must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and may have to show proof to sail. Regardless of cruise line policies, passengers may have to meet different regulations to visit certain countries, such as Australia and Brazil, on their itinerary.

Since rules and regulations can change quickly, double check before you travel and carry a paper and digital vaccination record for international travel, Fazendin says. Colombia, for example, may not accept a photograph of your vaccination card. Some apps, including those offered by Apple, CLEAR, IBM and SMART, help users manage all their health information.

5. Proof of other vaccinations

International travelers may want to carry the yellow paper card (no digital version exists) recording the vaccinations they’ve had — for hepatitis, typhoid or yellow fever, for example — that are recommended in certain countries. The “Destinations” page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website provides recommended vaccinations and health notices by country.

You usually don’t have to show proof of those vaccinations, except for certain diseases in certain countries. Tanzania, for instance, requires proof of vaccination for yellow fever.

6. COVID-19 test results

Most countries and cruise lines no longer require negative COVID-19 test results, but some still do, including Brazil and the Philippines, especially for unvaccinated travelers.

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.”

Other 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 instead of your checked luggage.
  • Consult the U.S. Department of State, which may offer travelers warnings on related issues, like crime. See a color-coded map with travel advisories.
  • 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. Benefits include receiving safety information about a destination and the embassy’s ability to reach you in an emergency.
4 Ways to Protect Personal Data When Traveling

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 11, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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