Travelling Abroad with an Existing Medical Condition

General planning for your trip

If you have an existing medical condition it should not be a barrier to travel. With some careful planning and preparation you can enjoy a safe and happy trip.

Multiethnic Arms Raised Holding Text VaccinationVaccinations

Make sure you consult your GP or Travel Clinic, ideally at least 6 weeks before travel, to get any necessary vaccinations, malaria tablets (if required) and travel health advice.


Ensure you have enough stock of your regular medication to last your whole trip and make sure you carry this in your hand luggage. Medication should be carried in its original packaging and you should take a copy of your prescription, or a letter from your doctor, in your hand luggage. Some drugs are banned in certain countries so you should check with the countries embassy website to find out which drugs are banned.

Don’t buy medication abroad! Counterfeit or fake medications are a growing problem worldwide. The World Health Organisation estimates that in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America between 10-30% of medications sold are fake [1]

Travel Insurance

Make sure you get comprehensive travel insurance before you travel and declare all existing medical conditions to your insurer. The cost of medical treatment abroad and repatriation to the UK can be very costly so make sure you have the right cover in place before your travel.

If you are travelling in the European Union you should also carry an EHIC card which will enable you to access state- provided- healthcare in the European Economic Area (EEA) at a reduced cost or occasionally for free. It covers pre-existing medical conditions but should not be used in place of travel insurance. You can register for an EHIC card for free online –

Allergen Free StickersTravelling with an allergy

Travelling with an allergy can be difficult and without being prepared could end up with you needing medical treatment following exposure to an unknown source of your allergy. Food allergies can cause problems when ordering food in restaurants as communicating can often be difficult.

Allergic reactions are caused by allergens. Almost anything can be an allergen for someone. Common allergens include: pollen, house dust mite, food, animals and chemicals. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from a runny nose, itchy eyes, skin rashes to the more severe form of allergy; anaphylaxis. Allergy is very common and it affects approximately one in four of the population in the UK [2]

If you have a known allergy you should follow these advice tips to make sure you stay safe and healthy on your trip

  • Carry an adequate supply of allergy treatment – antihistamine tablets or cream or inhalers.
  • If you have been prescribed an Epipen make sure you have a good supply for your trip. Make sure your Epipen is in date and carry a copy of your original prescription and a doctor’s letter stating your allergy and treatment plan. Always carry your Epipen in your hand luggage.
  • Wear an ID bracelet or necklace that is engraved with the wearer’s main medical condition(s) or allergies.
  • If you are travelling by plane contact your airline before travel to read their allergy policy. Some airlines restrict the amount of Epipen’s you can carry in-flight, so make sure you check the airline’s policy before you fly. Many airlines still serve snacks such as nuts so it is worth checking this information before you book. Always carry your Epipen on the plane with you and inform cabin crew that you have an allergy to minimise exposure to allergens during your flight.
  • Carry an allergy identity card. These cards state your allergy, current medication, medical history and emergency contact information.
  • Carry a translation card stating your allergy. This is particularly useful for food allergies. Many countries use nut oils in cooking and communicating your allergies can often be difficult. Allergy UK produces translation cards in 27 languages.
  • Make sure you have adequate travel insurance and disclose your allergy and any other medical conditions to your insurers when you take out your policy.

Travelling with Diabetes

Having Diabetes does not rule our travel and again with some careful planning you can minimise potential problems

  • If you take insulin travelling across time zones can be a problem. You should see your diabetes nurse specialist to discuss this before your trip. Your nurse will advise you on any adjustments you need to make.
  • Make sure you carry an adequate supply of medication, insulin, needles and blood glucose monitoring equipment. Pack this in your hand luggage and, if possible, take spare equipment in a separate bag in case you lose anything. You should get a letter from your doctor if you are travelling with needles and syringes.
    Insulin should be kept cool and should be packed in your hand luggage.
  • Pack extra snacks for your journey and contact the airline to discuss or Pre- order meals before your flight.
  • Research your destination and find out about local medical facilities should you require medical treatment during your trip.
  • Carry a medical ID bracelet and a diabetes identity card. This will be helpful if you need treatment broad.
  • Take out comprehensive travel insurance and disclose pre-existing medical conditions.

iStock_000018268580_Large Travelling with a lung condition

Some people with lung conditions may have difficulty travelling by air due to reduced air pressure in planes. If you have had a collapsed lung you may not be able to travel by plane until your doctor says it is ok to do so. If you have asthma or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COPD) you need to plan carefully before travel and make sure your condition is well controlled. Climate, altitude and air quality can affect your breathing.

Follow these tips:

  • Carry an adequate supply of any medications and inhalers. Keep these in your hand luggage and carry a letter from your doctor or your original prescription.
  • If you need oxygen contact your airline to make arrangements for this before your trip. There is usually a charge for this service.
  • If you get breathless with exercise make sure you contact the airport to arrange disabled assistance. Remember airports are often large and a lot of walking is sometimes required.
  • If you have asthma or COPD carry a self-management plan which includes your treatment, what to do in an emergency and contact information. You should carry a course of oral steroids if you get regular exacerbations of your asthma or COPD.
  • Carry a medical ID bracelet and medical identity card for use in an emergency.
  • Take out comprehensive travel insurance and declare your existing medical condition.
Nurse Jane Bell

Nurse Jane Bell

For more information about medical ID bands and bracelets visit the ID Band Company

 Written by Jane Bell – RGN

Clinic Nurse Director-Sussex Travel Clinic