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Full Guide – Seeing A Doctor Abroad For Expats

When you’re in need of healthcare as an expat, finding an English-speaking doctor abroad can be stressful. Knowing where to go to see a reliable doctor who speaks your language isn’t always obvious. It’s always a good idea to prepare for your move and have your international health insurance ready before you make a move.

Not to worry though: to help you find the best local medical care when you’re abroad, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide. We will cover everything you need to know about seeing a good English-speaking doctor abroad, plus share some handy tips on how to prepare for your move and get the best healthcare abroad.

Key steps to seeing a doctor abroad

  • 1/ Local directories and government resources can help you find the best doctors close to you.
  • 2/ If you don’t have insurance you’ll have to pay for any consultations or treatments yourself.
  • 3/ According to data from The World Health Organization, France, Italy and San Marino are the countries with the best health services worldwide, while many of the best individual hospitals are in the USA.
  • 4/ William Russell international health insurance gives expats and digital nomads access to our network of 40,000 hospitals and clinics worldwide.
  • 5/ There are few things you can do to help you feel more prepared for healthcare emergencies when moving abroad.
Young female doctor In white coat meeting with female patient in office - How To Find An English-Speaking Doctor Abroad For Expats
Finding a good doctor is important when you move abroad / GETTY IMAGES

How to find an English-speaking doctor abroad as an expat

The first time you find yourself in need of a doctor while living abroad, it can be hard to know where to look. Matters can get all the more complicated if you need a doctor who can speak your language. After all, miscommunication could lead to misdiagnosis, and cause you undue stress while trying to receive treatment.

Differences in healthcare systems

National healthcare and social security systems vary from one country to another. In some countries you might have to pay the doctor or the hospital directly for treatment, even though you may not normally do that in your home country. It may also be necessary to take out health insurance. Before leaving for your new destination, it’s important to check what health services are available to you in that country.

In most countries, you’ll have to register with the relevant authorities. Once you’re registered as a resident, to work and make social security (national insurance) contributions, you’ll be entitled to state-run healthcare on the same basis as a resident of that country.

Know your medicines

Many doctors abroad speak English, however they might not know the brand-name of the medication that you take. Knowing the medical names for some common medication can be very useful when seeing a doctor abroad or when making a purchase at a pharmacy:

  • Advil/Anadin/Nurofen – ibuprofen
  • Aleve/Nexocin – naproxen
  • Bayer/Ecotrin – aspirin
  • Benadryl/Tylenol – diphenhydramine
  • Dramamine – dimenhydrinate
  • Bonine/Antivert – meclizine
  • Pepto-Bismol – bismuth subsalicylate
  • Robitussin/ Benylin – dextromethorphan
  • Antacids – calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
  • Imodium – loperamide
How much does medical treatment cost abroad?
Find out potential costs before you make a move

Step-by-Step Guide: Seeing a doctor abroad

Step 1:
Use a directory to find a local English-speaking doctor

There are a number of platforms and directories available online to help expats, digital nomads and travellers find and see a doctor abroad.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) is one of the most reliable resources. By signing up to their online directory, you’ll be able to search and compare services offered by English-speaking doctors in your area, and make an appointment directly through the site.

The International Society of Travel Medicine is another respected online directory. The service is free, however the focus is on travel-related medicine, such as vaccinations for travellers. That said, they might be able to advise you on other local clinics with English-speaking practitioners.

Step 2:
Speak to other expats on forums and Facebook groups

Sometimes the best advice you can get is by talking to someone who has been through the process already. Getting advice from someone who has recently been in your shoes can help you get a real first-hand idea of what you may expect with seeing a doctor abroad and support with any pitfalls you run into along the way.

Online forums and Facebook groups are a great way to connect with other expats and to get easy answers to all your nagging questions. You might even make some long-term friends to connect with once you get out there.

Step 3:
Find a local doctor abroad using government sources

Beyond these private directories, you could also access reliable information about doctors, clinics, and hospitals through government resources.

Local embassies in your destination country should be able to provide you with information on any travel health notices, links to up-to-date Covid-19 travel information and any vaccines or medicines you’ll need to obtain before you travel. They should also be able to direct you toward healthcare services for expats and travellers, where you can find an English-speaking doctor.

If you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or its replacement for UK citizens, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), you may be able to access emergency healthcare when visiting other EU countries. British citizens can apply for a GHIC card through the NHS website.

Step 4:
Access healthcare through your insurance

Good medical insurance should allow you to book consultations and treatments directly through your insurer. If not, they’ll at least be able to direct you toward a reliable healthcare service. Having a good health insurer is by far the easiest way to access healthcare in a foreign country, and well worth the money you pay to keep you covered.

At William Russell, we are connected to a network of over 40,000 hospitals and clinics worldwide. We also offer 24/7 emergency assistance through our personalised service. No call centres – just real on-hand professionals ready to support you in getting the help you need at any time of day or night.

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Seeing a doctor abroad as an expat

With international health insurance:

If you have an international health insurance plan, you should be provided with an emergency medical assistance number you can call to help you arrange a doctor’s visit, or video call.

Going through your insurer should also mean any fees are covered directly, saving you the stress of having to save receipts and follow-up expenses.

Without international health insurance:

If you’re not covered by insurance, you’ll need to contact a local doctor or healthcare centre directly to schedule an appointment. Use a directory, online communities or government source as described below to help you find a local doctor that is reliable and affordable.

Remember, without insurance, you may have to pay for any doctor’s visits and treatment out of your own pocket.

Cheryl Obal, Cross-Cultural Expert and Founder of Cheryl Obal & Associates:
Cheryl Obal: Cross-Cultural Expert and Founder of Cheryl Obal & Associates
“It is essential to have good health insurance coverage. The last thing you want is for something to happen to you when you are in an unfamiliar country.It happened to me once that in Qatar where I severely broke my tooth. Thankfully, it was just a tooth and I had insurance to get it fixed. I’ve heard of other more serious health mishaps with expats who didn’t have insurance. I would never want to be in that position.Make sure you arrange insurance and be sure your coverage kicks in by the day of departure from your home country.”
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How to prepare for your move and get the best healthcare abroad

Packed and ready to leave? Here are a few things you can do to help you feel more prepared for healthcare emergencies before you go.

1/ Find out which healthcare system your destination country has

Not every country operates the same way when it comes to healthcare. Some countries have residence-based systems, like the NHS, while others have partially or completely privatised systems. This means that the healthcare services you might expect to get for free in the United Kingdom, might come with a charge when you move abroad.

Some countries also have better healthcare systems than others. Before leaving for your new destination, take the time to check how your new healthcare system works and how it is accessed by expatriates and foreign nationals, so you know what to expect.

2/ Do your research before you move

It’s important to learn about the health services in your destination country before you move; especially important if you have a chronic health condition, or are planning to stay in the country for an extended period. Find out what kind of medical services are and are not available. Do you have a condition that needs frequent attention or certain medicine you require on a regular basis? Make sure you can communicate these essential points in the local language – it could be a lifesaver.

It’s also important to consider any adventure activities, such as water sports or skiing, that might not be included in a standard insurance policy.

Having a full understanding of your medical needs and the services available, will help you make an informed decision about the cover you might need.

3/ Take out international health insurance before you move

In some countries, international health insurance is a legal requirement, especially if you want to apply for permanent residency. In other countries, particularly those with an out-of-pocket healthcare system, it’s the smartest option if you want to avoid potentially enormous hospital bills. But wherever you live, it’s a good idea: that with international health insurance, if you become ill while you’re living overseas, you will be covered for hospital bills, emergency costs and other potentially expensive treatments.

William Russell provides a range of health insurance plans, with prices depending on your age, destination, and level of cover. In 2021, our average premium for an individual for a single year of cover was US$3,650.

4/ Know what forms of treatment you’ll need

If you know you’re going to need certain prescriptions after you move abroad, make sure you ask your doctor for the detail of these medications and that your bottles are correctly labelled. It’s also worth having a written document that identifies your blood type, any ongoing illnesses, and allergies in the local language. This will be vital in the case of an emergency.

5/ Get set up as soon as you arrive

If you’re worried about needing medical help while abroad, perhaps for an ongoing condition or repeat prescription, then it’s a good idea to contact your local healthcare service as soon as possible after you arrive. Getting organised early will reduce the risk of you going with the medications you need and will prevent delay if you find yourself in need of urgent advice.

6/ Know where the highest-quality hospitals are located

Researching local hospitals and medical centres is one of the most straightforward ways to find out what healthcare services are available near you. Remember, your best nearest hospital may be private, meaning you’ll have to pay to use their services. If you have international health insurance, you might be able to cover the cost of private treatment through your plan.

In 2022, the highest ranked hospitals in the world, according to Newsweek and Statista’s World’s Best Hospitals index, are:

  1. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, United States
  2. Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, United States
  3. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, United States
  4. Toronto General, Toronto, Canada
  5. Charité – Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany
  6. The John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, United States
  7. AP-HP – Hôpital Universitaire Pitié Salpêtrière, Paris, France
  8. Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset, Solna, Sweden
  9. UCLA Health – Ronald Reagan Medical Center, Los Angeles, United States
  10. Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel

Source: Newsweek, World’s Best Hospitals 2022

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Can I use my medical insurance in another country?

This depends on what kind of medical insurance you have. If you have standard private medical insurance, it’s unlikely this will cover you if you fall ill abroad, but it’s worth checking your policy documents to make sure.

If you’re an expat or digital nomad, looking to spend a significant period in a foreign country, the most reliable way to get full medical insurance while abroad is to go through a specialist insurance provider.

At William Russell, we provide international health insurance plans for people living and working abroad, giving you access to top hospitals and doctors, cancer care and mental health support.

As with any insurance policy, you’ll need to make sure that you keep evidence in the form of receipts for any consultations or treatments you pay for, otherwise you won’t be able to claim back the costs from your insurer.

Have peace of mind with William Russell

For 30 years, William Russell has provided international health insurance for people living and working abroad. With over 40,000 hospitals in our worldwide network, you can travel with the knowledge you have access to the best medical care wherever in the world you are.

Get a health insurance quote from William Russell today and discover the benefits of our comprehensive cover.

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