Diabetes and International Exchange
Recommendations for travel in other countries for people with diabetes.
There are several books, websites and articles about traveling for people with diabetes, some of which you can find listed below. To find out about managing diabetes in a particular country (such as finding out common ingredients in foods, locating medical supplies, etc.) contact diabetes associations in the country to which you plan to travel. Some contacts are listed below. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) can also conduct a search for you, if you have a particular country in mind.
- Consult with your physician if you are unsure about whether or not your condition is stable enough for travel abroad.
- Ask your physician to write a summary of your diagnosis and medication regimen and have it translated in the local language. Learning vocabulary related to one’s disability ahead of time can be helpful as well.
- Research the food customs of the country to which you are traveling, including ingredients and customary meal times.
- Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet with disability and emergency contact information.
- Communicate with exchange program staff regarding the availability of on-site supports, such as English-speaking physicians, pharmacies and medical facilities. Plan ahead for contingencies by making arrangements to talk by phone with a physician in the United States and/or locate a physician abroad who can liaise with your own physician if needed. See Medications and International Travel for more information and resources.
- Research common differences in medication names, brands, and dosages, and regulations about traveling with certain prescriptions before leaving for another country. Websites are listed in our tipsheet Medications and International Travel.
- Consider purchasing an airline ticket with an open return date if there is a possibility that your health may necessitate an early return.
- Find out what your medical insurance plan will cover while abroad (both your own insurance and the travel insurance you get for the exchange). Some individual plans in the United States do not cover overseas visits or international travel. Medical insurance purchased by the individual or provided by the program may have a pre-existing condition exclusion defined as “an injury or sickness for which advice or treatment was primarily recommended or received from a physician.” The time period that delineates if a condition is “pre-existing” will vary based on the insurance plan or the exchange organization offering it; typically this can be from two weeks to six months prior to the effective coverage. Read more on our tipsheet on Insurance Considerations for People with Disabilities.
- Negotiate with your insurance company to obtain enough supplies to last for the duration of the exchange program. If your insurance company needs documentation in order to approve an exception to normal limits on the number of prescriptions that can be filled at one time, ask exchange program staff or a study abroad coordinator to provide a letter with information about the type and duration of the exchange program.
- If your insurance will not cover advance filling of supply needs, ask your doctor if it is possible to obtain enough samples to last for the duration of the program. Your doctor may be able to increase your prescription temporarily, in order to gather enough supplies in advance to use while abroad.
- In some cases, it may be necessary and/or helpful to return home mid-term to restock on needed supplies or medications. A visit home can also be an opportunity to schedule medical appointments if needed.
- Diabetes-related supplies and equipment are permitted through security checkpoints at U.S. airports once they have been screened. Notify the security officer that you have diabetes and are carrying your supplies with you. For more information, see Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions: Hidden Disabilities on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website.
- Airport personnel in some countries may not be familiar with diabetes-related supplies and equipment such as insulin pumps, which can cause delays at security checkpoints. Carry documentation of all medical equipment, such as insulin pumps, meters, test kits and test strips, to present to airport security during the screening process. Explain to the TSA that an insulin pump is too sensitive to go through the body scanner which can cause it to work incorrectly, and request a physical pat down.
- Disperse insulin and other supplies in different bags when traveling in case one bag is lost en route to your destination. Always carry an emergency supply of necessary medication and supplies on board the aircraft in your carry-on baggage.
- Crossing time zones may present challenges to travelers with diabetes related to adjusting insulin timing, meal times or sleep schedules. Some travelers start to adjust their schedules gradually while in transit, while others change to a new schedule after adjusting to the new time zone. Organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and experienced travelers with similar conditions can provide guidance on making the adjustments.
- Talk with someone who has diabetes and has traveled to get advice and answers to questions you have about how best to prepare. Read this story Studying Abroad in China with Diabetes or our A World Awaits You - Non-Apparent Disabilities Issue.
American Diabetes Association (ADA) has information on their website that is useful for travelers with diabetes (See Websites below for a list of useful travel links) and also provides referral to diabetes resources in the United States.
Diabetes UK's mission is to improve the lives of people with diabetes in the United Kingdom. They provide extensive information and other services pertaining to diabetics including a help line with multi-language translators.
International Diabetes Federation (IDF) is a global advocate for people with diabetes and their healthcare providers. To find a list of IDF affiliates around the world, see IDF Member Associations.
The Diabetes Travel Guide by Davida F. Kruger contains travel tips for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It includes translation of essential phrases about diabetes into several languages. Published by the American Diabetes Association, $14.95. ISBN: 1580400418.
Provides a list of diabetes associations in many countries worldwide.
A useful online article titled "Management of Diabetes During Intercontinental Travel."
An article from the Americans with Diabetes Association
Although efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, MIUSA/NCDE cannot be held liable for inaccuracy, misinterpretation or complaints arising from these listings. Mention of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement by MIUSA/NCDE. Please advise NCDE of any inaccuracies you may find.