Know what options exist or how to plan for health coverage while on an exchange program if you have pre-existing conditions or need ongoing medications and treatment while abroad.
Plans offered to international exchange participants for less than a year of coverage are not fully licensed products so changes to U.S. health laws through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not apply. These plans can increase costs, have pre-existing condition exclusions, or deny enrollment to an individual based on health status.
"I'll be away from family, away from the doctors, away from the security of my own surroundings. I truly have to find a way to 'survive' and know that I can do this alone," blogged Tracy Cherba in the time leading up to her departure for Peru, where she would soon be traveling with a group of her professional colleagues to volunteer in a Cross-Cultural Solutions program.
Most international exchange participants are issued a J-1 or F-1 visa in order to enter the United States. Most of the rules and regulations for visas are the same for participants with or without disabilities, but there are also some additional considerations that people with disabilities should know. Find out how visa regulations may be impacted by a chronic illness, a pre-existing health condition, or personal assistance.
Use these at-a-glance tips for going abroad with specific chronic health or systemic health conditions, such as chronic fatigue to environmental sensitivities and more. Don't forget to browse our resource library for more detailed advice on many of these topics!
From health care coverage to stress-busters, prepare for issues that might arise when traveling with a chronic health condition.
"Being disabled doesn't mean I have to give up on my dreams," explains Emily Block, who studied abroad in over a dozen countries on the Semester at Sea program, all while managing a rare chronic health condition.
As a person with a chronic or acute health condition, also known as systemic disability, you have the right to apply for the same kinds of life-changing experiences overseas as everyone else!
“If I expect the program to fully include me, then I need to provide them with as much information as possible," says Betsy Valnes, who has a brain injury and has participated in several overseas programs. "In my experience, people are more understanding about my need to excuse myself for a while if they know my reasons for fatigue."
I’ve gone in a shed, I’ve gone in the forest and I’ve gone in the middle of the desert. I’ve gone on top of a mountain, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone behind a bus.
You know your own medication dosages and medical history the best. So, it's up to you to research how to manage your medications when traveling outside your country. Talk with your home doctor and insurance company who can answer questions. In some cases, you may have an international travel clinic or travel insurance providers to consult.
Some international programs make it a policy to include a confidential health history and clearance form signed by a medical provider and/or an accommodation request form in the acceptance packet sent to each participant. These forms encourage the individual to talk with the medical provider about what is needed while on the program, and allows participants the option to disclose disability information and request accommodations they may require while abroad with the program staff.
Reputable exchange programs should have health, safety, security and risk management plans in place. When deciding on a program or assessing it after you are accepted, ask questions about plans for crises or emergencies abroad and how information about your disability will be shared and accommodated in a crisis event.
Managing your mental health while studying abroad – whether or not you have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions – is something every person must think about when going abroad.
Being away from usual stress at home can sometimes be a relief when abroad; experiencing new adventures can be a useful distraction. You will also have times when you feel confused, uncomfortable, annoyed, and many of the same emotions that you manage in your daily life at home.
"Every four hours, every day, for the past fifteen years I have had to insert a tube to empty my bladder" writes John Hockenberry in his book "Moving Violations," which accounts his international travels as a journalist who happens to have a disability. "It is a detail which can remain fairly discreetly hidden in most situations."
Hidden, that is, until Hockenberry found himself reporting abroad in a remote area of Iraq "soaked in mud and surrounded by human waste," struggling to minimize the risk of contamination while going about his business.