Overwhelmed and Overseas


Overwhelmed and Overseas

Travel abroad can turn up delightful surprises, but what if you’re faced with a crisis?

May 27, 2015

We think of vacations as carefree, a relaxing or adventurous way to while away the time. But what happens when you are well into your carefully planned overseas vacation and you become seriously ill and require medical attention? Or you suddenly realize that your passport is missing – you don’t know whether it was lost or stolen, but it’s nowhere to be found? In both cases, you may seem to be stuck overseas, stuck somewhere in an unfamiliar landscape where you don’t speak the language, stuck facing a host of disorienting unknowns.

It may feel like a time to panic, but – take a deep breath – it’s really time to find the resources to correct your situation, while showing your strength of character in the face of adversity. And to remember that even the best-laid plans cannot always account for the unexpected.

Don’t let your sense of adventure desert you. Dealing with the unexpected may present experiences (both good and bad) that you hadn’t planned on, but that are memorable nonetheless – a ride on local public transportation when lost, perhaps, or the discovery of an off-the-beaten-path bakery or chocolate shop.

Missing/stolen passport

If your passport is missing and you have a secure Internet connection, visit travel.state.gov to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consular office and learn the procedures necessary to obtain a new passport. You can’t go home without one, and the country you are visiting likely prefers official documentation. When you visit the consular office, you’ll need identification of some kind (driver’s license, photocopy of your missing passport – you do have copies, don’t you? It’s a good idea to pack these separately on any foreign trip), a suitable passport photo and other documents. You’ll get either a full replacement passport so you can continue your journey or (if your documentation is incomplete) a limited-validity emergency version. The usual passport fees apply.

Medical emergency

If you are injured or fall seriously ill, the nearest embassy or consular office is probably your best resource. You’ll be directed to the most appropriate medical facilities, and embassy personnel will inform your family back home. Payment of all medically related costs is your responsibility, but a consular officer may be able to help in transferring funds, if necessary. Bear in mind that hospitals, doctors and emergency air evacuation providers are listed for your convenience only – the consulate does not make recommendations. However, those on the list have a history of reliability.

Becoming ill in a foreign country can be a costly affair. Even if you are covered by Medicare at home, coverage doesn’t reach beyond U.S. borders. Your private health insurance policy may cover some foreign hospital and doctor costs, but most won’t pay for medical evacuation. It’s imperative to check your medical policy before you go – and carry your identity card and a claim form with you. Just in case.

If you are particularly concerned about health issues, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website, where you’ll find a wealth of health information related to foreign travel.

Staying connected

The State Department suggests travelers sign up for its free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before heading off to foreign destinations.

You provide the embassy or consulate nearest your destination with your emergency contact details. The embassy would then be able to contact you and your loved ones in case of an emergency, whether a natural disaster, civil unrest or an important family matter. Enrolling also puts you on an alert system regarding safety conditions in your host country.

Insurance definitions

You can reduce the impact of unpleasant occurrences by carefully researching and purchasing travel insurance, travel health insurance and medical evacuation insurance. Basic travel insurance protects your financial investment – airfare, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and may include some medical expense coverage. However, it’s your responsibility to find out what your policy offers and determine if you need additional insurance. When evaluating such policies, consider the nature of your travel. Will you be taking part in low-risk sightseeing activities in safe countries? Or will you find yourself in physically demanding activities in places subject to natural disasters or civil unrest?

Positively surprising

There is much you can do to ameliorate the effects of any unwelcome surprises. Carry photocopies of your passport, prescriptions and other vital documents and stash them away from the originals. Be certain that you are fully aware of the nature of your journey and that you are capable of meeting the requirements of any physical activities. And, of course, take with you several extra days’ worth of essential medications.

Finally, keep your circumstances in perspective. Unexpected situations needn’t be entirely negative. Yes, missing your flight home from Guadeloupe caused its share of headaches – booking accommodations and rearranging flight connections, while trying to recall your high school French – but you did it, and without that extra day on the island, you would never have sampled the menu at that delightful Senegalese restaurant just a block from your beachside hotel. 


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