Getting medical help for IBD when on holiday abroad

Should the worst happen and you need to get medical help for your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis while you are on holiday in a foreign country we have put together some tips to help you out.

Travel insurance

Before heading off on your trip you should make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance which covers your inflammatory bowel disease. If it doesn’t, and you become ill, then you may face very large bills or be refused treatment. When getting travel insurance you should mention your inflammatory bowel disease, any treatments you are on, any hospital stays and any surgery. If you don’t mention these then it could invalidate your insurance. You should check that your travel insurance includes emergency medical treatment, medical evacuation and repatriation.


Finding specialist IBD services

The IBD Passport website has details of IBD centres around the world which have emergency care facilities. Before going away you should make a note of where the closest facility is to your destination.

Getting medical help

Healthcare systems vary greatly from country to country, so you may wish to read up about the system in your destination country before leaving for your trip and map out local facilities available to you.

If you are unable to get to a specialist IBD centre then you should go to the nearest hospital with emergency care. In some countries there are also non-emergency walk-in health centres which you don't need an appointment for. Staff at your accommodation may be able to help you find and access local health services. 

Some countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements with other countries which will allow you to access their healthcare services for free or at a reduced cost. For most UK residents you can use the free European Health Insurance Card (UK EHIC) to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare when you're visiting an EU country or Switzerland. It is not a substitute for travel insurance. It may not cover all health costs and never covers repatriation costs. However, following the UK leaving the European Union, If you have a EHIC it will only be valid until the expiry date on the card. Once it expires, you’ll need to apply for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to replace it.

Information about some countries and regions that provide reciprocal agreements with other countries for their residents is below:

It is useful to take with you a summary of your condition, medical history, medications and any allergies to give to doctors treating you. You could translate this information into the local language using Google Translate. You should also take any medication (prescription and non-prescription) with you to show the doctor. 

If you are offered any treatment or surgery it may be worth trying to speak to your IBD doctor at home to get their opinion.

In an emergency you can contact your country’s embassy/consulate locally for their advice and assistance.

Claiming back costs on travel insurance

You should speak to your travel insurance company at your earliest opportunity to let them know that you are receiving medical treatment. They will be able to advise you on what to do next and what you will be covered for. 

Many countries require that you pay for treatment up front - even if you will be claiming it back on your travel insurance. If you pay for any treatment you should keep the receipts, this includes any travel expenses to get to the doctor/hospital.

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