10 biggest travel health expenses

Travel health costs can quickly mount up when you’re planning an exotic trip – but scrimp on essentials at your peril...

7 mins
If you do not invest in the items marked *, and fate is against you, there’s a good chance that your trip, your bank balance – or even your health – will be ruined.

1. Insurance*

Approximate cost: £100

Worth it?
Why? Bargain travel insurance should cover you for the basics, as long as you don’t conceal previous health issues. However, the cheapest deals might only cover treatment at a public hospital, which in some countries means long queues and no bed. It also might not medivac you home.

When you’re ill and feeling sorry for yourself in foreign lands, having someone tuck you up and look after you might seem worth paying a bit more for. It’s not so much that travel insurance is a huge expense, though – more crippling is the expense of not being suffciently insured.

Not having insurance could land you in debt for life if something goes seriously wrong in an industrialised nation. Don’t scrimp, and do declare everything you intend to do – be it bungy jumping, winter sports or ascending over 3,000m – and every ailment you’ve had in the past.

2 Rabies jabs*

Approximate cost: £174 (for the three doses)

Worth it? Yes, definitely if you’re travelling far from a good clinic
Why? Lots of people get bitten by dogs then worry about whether they will die of rabies.

Some choose to risk it and hope for the best, but the worry remains. I reckon it’s good to get cover before travel if at any point you are likely to be a few days’ journey from a decent hospital. If you don’t get pre-trip immunisation, insurers probably won’t cover evacuation or the costs of travel to get post-bite treatment.

If you have been immunised before being bitten, you will need two more jabs, but there is less urgency, and you won’t need the rabies immune globulin, which can be difficult to find. Evidence suggests that a full rabies immunisation course may give life-long immunity.

3 Malaria tablets*

Approximate cost: £5-96 (for a two-week trip)

Worth it? Yes
Why? The cost of malaria prophylaxis varies enormously, from cheap (doxycycline, around 65p/tablet) to expensive (Malarone, around £3.20/tablet). Take expert advice on which tablet is best for you.

Don’t just buy medication over the counter, or what’s cheapest – especially if going to Africa. Purchasing bargain tablets once you’ve arrived at your destination can be hazardous too – shopping locally comes with a risk of buying counterfeit meds, which are, at best, inactive.

Also, you need to start taking tablets at least a day before your first potential bite.

4 Flight socks*

Approximate cost: £7-17

Worth it? Yes
Why? Properly fitting flight socks dramatically reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis – this is a very small investment that could save your life. Mediven branded socks are clinically tested; it is difficult to judge whether cheaper ones are effective.

Do get measured by a pharmacist to ensure your socks are the correct width and length for you. These are a very sensible precaution for anyone flying for more than five hours, especially travellers over the age of 50.

5 Japanese encephalitis jabs

Approximate cost: £188 (for two doses)

Worth it? Yes, if going to a risky destination during a risky season for more than a month – take advice
Why? This disease is a killer and some survivors are left brain impaired. However, in some Asian countries it is seasonal (it’s prevalent in the rainy season) so check your risk with an expert source.

Even in risky regions however, it has been calculated that if a mosquito infected with JE bites, there is only a one in 50 chance of getting the disease, hence short trips probably don’t warrant immunisation.

6 Pre-assembled medical kit

Approximate cost: £18

Worth it? Yes
Why? The great advantage of buying a pre-assembled kit is that it looks medical and less like a drug addict’s stash. Also, the (usually) red colour makes it easy to find at the bottom of your pack.

It’s always worth personalising your kit though. Make sure it contains steristrips and check the range of dressings and painkillers. Some sticking plasters bought in the tropics don’t stick very well.

7 Permethrin-impregnated clothing

Approximate cost: £25-30 (long sleeved shirt)

Worth it? Depends on how buggy/malarious the destination Why? Personally I’m not a fan of bug-proof clothing, especially as some garments (eg shortsleeved shirts) don’t cover enough flesh.

I prefer to proof my own clothes and the easiest way to do this is by using an EX-4 spray (about £9). This can be squirted at a set of clothes somewhere outside, then left to air. Once the chemicals have dried, there is no odour – except to hungry mosquitoes. Proofed clothes don’t stop mosquitoes biting the parts of you that aren’t covered.

8 Dental check up

Approximate cost: £18

Worth it? Yes
Why? It is undoubtedly worth spending £18 on a dental check-up pre-travel – nothing ruins a trip like a tooth emergency, so best get the all clear beforehand.

The over-50s should probably travel with a dental first aid kit in case a filling falls out. As dentistry overseas is almost always cheaper than at home, some people travel specifically to get crowns and implants done. However, this can come with infection hazards in some destinations.

Also you may find the dentist won’t take time to make sure you are relaxed and ready before they start work; there may be less choice of anaesthetic. Whether you consider this depends on how relaxed you are about unfamiliar clinical situations.

9 Blood Care membership

Approximate cost: £12 a month

Worth it? Yes, worth considering
Why? The Blood Care Foundation provides its members with emergency screened blood anywhere in the world; the blood is delivered by a paramedic who supervises its administration.

A membership (available monthly, annually or for life) is probably most relevant for expats and those spending long periods overseas in nations with big infrastructure problems. The Blood Care Foundation also sells blood-grouping kits (£7.50), a sterile kit that can be used by local staff if they need to determine your blood type.

10 EHIC scams

Approximate cost: £20-25

Worth it? No!

Why? European Health Insurance Cards are free to EU residents. However, some websites will try to sell them to you. There is no advantage to using a paid-for service. You don’t receive your card any quicker; you don’t get any extra cover. Don’t be caught out.

Have you been caught out by an EHIC scam or an expensive health scare? Tell us in the comments below...

Image: Concept of health (Shutterstock)

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