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Travelling Abroad for Medical Treatment


It is well recognised that for various reasons some people choose to travel abroad for certain private medical treatments (for example, medical procedures, surgery) that can include:

  • bariatric (weight loss) surgery
  • cancer treatments
  • cosmetic surgery
  • dental procedures
  • elective surgeries
  • fertility treatments
  • orthopaedic procedures
  • stem cell “rejuvenation therapies” 
  • transplant treatments

However, if you are planning to travel abroad for these sorts of treatments, it is important to understand the potential challenges and risks involved. Carrying out sufficient research and accessing appropriate advice beforehand is essential.

Potential risks associated with undergoing medical treatment abroad

Complications can occur regardless of where in the world you receive treatment.

Your risk of developing complications or other problems following medical treatment abroad will vary, depending on the type of treatment you are planning, travel arrangements and where you have your treatment. Some of the potential risks include exposure to:

  • germs (microbes) which cause infections: due to overuse of antibiotics in some countries around the world means that , antimicrobial drugs such as certain antibiotics may be ineffective against some germs (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites) that cause infections. Effective treatment against certain infections may not always be possible
  • blood-borne viral infections (e.g, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV ): in some countries, less strict infection control and hygiene practices may increase the risk of being exposed to infected blood, tissue or bodily fluids.
  • poor quality (counterfeit) medicines : substandard and falsified medical products (products that fail to meet acceptable quality standards or specifications) are a growing problem throughout the world.

Other important problems related to travelling abroad include:

  • tropical diseases: travelling to countries where diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, or zika virus infection exist increases your risk of exposure if you don’t take appropriate preventive steps to avoid catching such diseases.
  • health complications from flying: changes in air pressure and long periods of immobility during a flight can cause serious health problems
    • allow sufficient time to recover before travelling back to your own country to reduce your risk of developing complications

Travelling back to the UK will limit your physical access to the overseas hospital or clinic where you received treatment for any necessary follow-up care. You may have to rely on telephone calls or online methods to contact your overseas healthcare provider (although, increasingly, UK health care providers are also making use of these same methodologies).

Pre-Travel Advice

Do your research

Arrangements to undergo medical treatment abroad may be done directly with an overseas hospital or health care facility, or through a specialist agency. Before signing up to any medical treatment abroad, do your research and ask the correct questions in advance to make sure you are well informed and have sufficient understanding of what to expect.

Have adequate insurance

As with private sector healthcare services anywhere in the world, costs can escalate in an unexpected way. Complications and/or longer hospital stays can incur increased costs. Standard travel insurance policies are unlikely to cover planned medical treatment abroad.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between the UK and the destination country will not cover costs associated with planned medical treatments abroad.

General health considerations

It is important to discuss your plans to have treatment abroad with your general practice in the UK beforehand. They are well placed to:

  • discuss your health and any concerns you / they may have about travelling abroad for medical treatment
  • check your general health and ensure any known health conditions are stable before you travel and especially that it is safe for you to fly
  • ensure you have enough supply of any routinely prescribed medications to cover the duration of your trip, and a little extra supply to allow for unforeseen delays
  • discuss any potential requirements for aftercare upon your return to the UK, and whether available via the NHS or the private healthcare sector

Some overseas health care providers may require for you to arrange and undergo certain tests and ensure the results are made available in advance of travel.

Travel Health considerations

Pre-Travel considerations

You should arrange a travel health risk assessment at least 6-8 weeks before you travel abroad as you might need travel vaccines and/or malaria tablets and advice about other health risks specific to your destination.

  • You should consider being vaccinated against hepatitis B if you plan to have medical treatment abroad.

Fitness to fly considerations

Airlines can refuse to carry passengers with certain health conditions that may worsen in flight or lead to serious health consequences

  • you must check with your airline if there are any restrictions with flying before or following your medical treatment
  • discuss with your overseas health care professional to understand if there are any potential risks with flying prior to, or soon after, your medical treatment

Social considerations

Make sure you plan your recovery period and consider whether you will need a friend or relative to help you with support (e.g., assist with travel and mobility, visit you in hospital, offer emotional support)

If your recovery period after your treatment is prolonged, you and your travel companion(s) will need to plan for being away from your home country, family, friends and/or work for longer than expected.

Communication considerations

To reduce any risk of misunderstandings about your medical treatment abroad, you should be aware which language(s) is/are commonly spoken in the overseas health care facility. It is important to check if they have translators available that speak your language.

If you are not fluent in the spoken language, or there is no or limited access to translators, you will need to consider how you will communicate effectively with those involved in your health care.

Travel considerations

Before travelling abroad, it is important to check the FCDO foreign travel advice for:

Legal aspects of undergoing treatment abroad

Only give your consent and sign a contract with the overseas medical treatment provider once you are satisfied you fully understand everything that you have been told, and you have had an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers.

In the event that something goes wrong, you should consider your legal rights as legal action can often only be pursued in the country where your treatment takes place.

You may want to consider seeking advice from an expert in the legal field.

Further Information

Further advice and information on travelling abroad for medical procedures, including some useful checklists can be found via following links:

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