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medication kit for expats

Our sincere thanks to Chiara Elia, who is a doctor, for giving us advice to put together a basic medication kit for expats who are relocating to a new country, or going on holiday.

Please note that, as explained in the article, you should never take any medication without prior consultation with your doctor. The medication kit for expats below is to be used only in case of emergency, when you need treatment urgently and it is impossible for you to see a doctor.



Before you leave:

  • Ensure that you have your European Health Insurance Card. This will allow you to get emergency treatment in EU countries until you are properly covered by your host country’s health insurance scheme.
  • Find out what sort of health insurance you should apply for. If possible, get this information at least two months before you leave, so that you can go through any necessary administrative procedures in your home country prior to your departure.
  • If you are relocating to a ‘difficult’ country, make sure you know what immunizations you need.
  • For each family member, make a written note of their
    1. Blood group (only if you are absolutely sure of it)
    2. A complete list of medication that they are, or may be, allergic to (include, for example, instances such as ‘I once felt sick after taking this antibiotic’). This will help you if you need to give emergency services detailed information, but have communication problems in the language of your host country.
    3. A complete list of any medication (active principle) you take regularly, along with the dosage. Your doctor or paediatrician can help you with this if you are not sure.
  • In the language of your host country, have a list of any vaccinations you have had, and bring your certificates with you. You may need them when you are registering your children for school or nursery, or for your first visit to a paediatrician.
  • Bring your child’s ‘health log book’ if you have one, or make a note of each child’s height and weight, and bring any notes from your paediatrician
  • Ask your paediatrician to give your children a full checkup before you leave, for your peace of mind, and ensure you have a contact number in case you have any concerns when you arrive in your host country, before you find a new paediatrician.
  • If you intend to be away for a long time, have a dental checkup.

And now, what should you pack?

Remember that in most places you will find everything you need! Being an expat does not mean you have to use self-medication, or forget to take care of yourself because you don’t know where to go!

So, here is a list of supplies you probably have in your house already, just to get you through the first night of not feeling well:

For children
  • Acetaminophen for children or babies. Please, use it with care following the dosage and instructions!
  • Probiotics or milk enzymes for children (the kind that can be stored outside a fridge)
  • Mineral salts in case of diarrhoea. The most important thing is to avoid dehydration.
  • A thermometer
  • Vicks VapoRub or a similar mentholated topical ointment: you can rub it on the chest or boil it in little water in case of a mild cough without fever, or a cold
  • An antimicrobial disinfectant
For adults only
  • An anti-inflammatory (to be used sparingly! If the pain persists, if it’s not just a backache from carrying heavy cases… do contact a doctor!)
  • Aspirin
  • Stomach protector to be taken with the anti-inflammatory or aspirin
  • Anti-acid
  • Gauze
  • Laxative
  • Probiotics
  • Band-aids

If you suffer from Herpes Labialis, remember the local or systemic medication you use.

A broad spectrum antibiotic: yes or no? This is a question I am often asked! I’d say no, unless you’re going to a developing country and are traveling solo. Self-medication should be avoided.

If you’re going to a difficult country, research the health situation and remember that money spent for a good health insurance is money well spent!


Chiara Elia
Barcelona, Spain
June 2013
Translated from Italian by Paola Fornari

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