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The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

What to do if you get sick while studying abroad

No one likes being ill. This is especially true if you are far away from home without family. However, knowing what to do if you get sick while studying abroad is important. We’ve got some advice.

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Life as an international student is the adventure of a lifetime, and that’s why it’s best to be prepared. While it’s not something you may want to think about, you may get ill while studying abroad. Being sick isn’t fun, and you want to know that you have the best support and care if you should need it. This can make a big difference when you are far away from home. We look at some of the important steps you can take to ensure you’re in the best position to recover. 


Register with your university health clinic and doctor


When you first arrive at university, it’s always a good idea to register with the campus clinic or health service. Most universities have a dedicated clinic as part of their student support services. They can help with health checks, diagnosis, medication, and advice. Make sure to ask your university what they have available. 


Some campus clinics have nurses and doctors on-site, so signing up for the service can be beneficial. Sometimes you may need to register with a general practitioner off-campus. This can be either in private practice or as part of a country’s health service, for example, the NHS in England. The cost is usually covered as part of your health surcharge and visa.


Find out more about how to stay healthy and safe when studying abroad. 


Know your emergency contacts


This is key. Add a list of emergency contacts to your phone when you arrive. These should be included with your orientation pack, and if you are not sure you can always ask the international office. It’s useful to have the numbers for campus health, emergency services, security, and a campus/university representative. 


Don’t forget to add your emergency contacts to your university profile. Your institution must know who they should contact if you have an emergency. Usually, this will be a family member or a very close friend. You may be able to add the details of a doctor or medical professional who has treated you before in case of any medical conditions or important health information. 


See what else you need to add to your preparation list before studying abroad. 


Contact a friend or university representative


Do not hesitate to contact a friend or university representative if you fall ill. It’s best to be proactive rather than suffer in silence. Sometimes waiting isn’t the best option, and seeking treatment can make all the difference to your recovery. 


Let people know where you are, what you are experiencing and the type of help that you need. This may be receiving medication, or you may need help to see a doctor. If you need medical treatment, make sure that you have let people know, if possible, especially if they need to tell your family. Remember that you are not alone. 


Why not look at our mental health guide for international students for some advice and information?


Check with your medical insurance provider


When studying abroad, it’s recommended that you have student medical insurance. This will cover medical expenses if you have an accident or fall ill and require medical treatment. It’s not something that you might think about, but it’s a good way of putting you at ease. Sometimes, universities will require proof of medical insurance before allowing you to register. 


Remember that not all medical insurance is the same. This means that some medical insurers will cover certain illnesses, procedures, and treatments, while others may not. You should always find out what a package covers and the costs involved. Check the reputation of the company you are thinking of buying insurance from, read customer reviews, and speak to an education counsellor about it. 


Medical insurance while studying abroad should cover things like:


  • Emergency care 
  • Hospital treatment
  • Fee coverage if you fall ill
  • Medical procedures 
  • Travel costs if you need to return home


Find out how to deal with study abroad options and information overload.  


Apply for a leave of absence


You will need to apply for a leave of absence if you do become sick and are temporarily unable to fulfil the academic requirements of your course, such as seminars, tests, assignments, or exams. A leave of absence is the same as taking sick leave. You usually apply for this via your university department, student office/administration. 


Make sure to have all the relevant supporting documentation when you apply. This can include doctor’s letters and medical reports. You may need to provide a tentative date for your return to campus and request extensions for assignments. Don't become too anxious or worried if you are ill, concentrate on your recovery. Universities are more understanding than you may think. 


Getting sick isn’t what you would want. It is, however, a part of life, so being prepared is your best option. If you have taken all the necessary steps, you’ll be in a good position to get help and recover quickly. While you are here, you may find our university application guide useful, or you could start searching for that perfect course

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