Traveling through foreign lands gives you a unique opportunity to observe a rich variety of cultures and customs. This is true for those living with or without a disability. Living with a disability in no way prevents you from experiencing international travel.
With advanced planning and plenty of vigilance, your trip abroad can be safe and enjoyable.
Before You Go
- First things first. Check with you doctor to make sure it is okay for you to travel.
- If you are considering Study Abroad programs, research which can best accommodate any special needs you may have. Your study abroad office can direct you to many programs that set aside extra funds to make reasonable accommodations such as: personal care assistants, foreign sign language interpreters, oxygen providers, etc.
- Thoroughly research your location(s) and its accessibility—wheel-chair ramps can be narrower, hotel bathrooms may not have safety bars, and crossing lights may not have a sound indicator. Accessibility laws vary from country to country, so it’s better to be prepared for what you may encounter before you go.
- Obtain a letter from your doctor on letterhead, explaining your need for any medical devices and medications. If possible, have this letter translated into the language used in the locations you will be visiting.
- Bring sufficient medications with you and be sure to pack extra quantities in your carry-on bag, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. Remember to keep it in its original container and clearly labeled. Check with the country’s local embassy to ensure it is legal for you to bring your medication into the country. Visit www.tsa.gov for current medication screening procedures.
- Make sure you have adequate medical insurance. Be prepared for the unexpected. Are you covered under your parents' policy or through your school? Now is a good time to find out if your current coverage covers you overseas. Consider supplemental insurance to fill in any gaps your current provider misses. And be sure to read the fine print about pre-existing conditions. For more medical information, click here.
- If you’re planning to travel to another country with your service animal, start the necessary documentation early. The amount of paperwork involved in bringing an animal into some countries can be voluminous and processing can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to process! Be sure to contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting to find out their specific requirements (some countries may require the implantation of an identifying microchip into your service animal). Ask your doctor to write a letter explaining your need for a service animal and ask your veterinarian to provide health and rabies certificates and to document the animal’s vaccinations are all up-to-date. Also, research how to obtain medical care for your animal abroad.
- If you already use the services of a personal assistant, chances are, you’ll want similar services overseas. Make arrangements with your study abroad program to arrange for the services of an assistant or to find out how your current assistant can be accommodated. Apart from program tuition, funds need to be set aside for your assistant’s transportation, lodging, and day-to-day expenses.
- Since many countries use 220-volt electricity (as opposed to 110 required by most U.S. appliances), you may need to purchase a "converter" or a "transformer" to be able to use your medical devices or equipment. Check with your manufacturer to find out what will work best for your devices.
- Ask your study abroad program officials whom to contact in case of a medical emergency, and create a list of the names and numbers of nearby medical facilities.
- Join disability organizations and support groups located at your destination to create a support system to help you with the transition of living in another country. The Mobility International website is a good place to start!
- Learn how to say and/or write simple phrases in the language spoken at your destination explaining your disability and how to ask for or reject help. (“Thank you. Can you help me cross the street?”)
- Before you book your flights, contact the airline early to confirm that your medical equipment (ventilator, wheelchair, etc.) meets the airline’s regulations and obtain copies of the airline’s policies on the rights of passengers with disabilities. Ask plenty of questions such as, “Will I be required to purchase a second seat for my medical equipment” and “Is the airplane bathroom wheelchair accessible?”
- Do you require oxygen service? Currently, passengers are not allowed to bring their own oxygen canisters aboard for use during flights, and legally, airlines are not required to provide oxygen service. Find out in advance about your airline’s procedures for allowing oxygen suppliers to meet you at the arrival gate.
- Whether you require a wheelchair or a sight-guide, you can request assistance at your airline’s check-in to help you maneuver through the airport and to make your travel experience easier.
- Know your rights when going through airport security screening both here and abroad. For example, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) limit of one carry-on bag and one personal bag does not apply to medical supplies and devices for assistance. Review the current TSA policies as they relate to disabilities.
- If you must undergo a personal search during airport screening, and you need privacy, you can request for the screening to be conducted in a private area of the security checkpoint. Feel free to request a disposable paper drape for additional privacy or if you want the Security Officer to change their gloves.
- It’s a good idea to carry a Pacemaker Identification Card (ID) when going through airport security. Do NOT walk through the metal detector or be hand-wanded. Show the Security Officer your pacemaker ID ahead of time and request a pat-down inspection.
- Normally, oxygen sources are temporarily disconnected during security screening. If you are not medically cleared to be disconnected or if you have concerns, ask the Security Officer for an alternate inspection process so you can remain connected.
- Allow at least 90 minutes between connecting flights to make sure you have enough time to transfer between gates.
- If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask airline or airport personnel. Be assertive and specific!
While You're There
- Each day, be sure to pack everything you’ll need while you’re away from your lodging for the day. Be sure to bring back-up supplies in case of emergencies.
- On a periodic basis, reach out to your support group of friends, family, faculty, officials, and locals to help ease any culture shock or homesickness you may experience.
- If you take medication or use other supplies, keep up with your schedule, and take inventory often to make sure you’re not running low. A vacation or study abroad is a great opportunity to try new things, but this is not the time to experiment with not taking your medications or mixing alcohol with medicine.