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Before You Go
No jabs are necessary to visit Europe. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travellers be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.
It is unwise to travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance. A good policy should include comprehensive health insurance including medical care and emergency evacuation. If you are engaging in hazardous sports, you may need to pay for extra cover.
If you’re an EU citizen, the free EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) covers you for most medical care in the 28 EU member states, including maternity care and care for chronic illnesses such as diabetes (though not for emergency repatriation). However, you will normally have to pay for medicine bought from pharmacies, even if prescribed, and perhaps for some tests and procedures. The EHIC does not cover private medical consultations and treatment out of your home country; this includes nearly all dentists, and some of the better clinics and surgeries. In the UK, you can apply for an EHIC online, by telephone, or by filling out a form available at post offices.
Non-EU citizens should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and the EU country they are visiting.
The World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith/en) publishes the annually revised, free online book International Travel and Health. MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com) provides up-to-date travel-health recommendations for every country.
It’s usually a good idea to consult your government’s website before departure, if one is available:
- Australia (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canada (www.phac-aspc.gc.ca)
- UK (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- USA (www.cdc.gov/travel)
Availability & Cost of Healthcare
Good health care is readily available in Western Europe and, for minor illnesses, pharmacists can give valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication. They can also advise if you need specialised help and point you in the right direction. The standard of dental care is usually good.
While the situation in Eastern Europe is improving since the EU accession of many countries, quality medical care is not always readily available outside major cities. Embassies, consulates and five-star hotels can usually recommend doctors or clinics.
Condoms are widely available in Europe, however emergency contraception may not be, so take the necessary precautions.
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Western Europe. However, bottled water is recommended in most of Eastern Europe and is a must in some countries, including Russia and Ukraine, where the giardia parasite can be a problem. Do not drink water from rivers or lakes as it may contain bacteria or viruses.