In an ideal world, nothing bad would ever happen while traveling, like getting sick or losing a passport. Ultimately, at some point, somewhere in all our travels a "snafu", small or large, will likely occur. Nobody likes to prepare for the worst. Just as you would research points of interest like museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. of your particular travel destination, it is also best to know for example: where your home country's embassy/consulate is, how to seek healthcare abroad and what your primary health plan may or may not cover/reimburse for while abroad.
If you are ill-prepared (no pun intended) and do become sick while traveling or participating in an immersion program you can request help from the on-site language school, the hotel staff where you are staying, or even a consular officer in country (*Please note: a consular officer will usually only provide assistance if there is a serious illness or a severe accident to be dealt with.) Since you are not the first person to ever become sick while traveling, they will be familiar with a local clinic or hospital to refer you to, and in the case of the on-site language school staff may even accompany you to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Back in 2001, during a 4 -week stay in Cusco, Peru, I got sick, really sick with a stomach virus of sorts. The mate de cocoa tea and TLC from my host mother unfortunately was not the cure I had hoped for or needed. It was time to see a doctor. Carol, the then-Director of our partner school in Peru accompanied me to a local clinic, not far from my host family. All in all, the experience was similar to a doctor's visit here in the United States, check-in process and all, and then we waited, and waited, and waited. There was a TV in the lobby; at least there was entertainment, and I could apply my Spanish language listening skills. Several telenovellas later, the doctor was available to see me. After listening and examining my chief complaints he turned to me with a plastic cup and stated to me in English "stool sample" which I fired back "YO NO PUEDO!" Laughter erupted in the exam room and I mustered the strength to do as I was told. Needless to say I survived. The doctor sent me back to my host family with antibiotics. From my experience, be prepared to pay out of pocket for services rendered; you can deal with claim forms and reimbursement once you have returned home. Getting sick or having to receive medical treatment in a foreign country can be a daunting experience; my advice is to remain as calm as possible because even doctors in less developed countries have licenses to practice medicine. Once you are better, your experience might make for some interesting dinner conversation, or in my case, after-dinner conversation.
A good idea prior to traveling is to make two copies of your passport, one to leave at home with your family and/or friends, and one to take along with you on your travels. In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, having a photocopy of your passport in a couple of different known places will save you from more headaches. My advice is to be proactive and take care to secure your passport in a place to avoid theft or losing it upon arrival to your destination after you have cleared immigration/customs. When out and about, carry the photocopy, and lock your passport away in a hotel safe deposit box. If staying with a local family you can lock your passport in your suitcase and store it under your bed. In other words, only carry your passport when it is necessary, for example if you were to cash travelers checks, check into a hotel and so on.
For US citizens, if your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest US Embassy or consulate, for up-to-date and detailed information, please refer to The U.S. Department of State.
Here is a brief synopsis of the process; you will need to complete a new passport application and will be asked the following questions by a consular officer:
- Your name
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Passport number (if available…will expedite process if you memorize it or have a copy)
- Date and place where passport was issued
You will also need to complete an affidavit explaining the circumstances under which your passport was lost or stolen (heck, even misplaced!). A police report may not be necessary, but a consular officer can request one if there is suspicion of fraud. After citizenship verification and proof of identity, a replacement passport will be issued.
Procedures to obtain and/or replace a passport will likely vary per country; please contact the appropriate branch of government in your home country for up-to-date information.
For any situation that may arise, it is best to be prepared and informed prior to traveling and, lastly, breathe, stay calm if any "snafu" occurs, and just think that tomorrow will be a better day.
By Beth Klemick