How to be sick while abroad

Catching a cold is never fun, but it’s even less fun when you’re studying abroad in another country. The medicines are all named different things, you may or may not speak the language, you don’t have insurance… In the U.S., all those things could add up to a real healthcare nightmare. But at least in Spain, I’ve been able to treat my cold with surprising ease.

So I put together some tips for treating your cold while abroad:

  • First off, if you have a cold that just won’t go away, go straight to the doctor.
Most programs will have a doctor they trust and the director can probably give you directions.
  • Be prepared to answer the doctor’s questions in the language of the country you’re staying in.
Look up simple vocab words like “cough,” “congestion,” and “pain,” depending on your ailment.

  • Don’t expect to wait long.

The combined waiting time for my two visits was only five minutes total! It seems like doctors’ offices are a lot more efficient in Spain, for whatever reason.
  • Pay for your visit.

My first visit cost 45, but amazingly enough when I went back for a second one (only three days later, since my symptoms hadn’t improved) they let me go without paying a cent! That’s right, I landed a free doctor’s visit and it was GREAT.

  • Fill your prescription(s) at any pharmacy.

Unlike in the U.S., the doctor doesn’t ask which pharmacy you use; you can walk into the closest one on your street and fill the prescription. And don’t worry if the handwriting seems illegible–the pharmacists are used to doctor handwriting. Here’s another great thing about socialized medicine: both times I visited the pharmacy and purchased several prescriptions, my total never rose above 10! (Of course, this depends on the type of medicine you need.)
Look for the blinking green cross-shaped sign; you can’t miss ’em.
  • Take school off if you need to.

Be sure to get a doctor’s note, though, because professors can be strict about excused absences. Going to school when you’re miserably sick won’t help anyone, least of all you. Get the notes from someone else and relax!
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