6 medical questions to ask before moving abroad

Moving overseas with a medical condition can be tricky, but ask the right questions and the process should be a lot less painful

Chris Barnes

6 medical questions to ask before taking a job overseas

A medical condition is not something that would make people think twice about taking up a teaching position in the UK. 

The provision of medication at a reduced rate by the NHS allows many to carry on their daily lives knowing that what they require is readily available as and when they need it, without breaking the bank.

But moving overseas to take up an international role can come with a lot more complications – and some key questions that need answering. As someone with a condition who has worked abroad for many years, this is what I advise ensuring you find out.

1. What is covered by the school’s healthcare plan?

If your condition is pre-existing, don’t assume that it will automatically be covered.

Be prepared to have a frank and detailed conversation with the HR team at your prospective/new school.

If you are relocating with family and one or more of them have long-term conditions, find out what the plan covers for them.

As they will be your dependants, the level of cover will not be the same, although this may depend on your level of seniority within the school.

2. Is the medication you need available within the country and in the quality/quantity you require?

After finding out that the medication you require is available, check that the brand and dosage you need are also available.

I have epilepsy and take two different types of medication. Both are available where I currently live, yet one is not available in the dosage that I would have it in the UK.

I therefore need to buy it in multiple smaller dosages which, in turn, impacts on the cost – an issue in its own right.

3. How much does the medication cost?

Prescriptions in the UK are a set price (and free in some cases) and if you are on medication for a lifelong condition, completely covered by the NHS.

If your health condition is not covered by your new school, this is something that you will have to factor into your monthly budget.

Find out as much as you can prior to relocation and preferably prior to accepting a position.

4. How will you obtain your medication?

Assume that it will be more convoluted than it is in the UK. For example, find out if you need to see a doctor every time you require medication; how much medication you are allowed to purchase at once; how you will be notified about your medication’s availability; and whether you need to pay with cash or card. These seemingly little things can become the most stressful.

Even if you have had a condition for many years, being a new patient/client means that your new doctor won’t have your medical history and background, and you won’t have the personal relationship that you currently have with your GP or consultant.

5. What are the attitudes to your medical condition in this country?

Cultural views of medical conditions are important to consider.

In my first international teaching position, I was advised by the school doctor not to tell anyone about my condition because, at that time, the medical authorities in that country still equated epilepsy with mental instability. Other, similar, views can still be found elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Covid means that we must be transparent about other conditions or “co-morbidities”.

It may lead to some unexpected conversations, for which you should be prepared. For example, a positive Covid test may mean that you are advised to quarantine in hospital rather than at home (even if you have the facilities and space to do so) because you have a pre-existing condition that could lead to complications.

Be prepared to stand your ground if your condition is under control and you would be adversely affected by going into hospital. It’s useful to have someone from HR in your emergency contact list in case you need a translator.

6. How do I prove I have a medical condition?

Before leaving the UK, ask your GP or consultant for copies of prescriptions and as much medical information as possible, to show to doctors in your host country. 

Many countries require that they have original signatures and a stamp on documents to verify their authenticity. This is not common in the UK, but they would not be recognised as genuine documents without them. Speak to your new school’s HR department and reach out on social media to teachers who are already working where you will be.

It may sound like a lot to take in but with a little research, planning and patience, a medical condition is no barrier to a great career abroad.

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Chris Barnes

Chris Barnes is Head of Year 6 at Crescendo-HELP International School, Johor Bahru, Malaysia.  He tweets as @MrBarnesTweets 

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