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How to stay healthy on holiday if you’ve got a medical condition

A medical condition shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a holiday. But it does mean you’ll need to plan ahead and take precautions to make sure you stay healthy while you’re away.

A medical condition shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a holiday. But it does mean you’ll need to plan ahead and take precautions to make sure you stay healthy while you’re away.

Written by
Helen Phipps
Insurance comparison expert
15 JANUARY 2021
4 min read
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Planning a holiday with a medical condition

Before you go ahead and book a holiday, even if it’s in the UK, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your plans if you have a medical condition.

As a health professional who knows your condition, they’ll be able to advise you on suitable destinations and whether you’re fit to fly. You should also discuss whether any travel vaccinations or medications that are needed for your trip, such as antimalarial tablets, could have contraindications with other medicines you’re already taking.

It’s also advisable to get a letter from your doctor explaining your condition and any medicines and equipment you’ll need to take with you.

Depending on your condition, you might also need a medical certificate to present to the airline. For example, if:

  • you’re taking large quantities of medication with you
  • you’re taking more than 100ml of medicine in liquid, and any associated needles, lancets and equipment, through security
  • you have a lung condition such as COPD. You may need to undergo a hypoxic challenge (fitness-to-fly) test to assess whether you need to take extra oxygen with you

Before you fly, let the airline know about your condition and any equipment, such as mobility items, you’ll be taking with you.

Customers with pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, your travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. Whatever happens, don’t lie to an insurance provider, because this could mean your claim is rejected. When you declare any medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show you quotes from insurance providers who will cover them, with no exclusions.

If your condition is more serious, MoneyHelper has a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone. You can call them on 0800 138 7777.

Arrange specialist travel insurance

Before you travel, it’s vital that you have the right level of travel insurance in place to cover your specific condition. You must disclose your condition to your insurance provider, otherwise your policy will be invalid in the event you make a claim.

Not all travel insurance providers offer cover for pre-existing medical conditions, so you may need to take out specialist cover (which might be more expensive).

Can you get travel insurance for COPD and other chronic conditions?

Finding travel insurance for chronic conditions such as COPD can be challenging, but it is possible. What’s important is that you have the right level of cover for your condition.

If you’re looking for a policy to cover a chronic condition, consider:

  • the amount of cover for medical expenses
  • the amount of personal belongings cover and whether it includes medical equipment and medicines
  • whether there’s an upper age limit
  • does it include cover for cancellation/cutting short your trip
  • is there a 24-hour emergency medical assistance line?

If you were familiar with the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) and were wondering if you could still use it after Brexit, the answer is no. Instead, the UK government has introduced a replacement called the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). You can apply for a GHIC here, and it should arrive within 10 days. The GHIC will offer the same cover as the EHIC did in EU countries.

However, the GHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. While it does offer some medical cover protection, treatment will either be free or charged at the same rate as nationals, depending on the country you’re visiting. It also won't cover ongoing treatment, repatriation to the UK or having to re-arrange travel plans. For these things and more, travel insurance is what you'll need. In fact, some travel insurance providers may insist that you use GHIC protection before making a claim on your policy.

Helen Phipps

Insurance comparison expert

"Make sure you take all documents, such as your travel insurance policy, doctor’s letters, certificates, prescriptions and a list of your medications with you. If possible, take a copy of your doctor’s letter explaining your condition in the language of the country you’re visiting."

Make arrangements for your prescriptions

If you’re on prescription medicines, talk to your doctor at least 8 weeks before you plan to travel. You may need a repeat prescription to see you through the length of your stay.

Some countries restrict certain medicines, so be sure to check what can be taken into the country you’re visiting, or whether you need to get permission from the destination country. For example, if you’re travelling to Dubai, you may need to fill out an online form, declaring the medicines you want to bring with you. For more information, contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country you’re visiting before you travel.

Take more medicine than you’d normally need, in case of delays or emergencies.

Carry medicines in their original packaging. It may also be useful to have a letter from your doctor or pharmacist detailing the generic names of your medicines.

If you’re travelling to Europe and you need a repeat prescription, you can ask your doctor for a cross-border prescription. This can be used to get the medicine you need from a pharmacy in another EU country.

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Top tips for a healthy holiday

The whole point of a holiday is to relax and enjoy yourself. Follow our top tips to make sure you get the most out of your time away, while looking after your health.

  • When you arrive at your destination, find out where the nearest medical facilities are in case you need them while you’re away.
  • Eat healthily – it’s important to eat sensibly when you’re on holiday, especially if you have a condition such as diabetes or heart problems. Luckily many countries, especially those in the Mediterranean, offer delicious and nutritious foods, high in lean proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables, and beneficial fats such as olive oil.
  • Stay hydrated – it’s vital to stay hydrated in hot countries, so be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent fluid loss and heat-related problems, which could exacerbate your condition.
  • Protect your skin – use sun protection of at least SPF 30 and try to stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day – from 11am to 3pm.
  • Stay active – even if your condition prevents you from taking part in more rigorous and adventurous activities, gentle swimming, leisurely walks and low-impact sports are a great way to relax and stay active.

Going on holiday with a pre-existing medical condition may need more organisation and thought, but by planning ahead and taking the necessary precautions, there’s no reason why your condition should stop you from enjoying a happy and healthy holiday.

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