“If you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything” – so goes a quote from one of my favorite movies – The Princess Bride. Granted, the movie is 30 years old by now, but I think most will agree that good health is essential in order to live life to its fullest. Lifestyle is, of course, a big contributor to overall health, as is access to healthcare.
How healthcare works varies from country to country, and who has access to care varies as well. Nearly all of the countries in Europe for example, have a universal healthcare system. Citizens within the European Union who move between countries have the right to the same healthcare as the local residents of the host country. Japan is often hailed for its high quality, low-cost care. And with the second highest life expectancy in the world at 84.74 years, one can see why.
Other countries, like the United States, does not have a universal healthcare system. Here, many people get health insurance through their employer, which is the case for most expats who relocate to the US. Others buy individual health insurance or go without entirely.
There are few things during relocation that are as overwhelming as trying to figure out healthcare in a new country. The entire process, from filling out paperwork to actually seeing a doctor, can feel impenetrable. One reason is that you are typically making decisions without much specific knowledge – clinics, doctors, types of insurance – it’s impossible to know what’s best until you’ve tried it out. Another part of this is language related. The healthcare and insurance fields have a lot of specialized language attached to them, and if it’s all in a foreign language as well, then it gets even more complicated.
Going to see a doctor is a perfect example of where the language barrier can really become an issue. I used to find it extremely difficult to parse what doctors and nurses were telling me. I still do to some extent (it’s that medical lingo, it throws me for a loop every time), but by now I feel confident enough to ask for some further clarification. Back then I was too embarrassed to ask questions, so I mostly nodded and kept quiet. If possible in those early days, I would try to bring someone with me to a doctor’s appointment, just so that I had another set of ears to help with the deciphering.
Anyone with a half decent pre-departure checklist will know what needs to be done with medical records, medications and specialty care. I won’t go into details here, other than to say this: make sure you have access to your medical records and translate them if needed. Also, make sure any needed medications and specialty care can be obtained in your new country.
What may be harder to prepare for is the prevailing “care culture” in the country you are moving to. For me it’s the dentist – the style of care here in the US is completely different from what I am used to – it has a more cosmetic focus, and I always end up feeling like they are trying to sell me a new set of teeth. There is nothing majorly wrong with my teeth, I just happen to not have perfect anchorwoman-on-TV teeth. Every time I’ve gone to the dentist here I’ve been asked if I don’t want to straighten this or whiten that, and it bugs me. So, to this day, whenever possible, I still see my dentist back home.
By: Felicia Shermis