Traveling Outside of the U.S. on Dialysis

By DaVita® Social Worker Rob Ross, LSW

Traveling outside of the United States may be a daunting proposition when you start to think about scheduling your dialysis treatments and not being close to your home or by your familiar dialysis center. But there is no need to give up your dreams of vacationing or your plans of working abroad just yet. It can be done. Maintaining quality of life is an important aspect of living with a medical condition, and if traveling abroad is an important goal, you can make it a reality.

Give yourself time to plan

First, give yourself plenty of time to make travel arrangements. At least 10 weeks' lead time is recommended. A language barrier or other unforeseen issue may slow down your plans to get dialysis while you’re abroad.

Your first destination: the Internet

The more you learn about your destination, the more confident you will feel about your trip. In addition to providing general travelers’ information, the Internet can help answer the big question that needs to be asked before buying a ticket: Do they have reliable treatment centers there? At Globaldialysis.com, enter the city and country you plan to visit to get information on clinics in that area. The site even features patient reviews of the clinics.

Another resource is Dialysis and Transplant magazine, which maintains a list of dialysis centers in the United States and abroad. It is referred to as “The List” and is often sent to dialysis centers. Ask your social worker for copies of this publication or similar ones that may be helpful in your search.

Social workers can help

Now that you’ve identified a country to visit and a center to go to for treatment, what’s next?  For people who dialyze with DaVita, our Guest Services group can assist with paperwork. Call 1-800-244-0680 and provide contact information for the overseas center you plan to visit. They will contact the dialysis center and fax your necessary paperwork, including:

  • Name, address, phone number
  • Recent physical exam, lab and dialysis treatment reports
  • Type of dialysis access
  • Special medical needs
  • List of medicines you take
  • Where you’ll stay during your trip

Provide DaVita Guest Services with the name of more than one clinic if possible in case your preferred clinic is unable to accommodate you, because they are unable to recommend or locate clinics overseas.

If there is not a language barrier, you can call the facility abroad and request a spot for your treatments. You can then work with your facility to coordinate the transfer of records. If you’re on peritoneal dialysis (PD), you can also ask for help concerning the transfer of your supplies. Although this process is different due to the supplies involved, you can still travel overseas. Discuss any travel logistics with your PD nurse and the supplier.

Paying for dialysis while vacationing abroad

When you vacation and have dialysis in another country, you have to consider that your health insurance may not cover your treatment costs. As a rule of thumb, Medicare covers only regular treatments within the U.S. and its territories. According to the pamphlet Medicare Coverage Outside the United States, published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: “Unless it’s an emergency in which you get dialysis at a hospital, Medicare doesn’t cover dialysis when you travel outside the U.S.”

There are some instances in which private insurance may cover foreign travel medical expenses. If you have private insurance, call your insurer directly and inquire about any foreign travel benefits. If it turns out that you’ll have to pay for treatments yourself, ask the center where you will be how much they charge. If you are a citizen of the country you will be visiting, ask if you can receive any sort of benefit or subsidy.

Patients on peritoneal dialysis (PD) can often have their PD supplies delivered to major cities in many parts of the world. This is something that DaVita Guest Services should be able to help you with. You can call them at 1-800-244-0680.

Diet while traveling overseas

One of the joys of travel is the opportunity to try new and exotic foods. For dialysis patients, this can pose a problem since it may be difficult to know how much salt, phosphorus or potassium some new foods may have.

It may be worth doing some homework regarding the various foods that you are likely to encounter while traveling abroad, and then discussing them with your renal dietitian before leaving. This way you know in advance which foods are safe to eat.

Additional tips for traveling abroad

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) recommends that you also keep in mind the following regarding foreign travel:

  • Carry on essential medical information, your medicines and other medical supplies in case of the unexpected, such as lost luggage. In most cases, you will not be allowed to carry on peritoneal dialysis solutions. However, you will want to bring a few bags of solution in your luggage in case there is a delay in delivery of dialysis solution to your destination.
  • Bring enough of your medications to last for your entire trip, as well as extra to help during possible emergencies. Also carry written prescriptions, just in case you need more.
  • If you need assistance boarding a plane or train, inform personnel when you check in so they can give you special instructions.
  • If you plan to travel by plane or train, make arrangements for special meals such as low-salt, low-fat or diabetes-specific when you make your reservations.
  • If stairs or walking distances are a problem, request a first-floor room or handicapped-accessible room when making a hotel reservation.
  • If you use a travel agent, tell the agent about any special needs you may have. The agent can also advise you about special considerations regarding safe transport of dialysis supplies.

Traveling abroad made easy

Traveling outside of the U.S. when you’re on dialysis is possible. By researching your destination and relying on help from your DaVita social worker and Guest Services team, preparing for overseas dialysis treatment won't be the primary focus of your time away. Bon voyage!

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