United States: Health and Travel Tips
What’s on everyone’s mind with travel to the United States: health, safety, and travel insurance advice. With world-renowned medical institutions, esteemed hospitals, and endless opportunities to pursue wellness activities, travelers to the USA can expect a high standard of health care should they need it. It’s no surprise that the United States is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. There’s a great balance of legendary cities and wide open spaces, But before you dash out to explore the city streets or the hiking trails, be prepared and organized.
General Health and Safety Tips For Travel to the United States
At tourist focused attractions, safeguard your valuables as you would in any destination. This includes locking your car, keeping valuables such as extra cash and your passport in your hotel safe, and wearing your wallet in a front facing, enclosed pocket or bag.
As one of the largest countries in the world, the United States is home to nearly every kind of ecosystem. Travelers should take heed of weather warnings and climate advisories for each state they are visiting. In some cases, this means dressing and planning appropriately for the intense heat or deep winter chill. In other circumstances, it may involve avoiding all non-essential travel to regions experiencing wildfires or hurricanes.
Alcohol consumption is more regulated in the US than in many parts of the world. Drinking is prohibited for anyone under 21 years old. It is common for servers to request identification from patrons of any age. For the most part, you cannot drink in public areas such as streets and parks and many small restaurants, including fast food establishments, do not have a license to sell liquor.
Since the 2016 election, there has been an increase in hate crimes in the United States. Travelers who are concerned about their safety based on religion, ethnicity, or gender will find valuable resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. Stringent travel restrictions apply to travelers from many Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Chad. As these travel restrictions are in a state of uncertainty due to pending court decisions, travelers from these countries should speak to the nearest American embassy about their travel status.
Understanding the American Health Care System and Insurance Options
Healthcare facilities in the United States are largely privately owned. American citizens obtain health insurance through their employers, independently through private purchase, or through government-based programs. Some low-cost and cost-free health care services exist through non-profit organizations, charities, and publicly funded programs. However, international visitors should always carry their insurance when they visit the United States. The cost of treating a serious emergency can be catastrophically high.
The United States is home to some of the best hospitals and research facilities in the world. Their top treatment hospitals include the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, UCLA Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The United States is also considered one of the best destinations in the world for cancer care, cardiac care, and orthopedic medicine.
In major cities, there’s a wide range of public and private hospitals, surgery centers, urgent care clinic, and specialty clinics. In smaller communities, care options are more limited and may include everything from a county hospital, a community care clinic run by nurse practitioners, to telehealth services.
Pharmacies, Vaccines, and Medication
Half of the pharmacies in the United States are independently owned small businesses. The remaining 50% are located within other facilities, including drug stores (though the terms “drugstore” and “pharmacy” are used interchangeably), clinics, grocery stores, and hospitals. A significant number of these are chain brand stores such as Walgreens and CVS.
Unlike other countries, pharmacies in the United States are often large, “one-stop-shop” centers. The major chain drug stores have their own, in-house brand of over the counter medications, so if you’re shopping for common pain or allergy medication, ask the pharmacy team if they have a less expensive, generic equivalent. Note that most drugstore staff are not trained in pharmacology. If you have a medical question, you have to ask the pharmacist or their assistant, not just any employee you see.
Prescriptions in the United States require a “fill” time of several minutes to several hours. This is partially why pharmacies are so large. There’s plenty of time to browse, complete routine shopping, and avail yourself of other, free services such as a blood pressure check.
Common, over the counter medications, are also available in most retail environments, including grocery stores and gas stations.
There are no mandatory vaccinations for travel to the United States. As with all destinations, speak with your doctor before you go to make sure your routine immunizations are up to date. Any medication brought into the United States, be it prescription or over the counter, should be in its original, labeled container.
Emergency Numbers in the USA
All emergency services use the same number, so all you have to do is call 911. If you are using a cell phone, you will have to explain where you are so they can direct you to the closest response team:
- Police – 911
- Ambulance – 911
- Fire Service – 911
Enjoying Healthy Travel
Exploring the great outdoors is one of the most popular travel activities for visitors to the United States. But before you strap on your skis, hiking boots, or snorkel mask, make sure you are prepared for outdoor adventure. Double check that your insurance covers your activities, touch base with a park ranger to discuss safety concerns, and carry the right gear.
Travelers with dietary restrictions will find that there is a high level of allergy awareness in all parts of the United States. Even small restaurants will be able to accommodate common food allergies – though it always helps to give the kitchen notice. In larger cities vegetarian, vegan, and raw food is widely available.
If you’re eager to embrace a healthy lifestyle or even just to incorporate some wellness and wilderness into your travels, you won’t find a better destination!