Your Health Abroad
I’ve heard I shouldn’t drink the water…
When I’m asked if living abroad is healthy or not, it’s hard for me to give a concrete answer. Yes, in some ways, sure, it’s great for you. But sometimes, it isn’t, and, yes, there are places (more than you might think) where it’s not a good idea to drink the water that comes out of the tap.
Looking back at the places I have lived overseas, I would say that my life has been no more, and no less, healthy than it would have been if I had stayed in the USA. Well, except that I have had a lot less stress in my life than my friends back home. Reducing stress levels is certainly healthier!
I have found that when I see a medical professional in a foreign country, I usually get more face time with them. Doctors abroad (depending on the country) are usually not being pushed around by HMOs or clinics and so have more time to spend helping you.
In fact, I had some recurring health problems when I was a lad which were never fixed until I was able to see a few quality doctors abroad. Because they had more time to actually sit and talk to me about my ailments, they were able to offer me some new treatment options. Then, after educating me about those options, they let me choose which path of treatment I wanted to take. What great service!
And, this experience was very different to a few times I remember in the US, when I felt that the doctors were analyzing me more for the size of my wallet than the size of my ailment. I may just be cynical, but truly I do and did trust my doctors abroad more than I did my doctors in the States.
An Apple A Day…
So, the doctors have more time to spend with you. The flip side is they may not have more resources to spend on you. For example, you may find that hospitals are not maintained to the squeaky cleanliness as in your home country.
In fact, overall, things in your new country may not be as clean as you would wish them to be. Ideas about hygiene, especially in the toilet and including hand-washing, can be very different from culture to culture.
If you’re like me you’ll find yourself becoming a compulsive hand washer, which is a GREAT way to keep yourself from getting sick. Another tip is to carry a handkerchief, cloth or tissues with you so that you can dry your hands after washing. Many restrooms around the world will either not supply this necessity, or will just have one cloth towel for everyone to use (and change it once a week whether it needs it or not . . .).
What about the H2O?
A basic rule for traveling abroad is to ask (maybe several people?) before drinking tap water in your new home base. Overall, around the world, you won’t be able to drink it without the risk of falling ill. If you find that your tap water is not going to be good for you, then it’s likely that your country will have an easily accessible and very affordable supply of bottled water. In my case, I can have five-gallon (19-liter) bottles of drinking water brought to my home for about $1 USD. That’s the expensive water company! If I were stingy, I could get the cheap water for about 30 cents.
Also, sometimes water that isn’t suitable for drinking is still okay for brushing your teeth and washing fruits and vegetables, so it’s not always a very serious problem. Make sure to ask your colleagues and other acquaintances how they use the water and about any problems they’ve had.
Bringing it to a Boil
If your water is infested with bacteria or micro-organisms, one way to clean the water is to bring it to a boil. If this is the case where you are, then you can get advice from others living in that area about the best technique and length of time for doing this. However, know that sometimes the problem with the water is from pollution or heavy metals, and boiling won’t correct that.
TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t skimp on buying whatever the good brand of bottled water is where you live. The slight difference in price is nothing compared to the value of your good health. Ordering the water and consuming it instead of tap water is easy and no big deal. You’ll quickly develop the habit—and will probably forget, in time, that once it seemed strange not to drink from the sink. These days it seems weird to me to drink from that kitchen faucet.
TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just listen to me! I am in no way a health professional, a nurse or a doctor. But, I am careful about my health. I am in now pushing 60 and have lived abroad for many healthy years. The above post is my opinion only, and should be taken as such. For any serious concerns, you should consult your physician.