What do I need to know before I travel?
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Advice for Those Visiting Friends and Relatives

Overseas trips should be planned well in advance whenever possible. However, sometimes you might have to travel abroad at short notice, for example, because a relative is ill.

This page provides advice on key points you should consider when planning your trip abroad to visit friends or relatives.

Risk of Illness

When travelling abroad to visit friends and relatives, you are at higher risk of becoming unwell from a travel-related infection than a tourist traveller; and more likely to need treatment in hospital because of an illness or injury. This is because:

  • you may under-estimate your risk of developing a travel-related illness when visiting a country or region familiar to you
  • you may stay longer with friends and relatives than the average holiday, and spend time mixing closely with local people
    • this increases your risk of becoming exposed to infections common at your destination
  • it can be more difficult to take sufficient precautions to protect your health when staying with friends and relatives
    • this may be due to the type of accommodation you are staying in, and/or from fear of causing offence to your hosts

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is important, even when visiting friends and relatives, as you never know when you might become injured or unwell. The UK Government can only help you in exceptional circumstances when visiting your native country.

  • If you are a dual national of the UK and the country you are visiting, check with your travel insurer if this affects your cover when visiting your native country.
  • Make sure your policy covers costs to transport you home (repatriation) if necessary, particularly if you are visiting a region which is far away from good quality medical facilities.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office sometimes advise against travelling to certain countries or regions, for example if there is potential conflict or unrest. Be aware that if you travel against the advice of the FCDO, this may invalidate your travel insurance.

  • Always check the latest FCDO Foreign Travel Advice for your destination before you travel, and be aware this information could change at short notice.

Malaria Prevention

In the UK, malaria is most commonly diagnosed in people who have returned to the UK after visiting friends and relatives in malaria-affected countries within Africa or Asia. It is extremely important to protect yourself and your family if travelling to a malaria-affected country:

If travelling to a malaria-affected country, always seek a travel health risk assessment for professional advice about:

  • your risk of malaria
    • don’t underestimate your risk of catching malaria - it can potentially become life-threatening
    • any natural immunity to malaria you may have had as a child will be quickly lost if you no longer live in a country that has malaria
    • if you are pregnant or travelling with a young child, it might not be safe to travel to a country or region with a high-risk for malaria
    • infants and children can become seriously unwell if they catch malaria
  • mosquito bite prevention measures and other protective measures you can take (including repellents and bed nets)
  • antimalarial tablets (if recommended for your destination)
    • try to purchase your antimalarial tablets before travelling, as in some countries, medications sold over-the-counter might be poor quality or counterfeit
    • carefully follow any instructions for taking your antimalarials and always complete the full course

Further advice about malaria.

Vaccines and preventative advice

Before travelling, check the 'Vaccinations' section on the country page for your destination(s) to see if you may need vaccines and/or boosters.

  • try to book a travel health risk assessment ideally 6 to 8 weeks in advance of travel to allow time for any vaccines and/or antimalarial drugs you might need to become fully effective
  • if your trip is sooner, remember it is never too late to seek advice, you may still receive useful advice and vaccines and/or antimalarials to help you avoid becoming unwell whilst you are away

Routine schedule vaccines

Outbreaks of diseases which can be prevented by vaccines can occur in any country at any time.

  • check for disease outbreaks in the 'News' section of each country page

Make sure you are up-to-date with UK schedule vaccines for life in the UK, including:

Diseases spread by rodents and other animals

Animals have many different types of germs in their mouths which can cause serious wound infections or infections such as tetanus or rabies, if they bite, lick or scratch you. You may be at increased risk of diseases spread by animals, particularly if you are:

  • visiting rural areas
  • staying in homes with thatched roofs and/or mud walls
  • staying in homes where animals are kept indoor
  • sleeping at floor level

See the animal bites page for information on:

  • the potential risks of being bitten, licked or scratched by an animal during travel
  • how to prevent animal bites
  • what to do if you are bitten, licked or scratched by an animal

Be aware of the risk of rabies in some countries, and the steps you need to take in the event of a possible exposure to rabies.

  • You may wish to consider and discuss with a specialist a course of rabies vaccines before you travel if you think you may be at high risk. See the rabies page for further information.

Viral Haemorrhagic Fever (VHF) is a general term indicating a severe viral illness with fever and internal/external bleeding. Although VHF is rare in travellers, it can be caused by infection with a variety of different viruses (including Ebola virus, Lassa fever virus, Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic fever virus) many of which also infect specific animals (particularly rodents and bats) and insects.

  • See the VHF page for further information on how VHF’s are caught, and how you can protect yourself if you are travelling to an area where there is a known outbreak of a VHF.

Diseases spread by respiratory droplets

Respiratory infections, such as ‘flu’ (influenza) and coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread easily between people in close communities. Tuberculosis and meningococcal meningitis are also spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact with respiratory secretions of an infected person.

  • See the respiratory hygiene and hand hygiene pages for advice on how to reduce your risk of catching and spreading these diseases.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date with vaccines for COVID-19, seasonal influenza and pneumococcal disease (if you are eligible) - see NHS inform for information on eligibility.
  • If you are visiting a country with high-risk for tuberculosis and/or meningococcal type ACWY, and mixing closely with the local community for prolonged periods, you might require vaccination (see a travel health professional if you think you are increased risk and may need vaccinated).

Diseases spread by food and water

Consuming food and water which contains germs (such as viruses or bacteria) can cause illnesses such as travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis A and typhoid.

  • wash your hands frequently to reduce your risk of becoming unwell from diseases spread by food and water, especially before eating and drinking, and after using the toilet
  • see the food and water precautions page for information on how to protect yourself from illnesses caused by food and water - these precautions are especially important if you are travelling with children

Be cautious about drinking water from the local water supply if you are not used to drinking it as it might cause you to become unwell:

  • if bottled water or safe drinking water is unavailable or in short supply, consider how you will prepare water to make it safe to drink - see the water purification page for further information

When staying with friends or relatives, it may be easier to have some oversight over the food and drinks you will be consuming than people staying in hotels or hostels. Equally, you may find it more challenging to refuse certain food or drinks for fear of causing offence. It may be worth considering ways to get around this in advance, for example:

  • advising your hosts that you/your children have an allergy or sensitivity to certain foods (some food allergies are dangerous and can carry a risk of death)
  • reminding your hosts that UK-born children won’t have natural immunity to certain illnesses (for example hepatitis A)
  • discreet use of hand gel or wipes to clean hands before meals

If you have underlying health problems, you may be at increased risk of complications from travellers’ diarrhoea.

Blood-borne viruses and Sexual health risks

Having unprotected sex may increase your risk of infection with blood-borne viruses and other sexually transmitted infections:

  • consider taking condoms with you when you travel, even if you aren’t planning to have sex
  • see the sexual health risks page for further information on reducing your risk

You should consider being vaccinated against hepatitis B if:

  • you will be visiting countries where the hepatitis B virus is common
  • you and/or your children will be staying for longer periods in high-risk areas
  • your planned activities mean you might be at risk of exposure to the virus

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured, altered or removed for non-medical reasons.

  • FGM is illegal in the UK and is child abuse.

It is against UK law to assist or arrange for anyone to carry out FGM abroad on girls who are British nationals, or who are resident in the UK.

  • If you perform FGM, help to perform FGM, or fail to protect a child from FGM, you could face up to 14 years in prison.

For further information about FGM, including what to do if you suspect someone may be at risk in the UK or overseas, see the Female Genital Mutilation page.

Further Advice

Other advice which might be relevant if you are visiting friends and relatives can be found on the following pages:

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