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Advice for Those Visiting Friends and Relatives

Overseas trips should be planned in advance whenever possible.  Sometimes you might have to travel at short notice, for example, because a relative is ill. The advice on this page is not comprehensive; however, it identifies a few key points you should consider in advance of planning your trip to visit friends or relatives abroad.

Increased Risk of Illness

If you travel abroad to visit friends and relatives, you have a much higher risk of becoming ill from a travel-related disease or infection than tourist travellers; and are more likely to require admission to hospital.
The reasons for this are:

  • you might not seek pre travel advice before you travel; meaning you might not be up to date with any recommended travel related vaccinations; or take antimalarial tablets to protect you during your trip
  • you might under-estimate your risk of developing a travel related illness because you are visiting a country or region which is familiar to you
  • you are more likely to plan your trip at the last minute when visiting your friends or relatives, and are more likely to stay longer than the average holiday
  • you are more likely to be living with the local community (so infections like measles, influenza and meningitis can easily be spread)
  • you might be at higher risk of exposure to infections such as malaria if you are staying in more rural areas, where it can more difficult to take sufficient preventive measures

Insurance

Even when visiting family or friends, it is important to take out adequate travel insurance which will cover any medical treatment you might need whilst abroad.  Travel insurance should also cover your repatriation if necessary, particularly if you are visiting areas where access to adequate medical facilities can be difficult.
If you are travelling to an area of potential conflict or unrest, you should seek advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website.

Stomach Upsets and Diarrhoea

If you are staying with friends or relatives, you might be able to have a better oversight and control over the food and water you will be consuming than people who might be staying in hotels or hostels.

You should be cautious if the local water supply might be considered ‘unsafe’ to drink as this might cause you to become unwell if you are not used to drinking it. 

  • You might need to consider purifying your drinking water on a daily basis if bottled or safe drinking water is unavailable or in short supply.

You should be cautious when eating out in local restaurants if there might be a chance that the food is not hygienically prepared or correctly stored or refrigerated.

These precautions are especially important if you are travelling with infants or children.

More information on safe food and water precautions can be found here:

In addition, it is important for you to know how to treat stomach upsets or diarrhoea and when you might need to seek advice.

Vaccinations

Even if you were born in or grew up in the country you are visiting, you might still need to have some vaccinations or boosters before you travel as you may now have lost immunity to certain diseases.

Vaccination schedules can take time to administer and become fully effective, therefore you should try to arrange an appointment with your GP practice or a local travel clinic as soon as you know you will be travelling, ideally 6-8 weeks in advance of travel.

Even if you book your travel last minute, it might still be beneficial to discuss your trip with a doctor or nurse.  Even if there is not enough time to complete recommended vaccination schedules, you can still receive very useful advice about your trip and also tips to help you avoid becoming unwell whilst you are away.

Before travelling, you should always check the individual country pages on fitfortravel to see which vaccinations you may need for your destination. All travellers should be up to date with their routine childhood vaccinations as recommended in the UK schedule.

  • Tetanus, diphtheria and polio vaccination is important for anyone at risk of sustaining an injury (increases risk of exposure to tetanus) or mixing closely with the local community (increases risk of  exposure to diphtheria and polio). For travel to countries where these diseases are still common you should receive a booster every 10 years.
    • You might need to provide evidence of having a recent polio vaccination if you are travelling to certain countries where the risk of polio is high.
  • If you are visiting a high-risk area for tuberculosis and mixing with the local community, you might require vaccination against tuberculosis if not previously vaccinated. Remember that protection following BCG  vaccination is only achieved after about 4-6 weeks. Boosters are not required.
  • Meningococcal type ACWY disease is a risk for those visiting high risk areas and mixing closely with the local population.  Risk of exposure is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines are important if you cannot guarantee safe food and water will be available at all times and you are travelling to risk areas. Eating with your friends and relatives might be reasonably safe, but accidents can happen and your stomach might not be used to the local food and water.
  • Influenza vaccine should be considered for anyone who might be at high risk of developing more severe illness. Remember the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere is between April to November.
  • Rabies vaccination might be important if you are visiting remote areas which are far from good medical facilities.  If you are travelling with children, be aware they are more inclined to approach animals and have a higher risk of being bitten.
  • Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for some parts of Africa and South America. In addition; carrying a yellow fever certificate might be necessary for entering certain countries and for crossing borders.

Malaria Prevention

In the UK, malaria is most commonly diagnosed in people who have returned from visiting their friends and relatives in high risk malaria countries within Africa or Asia. It is important to realise that any previous immunity to malaria will be quickly lost if you are no longer living in a country that has malaria; therefore taking adequate precautions against malaria is extremely important.

To find out if malaria is a risk in the area you are visiting, please check the 'malaria' tab on the individual fitfortravel country pages.

If you are travelling to a malaria risk area, you should:

  • always seek professional advice about your risk of malaria in advance of your trip
  • not underestimate your risk of contracting malaria; be aware it can potentially become life threatening
  • take antimalarial tablets if recommended to do so as directed and always complete the course
  • be aware that purchasing antimalarial tablets overseas might be problematic; in some countries medications sold over the counter might be sub-standard or counterfeit
  • always practice bite prevention measures and other protective measures; this is particularly important if you are travelling with infants or children
  • always seek professional advice if you are pregnant or travelling with a young child; it might not be safe to travel to very high risk areas for malaria

Further information about the prevention of malaria can be found here.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision. FGM is mostly commonly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years or age and occasionally on adult women.

FGM is most commonly practiced in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia) and the Middle East (see FGM:Risk Country List). FGM is also practised amongst migrant communities from high FGM prevalent countries, including those living in the UK.

According to UK law; FGM is considered to be:

  • a form of gender based violence against females
  • child abuse when performed on girls under 18 years of age
    a human rights violation; and against the law in the UK

It is against UK law to take a girl overseas to have FGM carried out.

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.

 

Mental Health Issues and Culture Shock

Mental health issues are common during travel, and can be made worse if your reason for travelling is a stressful one; for example if you are returning home due to  family illness, a death or large gathering. In these circumstances, your travel might have to be planned at short notice with little time to prepare.

  • Please see the mental health and travel page for further advice on how to cope with mental health issues during travel. 

Experiencing symptoms of culture shock or reverse culture shock can also be common for all travellers, including those who are visiting friends and relatives.

  • Further information on culture shock and how to overcome this can be found on the culture shock advice 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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