Everyone going abroad should have an emergency contact or two, but who wants to think about bad stuff happening?  Getting caught in another country without help is a scary reality for many travelers and their emergency contacts.  It’s not often we plan for what emergency contacts NEED if called upon. Your emergency contact should be getting ready for your big trip, too, in case you need them. They are your lifeline.  

Here are some things your backup back home may need:

  • Passports: They can’t get to you without one.  They may even need a visa.  It takes precious time to apply for one, and every good contact should have one ready – just in case. The passport must be active for six months beyond the date of your return so they can board a plane.
  • HIPAA and FERPA documents: These medical privacy rules can prevent your emergency contact from accessing specific medical information they need to help unless you designate them as a personal representative. Giving them power of attorney is a very good idea.  It should include a HIPAA release. If you are student 18 years old or older, we recommend that you also sign a FERPA release to give to your school to access your child’s school records.
  • Insurance: Protects you from the probability of an eventuality. It’s tough to know what type to purchase or where to purchase from.  Insure My Trip has a good resource to help you buy  Travel insurance  Your emergency contacts should depart covered also. If they need to come get you – especially in an emergency situation – they need to be covered, too. Repatriation insurance is a must have.  It can cost upwards of $50,000 to get help and home.  Hospitals in some countries will refuse care until you can pay.
  • Vaccinations: Don’t leave your homeland before preparing your health.  Visit a travel clinic to be immunized against diseases lurking in your destination country.  Travel clinics specialize in global health and are trained in their proper prevention of disease and vaccine administration. Travel clinics also have access to Travax – a leading global health organization for health care providers.  Travax specializes in the most current health threats around the world. Get your vaccinations far enough in advance to allow them time to incubate and protect you.  Your emergency contacts should also consider building their immunity in case they have to come to your aid.
  • Important health info in the foreign language: Medical records are useless if the caring physicians cannot read or comprehend them.  For a small fee you can have important conditions like diabetes and allergies, medicines, prior procedures, blood type, organ donor, living will etc. translated into the foreign language. Some insurance companies can also help.
  • Travel fund: Can your emergency contacts get to you?  They’ll need funds reserved to get to you.  The hardest situation is when a parent or spouse cannot get to the bedside of their loved one who is seriously hurt or ill, or heaven forbid, deceased while working, traveling or studying abroad.  Be ready.  Bad things happen at home, too, but it is a whole world apart when it happens abroad, both distance and culture wise.
  • Itinerary: Where are you going and what are you doing? Hiking in the jungle? Climbing a mountain? Visiting a museum? Your emergency contacts should know the answers. Make sure they have your itinerary, and send them an update if your plans change or you take an impromptu excursion.
  • Customized map: Make your itinerary come alive by using Google My Maps at https://www.google.com/mymaps to geo chart your destinations.  You can pin the locations of your housing, embassy, airport, hospitals, police, and fun attractions and share the map with your emergency contacts.  A cool feature of this app is it downloads the Google map app automatically from a gmail address.
  • Means of communication: Do you know the fastest way to talk to your emergency contact? What if your cell phone dies or there’s no signal? What if you don’t have access to the Internet? Make sure you have a communication plan in place. In disaster scenarios,  renting a satellite phone can be a lifesaver. Satellite phone batteries can stay charged as long as they are not in use for up to a week or more.  They are relatively inexpensive and are particularly helpful in remote areas. Some families use ham radio to stay in touch, however, finding a ham radio operator who can assist you in contacting someone may be difficult.
  • Alerts & warnings: Both you and your emergency contacts should enroll in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the U.S. Department of State .  Doing so will allow your U.S. Embassy to get in touch with you if there is a crisis at home or abroad and assist if necessary.
  • Money transfer plan: Stolen wallets are more than a pain. Not having cash leaves you in a vulnerable position.  Make a money plan to have some with you, some in a safe, some in the cloud, and some with your emergency contact. Your contact should have a method to wire money to you in case you need it. The U.S. Embassy can offer some support.
  • Legal counsel: If you become involved in a crime situation abroad, you may need an advocate. Know where you need to turn, both at home and abroad for legal representation and investigations.  Getting police and health records can be taxing.  Your U.S. Embassy lists legal and hospital resources abroad.  Have a legal counselor in your home state to advise you also.
  • Your lifeline abroad: Do you know where the nearest embassy is? It’s good to make sure your contact knows, too. That’s the first place you’ll want to reach out to for a lifeline of communication, emergency funds and more.
  • Your emergency contact’s emergency contact: If your emergency contact has to come to you to assist, someone else is going to have to watch their house, pets, plants, etc. Who will help your helper? Ask your contact to line up someone for those responsibilities. They will need power of attorney to help the helper.  If an emergency arises, time – like peace of mind – is priceless.

Planning ahead can mean a world of difference when seconds count.

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