Traveling with a Disability
If you have a disability and are considering international travel, a little advance planning—including a pre-travel visit with a healthcare provider—can enable you to see the world and return home safe and healthy.
Before You Go
- See your doctor or a travel medicine specialist at least a month before you leave. Your healthcare provider can review your medical history, travel plans, and personal circumstances. They can make recommendations about what vaccinations and medications you will need for your trip. And they can share advice for things you can do to keep healthy during travel, including how to prevent diseases spread by insects, sex, food, or water.
- Each country has its own guidelines about which medicines are legal. Check with the US embassy, consulate, or diplomatic mission at your destination to learn if the medicines you plan to bring with you are permitted in that country. Even with a prescription from your doctor, they may be prohibited.
- Bring enough medicine to cover the time you will be away. For short trips, do not plan to buy medicine refills overseas. If you are traveling for several weeks or more and will require refills, work with your doctor on a plan to get refills. In general, medicines cannot be shipped overseas, and foreign pharmacies will not accept prescriptions written by doctors from other countries. Additionally, be aware that counterfeit medicines are sold in some countries.
- Consider how you will pay for health care. If you go to a hospital or clinic overseas, be prepared to pay out of pocket (in cash) for any services you receive. Even if you are healthy, think about buying travel health insurance. If you are traveling to a remote destination or to a place where care is not likely to be up to US standards, consider buying medical evacuation insurance. This insurance will help you pay for emergency transportation from a remote or poor area to a high-quality hospital—which could otherwise cost more than $100,000. Make sure that the policy provides a 24-hour physician support center.
- Pack smart. In your carry-on luggage, pack a travel health kit that includes insect repellent, sunscreen, over-the-counter and prescription medicines (enough for your stay, plus a few days’ extra, just in case), a first aid kit, and any other health necessities you think you’ll need. Items you buy overseas may not be similar in quality to what you are used to.
Considerations for Air Travel
US airlines and flights to or from the United States on a foreign carrier must provide all travelers with the same travel opportunities, regardless of disability, unless doing so would endanger the health or safety of other passengers and crew. Airlines must provide access to the aircraft, an aisle seat, and a seat with a removable armrest. Aircraft with more than 60 seats are required to have a wheelchair on board. Wide-body airplanes with two or more aisles must have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Airplanes with fewer than 30 seats are generally exempt from these regulations.
If you have a documented trained service animal, the airline must allow it to accompany you, but it may not always be allowed with you in the cabin. Be sure to check with your airline to ensure that your service animal meets the airline’s requirements, including the type of documentation needed.
If you plan to fly within a foreign country or between countries while abroad, the regulations above might not apply. Check with the airline to find out what accommodations it makes for people with disabilities.
The US Department of Transportation has a toll-free hotline, 800-778-4838 (voice) or 800-455-9880 (TTY), for more information about the rights of air travelers with disabilities. Also check federal relay 711 or the Transportation Security Administration’s website for answers to questions about screening policies, procedures, and checkpoints. Find out if there are specific policies for devices such as wheelchairs, portable machines, batteries, respirators, and oxygen.
Considerations for Cruise Ship Travel
Cruise ships also have obligations to travelers with disabilities but check with the cruise line before booking to make sure any items you’ll need, such as medical oxygen or a wheelchair, will be available. Some cruises cater to travelers with special needs, such as patients on dialysis.
Considerations at Your Destination
Service animals may not be allowed to enter all countries. Where they are allowed, they are subject to the country’s animal importation regulations, such as quarantine regulations. Please check with the country of destination about its requirements. Your service animal is also subject to US animal import regulations on return. Plan ahead for what documents and testing may be required to enter another country and return to the United States with your service animal.
- Contact the US embassy or consulate of the destination country for information on possible restrictions and cultural norms about service animals and find out about any quarantine, vaccination, and documentation requirements.
- Consult veterinarians about tips for traveling with service animals.
- Contact destination hotels to make sure they will allow service animals.
You may need to research the availability of wheelchairs and medical equipment. Consider renting a wheelchair and medical equipment at your destination and consider the use of manual versus power wheelchairs. The destination country’s voltage, type of electrical plug, and electrical infrastructure reliability may influence your decision. Websites such as Mobility International USA and the European Network for Accessible Tourism link to overseas medical equipment providers.
- Yellow Book Travelers with Disabilities
- Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality
- Mobility International USA
- Traveling with a Disability—Aviation Consumer Protection (US Department of Transportation)
- Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions (Transportation Security Administration)
- International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers (IAMAT)
- European Network for Accessible Tourism