Passports and Medical Travel

Posted on Thu, Nov 23, 2017

All international travel is highly regulated. When you travel to a new country, you ask the permission of that country’s government to enter. In many cases, receiving approval is a trivial matter that involves filing some paperwork and waiting for it to be rubber-stamped by the right officials. However, when it’s a matter of life and death, as it can be with patients who travel internationally via air ambulance, waiting for a visa application to go through all the right channels can become very serious.   If you or a loved one are considering traveling for medical care, here are some essentials about passports and medical travel.

Passports vs Visas

Many people who don’t often travel between countries may not understand the difference between a passport and a visa. More importantly, they often don’t know when you need both. Let’s cover the difference here.

A passport is an official document, typically a booklet, that you receive from your home country. A passport indicates to foreign officials that you come from your home country and that you have your government’s approval to leave. Typically, you’ll apply for a passport through your own government. Be careful, though. Passports are not automatically awarded based on citizenship and can be denied for several reasons. (We’ll cover those in a minute so that you can be sure your passport application will go along smoothly).

Visas are related, but different from passports. A visa is a document that you receive from a country that you are traveling to. If you’ve ever traveled to Canada for a weekend and you don’t remember needing a visa, there’s a reason for that. Virtually every country will require that you get a visa from them if you plan on staying past a certain length of time. For some countries, like Canada, that length of time is 180 days. This means that, as long as you don’t plan on staying there for longer than 180 consecutive days, you may enter using only your US passport.

However, other countries may require that you get a visa if you plan on staying longer than just a few days, not nearly enough time to undergo and recover from a major operation. Even more importantly, some countries require a visa for any visit from a foreign citizen. We’ll talk about these countries in a minute, too.

Preparing a Smooth Passport Application

There are a few reasons that a passport application may be denied. Perhaps the most common among these is an incomplete or inaccurate passport application. When filing your application, make sure that you include clear and concise documents to prove your identity and citizenship. Acceptable forms of ID include an expired passport or a birth certificate. Remember, the only copies allowed are original or certified copies. A quick photocopy from the office won’t do. It’s also important to have a regulation passport photo. The State Department is not kind to photographs that don’t meet their specific guidelines.

When to get a Visa

When you’ll be ready to fly again after surgery is usually up to you and your doctor. In general, however, you may be cleared to fly after just one or two days following simpler surgeries or after about 10 days for more involved operations. Additionally, in order to decrease the risk of developing blood clots during your flight, you may need to have a medical escort fly with you. Blood clots are more likely to happen while flying after surgery for two reasons. First of all, the cuts sustained from surgery prompt the body to increase blood clotting as a mechanism to help the body heal. Second, blood clots are generally more likely to happen to a person who remains seated for a long period of time, as we generally do when flying.

Every country has different requirements for how long you can stay without a visa. Let’s cover the visa-free periods for some popular medical tourism destinations. One of the most popular countries, and the one with the most stringent visa requirements, is India. India requires that anyone who wishes to the enter the country for any purpose must have a visa.

More forgiving are other popular countries like Thailand and Singapore, which allow visitors from the U.S. to stay for up to 30 and 90 days, respectively, without a visa. In some cases, as in Singapore, it may be necessary to apply for a medical visa in order to extend your stay.

Passports are a critical part of traveling for medical purposes. Make sure that your passport is valid before traveling and go straight to the State Department with any questions about your destination country.


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