Last update on July 30, 2019

Being unable to communicate with a doctor is one of the most frustrating things you could experience in a foreign country. When you need to find a doctor abroad, it’s imperative that your doctor can speak English. Luckily, there are resources out there to help you find an English-speaking doctor abroad.

The International Medical Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) is a Canada-based, non-profit foundation that aims to provide travelers across the world with information and medical care without which they could be putting their lives at risk. They can help you with your doctor search and advise you on how to find a doctor.

Established in 1960, the organization now has contacts with medical experts in more than 80 countries worldwide. If you become an IAMAT member, you can enjoy fixed-rate services from participating hospitals, clinics, physicians and specialists. Below explains what to do if you need to find a doctor abroad, and how IAMAT’s doctor search works.

How IAMAT can help you find a doctor abroad

The main advantage of the scheme is two-fold: Joining IAMAT means that you can have more options — besides paying extortion-level prices — should you need urgent medical treatment.

Secondly, even if you have access to local health care, you may be more at ease consulting a doctor in English, so there is no fear of being misunderstood. This could be key to getting the most out of a country with world-renowned health facilities.

With IAMAT, you are directed to medical experts who speak fluent English. Moreover, all have been trained by western medical institutions and are therefore familiar with western practices.

Doctor search costs

It costs nothing to join IAMAT and find a doctor, although the organization is not shy about asking for a donation.

Guide on how to find a doctor abroad for expats

They provide a series of city profiles and other pamphlets with in-depth data on sanitary conditions of food, milk and water, local temperatures, advised clothing, tropical diseases, malaria prophylaxis and other tropical diseases and immunization requirements.

While the company rhetoric makes it sound as if it is for free, in some cases a ‘donation’ may be required to unlock certain services.

How does IAMAT’s doctor search work?

Membership card

The card identifies the bearer as an IAMAT member and entitles them to services with participating English-speaking medical experts at fixed rates, up to a maximum USD 100.

World directory

The directory of IAMAT physicians guides members to find a doctor or medical centre in more than 80 countries and 300 cities. Telephone numbers are included in the doctor finder. Note: IAMAT physicians agree to a set payment schedule for members, referrals, consultations and laboratory procedures, but the cost of hospitalizations and other medical services are not fixed. When you find a doctor abroad or medical centre, ask first what costs are involved.

Traveller clinical record

This is a passport-size record that your doctor can complete before you leave home and which will serve as a readily accessible and complete medical history after you find a doctor abroad. The record includes emergency medical data, glasses prescription, diagnostic summary and immunizations, plus sections for those with diabetes, a cardio-vascular condition or allergies. After finding a doctor, make sure you take this record with you.

World immunization chart

IAMAT provides advice on immunizations and preventative measures for global countries and territories for issues such as rabies, smallpox, cholera, viral hepatitis, typhus, typhoid fever, yellow fever, diphtheria, polio, plague and tetanus.

World malaria risk chart and protection guide

You can assess the risk of malaria in specific regions and get advice on what steps to take before, during and after your stay in the country or territory. The anti-malarial drug chart features names of relevant drugs, manufacturers, generic names, dosages, and frequencies.

World schistosomiasis risk chart and information brochure

These highlight risk areas and outline preventative measures to avoid the disease.

Canada-based IAMAT President Assunta Marcolongo says expatriates will find the service highly useful if they need to find a doctor or travel information. “IAMAT services are of value to any traveler, including expats. Although IAMAT physicians have agreed to fixed fees for the first consultation, we still suggest that all travelers carry insurance.” Once you find a doctor, check with your insurer if you can claim a reimbursement.

History: the idea behind the doctor search

What was the catalyst for creating an English-language doctor finder and travel information? IAMAT was founded after the late Italian doctor, Vincenzo Marcolongo, realized that an expatriate patient would most probably have died had she not received treatment based on knowledge of her home country.

Find a doctor: doctor search

A local doctor who did not speak English sent a young North American traveler, who was suffering from general weakness and a severe temperature, to Dr Marcolongo.

The young woman had been traveling around Europe and had taken an aspirin tablet for a headache. Aspirin can, in some cases, destroy the white blood cells of people with a white Anglo-Saxon background. Because the doctor had trained in Canada and spoke English, he was aware of this critical fact. Following a blood transfusion and intensive treatment, the woman fully recovered.

The doctor realized that without his medical training from abroad, he would have immediately prescribed the very medicine that was causing the woman’s suffering.

He then set about contacting English-speaking doctors all over the world that had received Western medical training. What was originally an informal network has since evolved into the sophisticated scheme IAMAT operates now, including their doctor search tool to find a doctor abroad.

The organization continues to inspect the clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices around the world that it recommends to travelers and expatriates who use their services to find a doctor or medical centre.

Doctor search: Necessary for expatriates?

Doctor search: Find a doctor abroad

While an English-language medical service appears a dream come true for the expatriate community, not all believe the doctor search service is necessary.

A spokeswoman for the UK-based Medical Association for Travelers Abroad (MASTA) says ‘hardly anyone’ is concerned about having English-language doctors when they find a doctor.

“Millions of people backpack around the world every year, going through such places as India, and they do alright,” she says. “Obviously they take insurance, but it’s really not a problem about whether the local country speaks English or not.”

The spokeswoman suggests that the local embassy can also arrange for a translator or help them find a doctor who speaks English and advises expatriates and travelers to contact their embassy before they go abroad.

Health insurance to cover doctor costs abroad

Of course, you will need to be covered with an appropriate health insurance plan to be treated by doctors in most countries. You can access emergency treatment in most places without insurance but you will then be hit with a (possibly sizable) bill. Usually, you will be asked for proof of adequate health insurance to enter the country so it makes sense to sort out an insurance plan.

Expats working abroad may be covered by a public health insurance scheme. Travelers, temporary visitors and those not covered by public health insurance will need to purchase private health insurance. There are many private insurers to choose from. Some of the largest international health insurance companies which provide coverage to expats and travelers include:

Other ways to find a doctor abroad

Today there are many online doctor search sites to help you find a doctor abroad. By doing an online search, you can choose which doctor finder appeals to you.

There are also institutions that maintain health information to help expats find a doctor or get other medical attention or information: