What to do if You Need Medical Care While Traveling (That Time I Went to a Hospital in Vietnam)

If you’re a long-term traveler like me, it can be pretty scary to find yourself feeling sick and needing medical care in a foreign country. Back home in New York, I could haul myself down the street a few blocks to the emergency walk-in clinic, see a doctor or nurse who spoke my language, and be out pretty quickly with a small co-pay and prescription order in the works. Last week, I found myself really sick and in need of a doctor’s consultation (I’m OK now!), and I want to share my experience at a Vietnamese hospital in case you, dear traveler, find yourself in a similar situation and need help.

On my second day in Nha Trang, Vietnam, I was out at the market and had been feeling really foggy but I assumed I was probably still adjusting to the INSANE heat (fyi, I’ve learned it’s pretty typical in Vietnam for everyone to close up shop during the hottest part of the day and hide from the sun). But–on the way back home, when I found myself spacing out and on the verge of passing out, I realized I needed to do something before it got even worse. A Google search for hospitals nearby returned one that was about a 10-minute walk away, which was all I thought I could bear, and–banking on the semi-promising review rating of 3.7 stars–I set out in the blistering 95-degree tropical heat.

This is only my first experience with a hospital not in my home country, but it was eye-opening. As with my experience with many facilities in Vietnam, there was very little organization, so I went up to the counter showing my Google-translated writing ‘I need to see a stomach specialist’. The receptionist told me to come back at 1:30pm–this hospital was about to close for lunch. I waited two hours in the dark of the empty waiting area until they reopened and explained the situation again. I was quoted 132,000VND (~$6USD) for an initial consultation before being able to see the doctor. Fortunately, once I paid, I was able to see the doctor immediately, and a translator accompanied me to help me explain my predicament (eating a liiiittle to adventurously).  I was ordered an ultrasound, which was unnecessary but for the additional $15 I went along because I wanted to get the prescription. They found nothing and I was sent off with four prescriptions to help me recover from food poisoning. I was happy and surprised to find the prescriptions included a probiotic and a Papain enzyme capsule to kill off bad bugs. The other two (I still haven’t been able to figure out what the hell they do because there’s no English drug site for them) will be donated to the medicine cabinet at my Airbnb. In total, I paid about $35 for a consultation and four prescriptions, which were filled on site.

Update: Later that week I also found myself in need of antibiotics for an ear infection after a painful flight back to Ho Chi Minh City and I had a very different, positive experience at a clinic there. If you need quick, thorough, and professional care in Ho Chi Minh City (especially from an ear, nose, and throat specialist), I recommend the Yersin International Clinic in D1 (below).

Tip Summary:yersinclinic

  • Make sure Google Translate is installed on your device and offline mode is enabled (if you don’t have a local SIM)
  • Be prepared to pay a consultation fee up front
  • Save all your receipts and documentation for your travel insurance claim

The best tip I can give you is do not leave home without getting travel insurance. It might seem trivial but you’re going to be seriously glad you bought it if–for example–your stuff gets nicked, you get injured riding a motorbike or swinging off a rope into a pond, etc. I use World Nomads. They have 24-hour emergency service and you can submit your claims online.

I hope this information helps you to feel more confident about handling illness abroad. If you’re in Vietnam and need advice or want to meet up, send me a note!

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