Travelling with a mental health condition can be challenging.
Before you go, you can take steps to reduce the risk of having problems overseas. Check in with your mental health and develop a plan for when you're overseas.
This page is for Australians planning to travel overseas. If you're already travelling and need mental health support, see our advice on medical assistance overseas.
Taking care of your mental health while travelling
Planning ahead will help you minimise risks and increase your chances of a successful trip. Before you leave on your travels, consider the following steps to be prepared:
- Be aware of potential triggers for a mental health condition when travelling
- See your general practitioner (GP) or mental health professional
- Check your medications are legal in your destination
- Research local laws and attitudes to mental health conditions
- Get travel insurance that covers mental health conditions
- Know where to get support while you're overseas
Potential triggers for a mental health condition when travelling
The stresses of travel may worsen or trigger a mental health condition. Stresses that can come with travel include:
- separation from family and friends
- time zone changes and jet lag
- changing your normal routines
- new people and places
- culture shock and loneliness
- language barriers
- disruption to/cancellation of bookings
- difficulty in refilling medications or losing medication
- buying medication overseas that is not genuine, incorrectly labelled or much stronger than the prescription you can get in Australia.
Be aware of the potential triggers. You can take steps to reduce unexpected stress by having a plan of action in case things go wrong. Talk to your GP or mental health professional about what steps are right for you.
See your GP or mental health professional
Getting sick or forgetting to take medication could trigger a mental health condition. Travellers who stop or forget to take their medication while on holiday is one of the biggest contributing factors to mental health episodes for Australians overseas.
Consult your GP or pharmacist to:
- discuss plans for coping with travel and potential limited access to medical facilities
- get enough prescription medication to keep you in good health while you're away and take extra in case you are away for longer than expected, such as your return flight being delayed
- check if there are any issues with mixing medications, and what affect alcohol can have on your medication
- document your mental health plan and treatment if an episode occurs so you can carry this documentation with you.
Check your medications are legal
Medications that are available in Australia may not be available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian GP.
Check with the embassies or consulates of the destination/s you're visiting to make sure your medicine is legal there. Take enough legal medication for your trip.
Carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP stating:
- what the medication is
- how much you'll take
- that it's for personal use.
Keep essential medications in your hand luggage in case your checked baggage is lost or stolen.
If your prescribed medication is not legal in the destination you want to travel to, reconsider your need to travel there. You could be arrested for taking your medication to a destination where it is illegal. You will also not be able to access the medication once at that destination.
Research local laws and attitudes to mental health conditions
Attitudes and beliefs about physical illness and mental health can vary greatly in other countries. Mental health conditions aren't always accepted the way they are in Australia.
Many low-income developing countries don't have medical resources for mental health issues. In some countries, it might be hard to get help or medication.
You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards.
You could be arrested or jailed if you break the law during a mental health episode. If your medication is illegal there, authorities could charge you for carrying or using drugs.
If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
Get travel insurance
Get travel insurance. If you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel.
Some insurers only cover mental health issues if the first time it happens is after you bought your policy.
Choose your travel insurance policy carefully. Most basic policies won't cover you for mental health conditions. You may need to pay extra to be covered.
- Check if your policy covers mental health conditions. If not, ask if you can add cover as an extra.
- Check exclusions. Even if they cover your condition, they may still exclude it in some situations.
- Read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). The fine print (terms and conditions) could have information that makes the policy unsuitable for your needs.
It's important to clarify what your insurer considers a pre-existing mental health condition. Some consider a single visit to a mental health professional many years ago as a condition. A low appetite could be viewed as an eating disorder.
If in doubt, check your insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement or ask your insurer, travel agent or insurance broker.
See which travel insurance products include mental health cover. Read the CHOICE Travel Insurance Guide.
Different aspects of your identity can expose you to overlapping forms of discrimination and increase the risks you might face. This is sometimes referred to as intersectionality. Aspects of your identity can include your:
- sexual orientation
- mental health.
Read this advice along with our advice about women, LGBTI, disability, age and colour, race or religion to understand the different risks you may face.
Getting support overseas
You're responsible for your mental health while you travel.
Mental health support is available through the healthcare system in many destinations but may be limited in others. Local services may not be available to foreigners. Familiarise yourself with support services that are available in your destination.
If you have immediate concerns for your welfare, or that of someone you know, contact your nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate to discuss counselling hotlines and services available in your location. 24-hour emergency assistance is also available through the Consular Emergency Centre at +61 2 6261 3305.
There are limits to what the Australian Government can do to help if you have a mental health episode overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter. It outlines what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.
Read more about mental health support overseas on our medical assistance page.
What we can do
- We can help you find local mental health practitioners that speak English.
- We can help connect local doctors with your Australian GP.
- We can provide guidance on how to get prescribed medication locally.
- We can raise concerns about your treatment or welfare in hospital.
- We can contact your family and insurer, with your consent.
What we can't do
- We can't give you medical advice or recommend providers.
- We can't pay your medical bills, or loan you money.
- We can't get you out of jail if you're arrested for breaking the local laws.
- We can't stop you from travelling, or force you to get medical assistance.
- We can't force you to return to Australia.
- We can't arrange for better treatment or direct your treatment.
- We can't provide translation or interpreter services.
- We can't take care of your belongings while you're in hospital.
Below is a range of mental health and well-being resources that are available to Australians overseas. You can find more services on the Head to Health website (Department of Health), but we cannot guarantee that the services listed there will be available internationally.
- Beyond Blue has well-being advice for Australians overseas.
- The e-Mental Health in Practice portal has a comprehensive index of Australian, evidence-based digital mental health resources.
- Tools and apps for teens and young adults (ReachOut Australia)
- The Black Dog Institute provides MyCompass, a free online self-help program for people experiencing mild to moderate depression, anxiety and stress.
- Read our general advice on travelling with medication.
- You need insurance. Read about choosing the right travel insurance.
- Read about Australia's reciprocal health care agreements.
- Learn about health issues and health care in your destinations.
- See our advice on getting medical assistance overseas.
- Understand what the Australian Government can and can't do for you overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- See healthdirect for information and advice on mental illness.
- Visit Beyond Blue for information about living with mental illness.
- Get insurance that covers mental health. Read the Travel Insurance Guide (CHOICE).
- The Department of Health has advice about mental health on their site, Head to Health.