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It’s something we take for granted far too often – traveling to a foreign land and expecting our English will be understood. And while most of the time it’s easy enough to get by, knowing what, how, and when to say a phrase in a foreign language can sometimes prove necessary when you find yourself in an emergency situation which may not be possible to resolve in English.

“We were enjoying a pleasant holiday in Eilat when my son was climbing off a bunk bed when he fell and fractured his wrist. We ended up taking him to the Emergency Room, though no one could speak English to let us know what was happening. It was not a very happy affair.” – Erin Bender of her family’s recent trip through Israel.

Unfortunately, travelers do suffer injury or illness on occasions, and it’s in these situations where it is important to be able to communicate the need for medical assistance before a condition becomes unbearable.

Smartphone translation apps make traveling easier than in the past, though when I travel I will also carry a small notebook in which I use to list my phrases. And always remember to write them out phonetically. For instance writing ‘спасибо’ in Russian is absolutely no help if you cannot read Cryillic. Instead write ‘spa-see-ba’ (hello).  Those feeling particularly adventurous should consider writing out sentences in full.

Hopefully you won’t have to use these, though it’s always better to travel prepared. The following are important health and medical phrases you should know in every language…well, the language of the destination you’re traveling through at least! Translate them before you go and write them down to keep with you on your trip.

Difficult Situations & Emergencies

  • I need a doctor/dentist/police officer
  • Help! / Can you help me?
  • Please come with me – it is an emergency/very urgent.
  • Is there pharmacy nearby?
  • Can I use your phone?
  • Call the police/ambulance!
  • Leave me alone!
  • Know how to describe your location: street names, the name of the district/neighboruhood, the address of your hotel, etc
  • If you’ll be carrying a cell phone with you on your travels, learn the local emergency number so that you can get assistance immediately.


While you may be able to point and mime to get your point across, this can really only get you so far when it comes to your health.

It’s a good idea to make a note of the important parts of your body which will allow you to communicate with a doctor as to which part of you is hurt. This will allow you to better describe your symptoms.

Also be prepared with the translations for any allergies you may have, or medical conditions you have suffered from in the past.

Language Difficulties

You’re not always going to have your guide book or translation app with you, so all travelers should learn how to ask locals if they are able to speak English. Even if the person or medical staff can’t speak English, asking in their native language is more likely to lead to someone who does.

Learn the following phrases to help you overcome language barriers and difficulties.

  • Do you speak…?
  • I (don’t) understand.
  • I speak a little…
  • I (don’t) speak…
  • Could you please speak a little slower?
  • Could you write that down?
  • Could you repeat that?
  • How do you say…?
  • What does… mean?

Translation Tools

There are a sleuth of smartphone translation apps like Google Translate, iTranslate, or WayGo, all of which make language barriers a breeze, though for a translation tool which is specifically dedicated to your health, the GeoBlue app is by far the best; a tool which comes as a massive perk for those with GeoBlue travel medical and health insurance.

Read: Why we recommend GeoBlue as travel health insurance we trust.

As a policy holder, your computer or mobile device becomes a powerful translation tool. Their database consists of over 5,000 commonly used medical terms and 4,000 medical health phrases in dozens of languages. It’s easy to find the term or phrase you need, and once you do, audio files allow you to play a precise translation in the world’s most widely spoken languages.

You can rely on GeoBlue to help you translate brand names or find generic, and get accurate dosing information in the world’s top destinations.

Important Health & Medical Phrases to Know in Every Language

Female Treatment Team conducts Village Medical Outreach Program in Doan Sufla. Photo CC DVIDSHUB.

So don’t think of their app as just one more thing to carry with you, but something to carry you past medical misunderstandings. And that’s why we love GeoBlue; it provides the best tools available to navigate the complexities of healthcare and arrive at the best decisions for personal care…even if you don’t understand Icelandic!

If you’re not already set with health insurance for your international trip, read our recent post on the worst and most embarrassing traveler injuries abroad and you soon will be! We obviously recommend GeoBlue insurance through Individual Health – they offer the most complete set of benefits and services in the industry and essentially provide a worldwide, all-access pass to an exclusive level of care.

For more information, or to set up a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at Individual Health and mention we sent you!

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo Credits CC: Featured photo by DVIDSHUB. In order of appearence thereafter: Travel With BenderDVIDSHUBUSAG- HumphreysDFID – UK Department for International DevelopmentDFID – UK Department for International DevelopmentUS Army AfricaDVIDSHUBUSAG- Humphreys.


  1. You certainly can’t underestimate the value of communication when dealing with health issues. It’s very interesting about GeoBlue’s app — I’ll definitely take a look as I hadn’t heard of it before. Thanks for the tips.

    • Absolutely – I think out of all of the different words and phrases you could learn to get by in a new country, health should trump them all. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but trust me, comes in really handy when you do!

  2. I wish they were available outside the US. I can really use a good travel and medical insurance for my 2-year backpacking trip to South America.

    • GeoBlue offers health coverage worldwide, not just limited to those within the US, so definitely give Tim at individual health a call and see what they can work out for you. Highly recommend their coverage as some of the best in the world :)

  3. This is a very important post, Megan, and one that many travelers don’t think about before heading out to another country/place. I’ve seen countless threads on Facebook or elsewhere where expats are scrambling for help because they’ve used up or didn’t come with the basic insurance that is advertised.

    As someone who’s also had medical issues in a foreign land, I can absolutely relate. Luckily, I’m working in Korea so I was able to take advantage of the country’s National Healthcare coverage for a minor and optional surgery that would’ve cost thousands more in my own.

    Regardless, I was at the finest hospital in Seoul (English speaking just about everywhere) and still had some language barrier issues. Getting my belly shaved by a man who didn’t speak any English was an… uncomfortable situation to say the least, lol.

    I was lucky though, because it could’ve been worse. There have been many others who’ve gotten sick and lost their healthcare coverage due to their job letting them go, thus owing tons of money to the hospital and being forced to pay before being allowed to leave the country. Korea is child’s play though, compared to other countries from what I’ve heard.

    **On another note, I’ve never thought about getting traveler’s insurance but am really considering it after reading things like this. I’ll certainly give GeoBlue a look.

    Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed and as you can see, it created quite a few jumping off points for discussion☺

    Take Care Megan.

    • Glad you found the post helpful Duke – it really is an important issue which I feel needs to be more widely recognized, because if you don’t travel with adequate insurance you could find you’re paying it off for the rest of your life.

      Sorry to hear that you can relate to having had medical issues overseas, though glad to hear it all went smoothly and you were covered under an insurance scheme. And it really does go to show that even if English is a widely spoken and understood language, there are still some barriers which are going to be difficult to overcome. Thank goodness for app translators making life a little less stressful in these situations! Lol though I’m not sure there’s a translation in every language for “why are you shaving my belly” :D

      I had never even thought about not being allowed to leave the country until your medical bills were paid off!! Ouch!! Do you know anyone who has had this happen to them? I would love to interview them about their experience to hopefully use it as a strong reminder to others.

      Thanks! So glad you enjoyed the post. Travel safe! X

  4. From here I have introduced with sleuth of smartphone translation apps like Google Translate, iTranslate, or WayGo, all of which make language barriers a breeze, though for a translation tool which is specifically dedicated to your health. I am new here and I need to use translation in different language. This is a good post with huge information indeed. Thanks for sharing..

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the post Doc, and I’m glad we could introduce you to a bunch of new translation apps, especially the GeoBlue app if you’re looking for one specifically for your health.

      Happy travels! Stay safe out there :)

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