Travelling abroad for surgery

There are many private surgery teams based outside of the UK. You might want to have surgery abroad for many reasons, such as access to techniques not available from UK surgeons, lower cost of surgery in other countries, or wanting surgery from a specific surgeon who does not operate in the UK. However, there are a number of important considerations to make.

In addition to our suggested considerations for choosing a surgeon, there are some things specific to surgery abroad that it is useful to consider:

  • Is the country safe for me to travel to? It’s useful to look at the Foreign Office information for LGBT people and at their country specific travel advice. It might also be useful to talk to other people who’ve travelled to that country. This might be particularly important to you if you experience racism or religiously motivate discrimination, or if you have access needs that might not be accommodated for.

  • Do I feel confident that I will receive a good standard of care before, during and after surgery? Do I feel confident that I will receive a good standard of care if I have complications or am ill following surgery? It would be useful to talk to other trans people who have had surgery with the team(s) you are considering.

  • Does the surgical and nursing team speak English? If not, do I have a plan on how to communicate my needs and to fully understand what they’re telling me?

  • Will I need a visa to travel to that country? If so, am I likely to be issued one? How much will it cost and how far in advance do I need to apply?

  • Can I afford the costs of accommodation, travel and food in addition to the costs of surgery? Remember that you might have an appointment a few days before surgery and that you will not be able to fly home immediately after surgery. Advice on flying varies depending on the surgery type, but it might be that you’re advised not to fly for up to two weeks.

  • How do I feel about recovering from surgery abroad?

  • Is there someone who can come with me to support me when I’m recovering abroad? If not, how do I feel about recovering on my own?

  • How difficult will my journey home be? Is there something I can do to prepare for that or make it easier? Is there someone who can help me travel home and if not, how will I carry my luggage?

  • What happens if I experience complications when I’m abroad? As well as considering the emotional impact of this, ask your surgical team what costs are or are not included in the fee.

  • Will I have access to a doctor when I’m discharged from hospital? A lot of surgical teams offer a package which includes regular visits from a member of the team.

  • What happens if I experience complications or need medical support when I’m back in the UK?

There is information to help you make these decisions on the NHS website.

Most of the suggestions on our Preparing for Surgery page will apply to you, but there are additional preparations you might wish to take.

Before you travel:

  • Identify the person/people that will be travelling with you (if at all). Agree the dates and timings with them.

  • Book your travel and accommodation well in advance. Some surgical teams can offer specific accommodation for you to recover in, so be sure to ask about it. This accommodation may be more expensive than a holiday apartment rental, but might include extras such as drivers to take you to and from hospital and the airport and visits from a medical professional whilst you recover.

    You might wish to book to arrive at least a few days in advance of surgery so that you can make any preparations to need to for coming out of hospital. It’s useful to be in contact with your accommodation provider a week in advance to confirm your booking.

    Think about your comfort levels for the journey home – if would you be find it useful to have an aisle seat, more space around you, or a more comfortable seat, you might wish to choose your seat in advance or to travel in Business Class or First Class if you can afford to.

  • Think of the children (and pets and plants)! If you have children or pets, arrange for someone to look after them whilst you’re abroad.

    If you’re going to be away for more than 2 weeks, consider asking a friend or family member to check in on your home and water your plants.

  • Book your surgical leave with work.

  • Decide what you will take with you and what you will buy abroad. For example, if you’re planning to buy items to help with recovery, can you buy them more cheaply in the other country? If you’d like an over the lap tray – would it be better to make your luggage lighter and buy a cheap one when you’re out there.

  • Packing suggestions
    • Remember to pack your medication in your hand luggage. If you’ve been asked to stop any medication (including testosterone or oestrogen) before surgery, take it with you so that you can start taking it as soon as you’re allowed again. It’s a good idea to carry your prescription and the original packaging for your medication.
    • Vacuum pack bags and compression cubes are your friend – it’s amazing how flat you can make a v-shaped pillow when you use a vacuum pack bag.
    • A small hand held fan can be useful if you’re travelling to a warm country.Travel plug adaptor
    • See the preparing for surgery page for lists of things you might want to take with you.

  • Sort your phone out. Make sure you’ve got international roaming on your phone, or plan to buy a SIM when you arrive in the other country. If you search online for ‘tourist SIM’ for the country, you’ll normally be able to find information.

  • Arrange for special assistance for the journey home. You are likely to need to do this for the airport you’re travelling from abroad and the airport you’re travelling to in the UK. Details of how to book special assistance will be available on the airport websites. Remember that airports can involve a lot of walking and that, even if not in pain, you may be low on energy. If you usually require special assistance, remember to also book it for your outbound journey! Have a look at the Heathrow Airport website for examples of the sort of support that can be offered.

  • Let your airline know about any special requirements you may have during the flight. Details of how to do this should be available on the airline’s website. If you have a hidden disability, wearing a sunflower lanyard might be useful.

  • Worried about navigating the airport? A lot of airports have accessible guides to travelling in the airport. They usually include information about what happens at each stage of the process from check in to getting on your plane, have information about accessing special assistance and have tips on coping with different sensory aspects of an airport. Have a look at an example from Heathrow Airport.

  • Tell your GP that you’re travelling abroad for surgery and discuss any support you may need from them or the practice nurse when you return. For example, catheter removal or changes of dressings.

  • Apply for your visa, if needed.

  • Make sure you’ve got travel insurance specifically designed for medical travel. You are unlikely to be covered by a standard package of medical insurance and it’s important that you’re covered for unexpected medical costs, as they can be very expensive. Read more information about medical travel insurance.

You’ll find more information about travelling after surgery or with medical conditions on the NHS’s Fit for Travel website.

Once you’ve arrived, there are a few things you can do to prepare for coming out of hospital. If you’ll be recovering alone, preparation is especially important.

  • Stock up on food that is easy to cook using the facilities available. If you’ve got a freezer, you might want to cook some meals and freeze them. Go for food that you enjoy that is high in protein, has plenty of fibre and will give you plenty of vitamins and minerals (think colourful fruit and veg). Make sure you’ve got some treats in the cupboard as well.

  • Buy anything else that you need or want to help you recover. Make sure you’ve got a good stock of paracetamol and hand sanitizer. It’s common to experience constipation after surgery, it’s a good idea to get a stool softener such as senna and to have some dried fruit and/or liquorice to help until your bowels get back to normal.

  • Download the local takeaway and shopping delivery apps.

  • Familiarise yourself with the local area. It’s particularly useful to know where your nearest pharmacy and food shop are, and their opening times.

  • Make sure you know the emergency services phone number for your location.

  • Make sure you know the address of your accommodation.

  • Make sure you know who to contact if there’s an issue with your accommodation.

  • Make the accommodation recovery friendly. Put things so that everything will be in easy reach when you’re recovering. Will you have a good view of the TV from the sofa? Will you have a table next to the bed? Get everything how you want it.

  • Plan your journey to the hospital. Book a taxi if you need to. Your surgical team might arrange this for you, so ask them before booking anything.

  • Plan your journey back from the hospital. If you plan to travel back by taxi, the hospital staff will be able to help you to book one when you’re ready to be discharged.

  • Tell people your phone number and where you’re staying! If you’ve got a local SIM card, let the hospital and your friends and family know your temporary phone number.

  • Do any preparation that the surgical team have asked you to. For example, shaving specific areas of your body the night before surgery.

  • Pack your hospital bag.

Remember that people have a catheter for lots of different reasons and that some people use catheters all the time. It’s perfectly safe to fly with a catheter, although there are things you might want to do to make it an easier experience.

  • Go to the toilets and empty the bag or open the valve just before you get on the plane.

  • Carry a spare catheter bag and/or flip-flow valve in your hand luggage along with alcohol gel and alcohol wipes. This way you’ll be prepared if you need to unexpectedly change your bag or valve.

  • If you’re expecting to travel home with a catheter bag, you might want to buy a ‘catheter bag bag’ to use on the journey. There are a number of different styles, including ones that you carry over your shoulder like a small bag, and they often have a cover for the tube. You can find examples of these on Etsy.

    At airport security, just explain that the bag is covering your catheter bag – they might want to scan you, but you ought not to have many issues.

  • Download a Just Can’t Wait card to your phone or ask for one to be sent to you. This can be useful if you want a quick way to ask to use a toilet that you wouldn’t usually be able to use or if you need to skip the queue.

You’ll find more information on catheter care and travelling with a catheter at Bladder and Bowel UK.

Most of the advice on our Choosing a Surgeon, Surgical Consultations and Pre-op Appointments pages applies regardless of where you have your surgery.

However, it is important to ask:

  • What is and isn’t covered in the fees you will be paying. For example, does the fee include hospital costs and the cost of medication?

  • How and when will you pay them? In which currency?

  • About arrangements for your pre-op appointment. Can you do it remotely or is there anything that needs to be done at the hospital?

  • What post-op support will be available for you? For example, will a member of the team visit you in your accommodation?

  • What happens if you experience complications when still in the country? Are these costs included in your fee or will there be extra fees?

  • What happens if you experience complications when you get back to the UK?

  • If you’ll have a catheter and/or drains when you leave hospital, and how long for?

  • How long before surgery do they typically like patients to arrive in the country? Will there be any in-person consultations before the day of surgery?

  • How long after surgery do they like patients to stay in the country?

  • What follow up appointments will there be and will they in-person or via video call?

  • Do they offer any accommodation? If not, can they recommend any areas to stay in and areas to avoid?

  • Do members of the team and hospital staff speak English (or another language you’re fluent in)? If not, can they recommend an interpreter?

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A disclaimer: TransActual do not provide medical, health, or legal advice. The content of this page is intended for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a medical professional. It is not a substitute for advice from a legal professional. We strongly suggest you consult a healthcare professional or legal professional for specific advice about your situation. TransActual do not advocate or recommend the purchase of any specific product and we do not endorse or guarantee the credentials or appropriateness of any health care provider, any product or any provider of insurance and legal services.

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