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5 tips for living abroad with IBD

My Crohn’s Disease journey actually began in China-of all places. Despite having symptoms for almost 12 years when living in the UK, it took a move of over 5000 miles (so google tells me) to get my much-needed diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed, I immediately considered moving straight back home. After all, being an expat was difficult enough in a country I couldn’t speak the language in; how could I manage that on top of hospital trips, treatments and life with a chronic illness? Yet, I ended up staying an extra year and a half before finally heading back to UK shores. I thought today, I’d share my top tips on living abroad with Crohn’s disease.

1.Connect your medical teams

Once I had found a doctor I could trust in China, I made sure they were connected with my doctors back home. This might sound straightforward for US readers, but it’s more tricky under the NHS. I had a ‘special folder’ with print-outs of my latest blood tests, colonoscopy pictures and even x-rays (a new phenomenon as in the UK we rarely see any of our medical records). Each time I returned home (around twice a year), I’d book an appointment with my UK doctor and take all my information along with me; allowing them to stay in the loop.

When I returned back for good, I still was asked to do a baseline colonoscopy (fun!) but other than that, it was a very smooth process!

2. Don’t assume developing countries can’t provide good treatment

It’s no secret that IBD is essentially a ‘western’ disease; occurring more prominently in wealthier, developed countries. Because of this, I assumed the treatment I received would be inadequate-but even outside China’s big cities, I found a specialist IBD doctor that had trained in Oxford. I also travelled to Thailand, and again found doctors familiar with the condition. IBD is also becoming more common in developing countries, so the expertise is there!

3. Build a support network

One of the hardest things about IBD, in general, is the need for emotional support; something made even more difficult by being so far away from friends and family. Being an expat can be lonely; people move on constantly and much of the culture can revolve around drinking alcohol in some countries. Try to build your own support network– even if it is through online groups, and be open with colleagues and friends you have already made.

4. Take a cooking class

If food is one of your triggers, eating out in Asia can be tricky; as intolerances are not well recognized. I found one of the most helpful things was to take a cooking class with a local-it was the only way of really understanding what went into dishes and helping me ways to adapt. This meant I could order foods out with more confidence!

5. Find someone who can help with interpreting

Even if you are learning the language, communicating with doctors will be beyond most people’s realm. Although many doctors speak good English, it’s little things like being able to explain to somebody which treatment you are on (and that you’re immune system is suppressed so if they could not sneeze over you-that’d be great!) directions to the hospital, talking to the insurance company and the nature of your disease (especially if you’re traveling or see a local doctor for something non-IBD related-as doctors won’t be able to see your notes at different hospitals). I was lucky that a colleague helped me with all aspects of my illness and I would put her on the phone whenever I needed. Don’t be afraid to admit you can’t do it all!

If you’re reading this, living abroad IS possible with IBD. It requires organization, strength and patience-but there’s no reason it should stop you seeing the world!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    9 months ago

    Great tips!

    Agreed, don’t let IBD stop you from seeing the world. I have a friend with IBD living in Mexico and she is managing well. It is totally possible.

    Thank you for the read!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

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