Health & Safety Abroad
The drastic diversity between Latin American countries, climates and environments results in differences in health concerns. Some fast developing countries no longer require malaria or yellow fever immunizations to enter the country, while areas bordering the rainforest still have the threat of disease. If you are volunteering through a program, all issues and requirements will be stated after your accepted, and program staff will likely assist you in finding a clinic or doctor to treat you before you leave your host country. Otherwise, the state department lists warnings and requirements for travel to all countries.
Once in your host country, you’ll find that the health care system is very different from what you are used to at home, and treatment is often much less expensive that in the States or Europe. Most major cities have free clinics or hospitals, but have varying wait times and quality of care.
Private clinics are a solid option, and while they charge a fee just to treat you, this is usually reasonable. If you will be volunteering for more than 3 months and your program does not provide health insurance, it is highly recommended that you buy at least traveler’s health insurance (which covers major illnesses) in case of emergency.
Petty theft and pick-pocketing are concerns in Latin America, especially in major cities. It is important to stay alert at all times when traveling on mass transit or even walking down a busy street, and try not to carry large quantities of cash.
More violent crime still exists, as the drug trade in Colombia continues to bring turmoil to the country. In addition, Brazil’s slums (in large cities like Rio de Janeiro) are known for their gang violence. As an immersed volunteer, you will have the opportunity to visit many “off the beaten path” areas, and often have an insider’s view of these places from the local staff of your organization. They will be able to tell you which areas are safe for foreigners, and which should be avoided.
For more information on working abroad check out our Working Overseas Section.