Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services up front and reimburse you only after you return home.
As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you're traveling to a remote or high-risk area where emergency evacuation might be necessary. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710).
Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated overseas.
Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845 606 2030; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC covers only "necessary medical treatment;" for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought (www.travelinsuranceweb.com).
Travel Insurance -- The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information, for prices from more than a dozen companies.
U.K. citizens and their families who make more than one trip abroad per year may find an annual travel insurance policy works out cheaper. Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multitrip policies.
Most big travel agencies offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes Holiday Insurance, a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033-9988; www.columbusdirect.net).
Trip Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and Department of State advisories. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of expanded hurricane coverage and the "any-reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel packages. For details, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com); Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com); and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).
Chile poses few health risks to travelers, and no special vaccinations are required. In fact, there are no poisonous plants or animals in Chile. Nevertheless, standard wisdom says that travelers should get tetanus and hepatitis boosters before leaving.
Dietary Ailments -- Few visitors to Chile experience anything other than run-of-the-mill traveler's stomach in reaction to unfamiliar foods and any microorganisms in them, but even this is uncommon. As a general rule, it's best to eat shellfish only in reputable restaurants or those that are near the sea and receive fresh supplies daily.
In many large cities and towns, Chile's tap water is clean and safe to drink. Seek local advice, if you are in doubt; or, to be on the safe side, drink bottled water -- it's widely available throughout Chile. In San Pedro de Atacama, do not under any circumstances drink tap water, as it contains trace amounts of arsenic.
Altitude Sickness -- Altitude sickness, known as soroche or puna, is a temporary yet often debilitating affliction that affects about a quarter of travelers to the northern altiplano, or the Andes at 2,400m (7,872 ft.) and up. Nausea, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, and feeling "out of it" are the symptoms, which can last from 1 to 5 days. If affected, drink plenty of water, take aspirin or ibuprofen, and avoid alcohol and sleeping pills -- or better yet, avoid the condition by acclimatizing yourself by breaking the climb to higher regions into segments.
Sun & The Ozone Layer -- Do not take this lightly. Chile's ozone layer, especially in the southern region and Patagonia, is thinner than in the U.S. or Europe, and you'll burn a lot faster here, especially if you're in high altitudes. In Patagonia, "red alert" days (Sept-Nov) mean that fair-skinned visitors can burn within 10 minutes. Protect yourself with sun block, a long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. Slap sunscreen on even when at the beach in Viña.
General Availability of Health Care -- Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883 or, in Canada, 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns, and for lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The U.S. Embassy in Santiago (tel. 2/232-2600; www.usembassy.cl) also has a list of English-speaking doctors that you can download from the website. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
What To Do If You Get Sick Away From Home -- Medical care in Santiago is world-class, and many doctors are English-speaking. In smaller towns, always visit a private clinic instead of a public hospital. Some rural areas have only a basic clinic, and you'll need to travel to the nearest large town for more complicated procedures. I list hospitals and emergency numbers under "Fast Facts" throughout this guide.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure -- especially if planning to visit high altitudes. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
For travel abroad, you may have to pay all medical costs up front and be reimbursed later.
Chile is one of the safest countries in Latin America, with little political unrest, corruption, or violent crime. A traveler's principal concerns are pickpockets and break-ins, which are on the rise in cities like Santiago. Never leave valuables in your rental car, and always keep a close eye on your belongings when in public.
Police officers wear olive-green uniforms and are referred to as carabineros, or colloquially as pacos. Never, ever, think about bribing a police officer -- you'll be taken straight to the comiseria (police station). Chile's police force is fair and courteous to travelers, if just not very effective when it comes to petty crime. If you've been robbed, your insurance company will most likely ask for a police report, called a constancia, which you can get at any police station.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.