In general, Sicily is viewed as a "low-risk" destination, although problems, of course, can and do occur anywhere. You don't need to get vaccines; most foodstuffs are safe; and tap water in most cities and towns is potable. When in doubt, drink bottled water. If you are traveling around Sicily over the summer, limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days, and thereafter until 11 am and then from 4 pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply it liberally. Remember to apply it repeatedly to children. Not only will you prevent sunburn you'll also avoid heatstroke -- two things that can land you immediately at the hospital.
If You Get Sick
In case of emergency, dial tel. 113 for the police, or tel. 112 for the Carabinieri (military police): They can call an ambulance or help you in many ways. If your situation is life-threatening, go to the pronto soccorso (emergency ward) at the local hospital.
Many doctors in Sicily understand English to some degree. If you get sick, your hotel concierge will call or recommend a doctor. Another option is to go to the guardia medica (doctor on duty) or the guardia medica turistica at vacation resorts.
Under the Italian national healthcare system, you're eligible only for free emergency care. If you're admitted to a hospital as an in-patient, you're required to pay (unless you're a resident of the EEA). You're also required to pay for follow-up care. If you do end up paying for healthcare, some health insurance plans will cover at least part of the hospital visits and procedures. Be prepared to pay the bills up front, however. Once you've filed all the necessary paperwork back home, you'll be refunded.
Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.
U.K. nationals will need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) (tel. 0845/606-2030; www.ehic.org.uk) to receive free or reduced-cost health benefits during a visit to a European Economic Area (EEA) country (European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) or Switzerland. For advice, ask at your local post office or see www.dh.gov.uk/travellers. European travelers will need additional insurance for repatriation after a medical emergency.
Very few U.S. health insurance plans pay for medical evacuation back (which can cost $10,000 and up). If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, MedjetAssist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice virtually anywhere in the world in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours day, 7 days a week. Annual memberships are $225 individual, $350 family; you can also purchase short-term memberships.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. 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. If your medication requires the use of hypodermic needles (such as diabetes) ask your doctor for a signed statement, or take your prescription, indicating the name of the medicine and what it is used to treat. Also, it's a good idea to keep a list of the active ingredients alongside the name of each prescription drug you take -- though the brand name might differ in Italy, a doctor or pharmacist will immediately recognize the active ingredient.
Crime & Safety
Contrary to popular culture spawned by urban legends, you will not come face-to-face with a Mafioso during your visit. There is, however, a better chance that you might encounter pickpockets, thieves, and purse-snatchers. Although most tourists have trouble-free visits to Sicily each year, the principal tourist areas have been experiencing an increase in crime. Palermo and Catania, in particular, have reported growing incidents of muggings and attacks. Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beach resorts, trains, train stations, airports, subways, and ATMs. Travelers should exercise caution, carry limited cash and credit cards, and leave extra cash, credit cards, passports, and personal documents in a safe location. Crimes have occurred at all times of day and night. Sexual assaults are rare but do take necessary precautions -- use a taxi at night to take you back to your hotel and don't accept rides from locals who seem "nice." If you feel threatened don't be afraid to shout and cause a scene to attract attention. It works as an excellent deterrent.
Drivers should be cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed police officer, Carabiniere, Finanziere (finance & revenue police, who often do random roadside checks on major roadways), or Municipal police.
The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate.
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.