Drugs, Doctors, & Health Insurance While Living on a Boat

I’ve had several people ask me lately about obtaining medications while out at sea and what kind of health insurance we have. I’d never really thought about these issues prior to setting sail because I was so accustomed to just being able to call in my prescription refills at Walgreens, drive right on through and pick them up; and I knew their aisles so well I never thought it would actually be complicated to find something as simple as Vaseline or Advil! However, finding the things we are familiar with has turned out to be a little more difficult in a foreign country than I’d originally thought.


Prescription Medications

We’ve found it very easy to get our regular doctor to prescribe us a year’s worth of medications. Common meds such as birth control, blood pressure meds, and antibiotics are not controlled substances and your doctor should be fine with writing you a giant Rx where a pharmacy will fill the entire year’s supply. We found that the Blue Cross health insurance we had at the time would NOT fill a year’s supply for one Rx co-pay, so we had to pay full price for a year’s worth of the drug. Ask for generic to reduce that cost, or contact your insurance company to explain the situation, you might get lucky.

There was a time in Spain where Anna ran out of her birth control pills a few weeks before we’d planned on being back in the US. Mom’s disclaimer: she is on it for controlling acne and regulating her periods, not because she is sexually active. Just saying. We pharmacy-hopped trying to find the same dosage and ingredients as she had been taking. Unfortunately, although the pharmacists were really helpful, we couldn’t find it, and we were afraid that taking a different dosage might throw her menstrual cycle off. So we decided to stay there an extra week to get it shipped to us from the states. Shipping alone was a couple hundred dollars, for a $15 prescription! Ouch!

We have found that there are plenty of doctors overseas that will write you whatever prescription you need. Most offices are affordable, take local cash payment, and do not require an appointment. You probably won’t be able to get a long-term Rx for narcotics or controlled substances, but if you need something short-term most doctors are able to accommodate.

Health Insurance

We dropped our ridiculously expensive Blue Cross health insurance and purchased an international plan through Cigna. The video tells you all about it, and our agent is very helpful. We chose a really high deductible with a low monthly premium; so we will only use it in catastrophic situations. We actually haven’t had to use it yet; but it’s there just in case. I’ve also heard DAN (Divers Alert Network) is very inexpensive and comprehensive, it’s not just for diving accidents. The video on the right discusses more about the Cigna plan we have.



We tried to live a “vaccine-free” life back in the US, given the negative reputation that vaccines have had in recent history. However, after much research, I decided to get my entire family up to date on all shots, including Typhoid, Hepatitis A, B, & C, and HPV. Knowing we were headed into new territory with new viruses and different environments, strange people and unfamiliar languages, I wanted to assure that we were as prepared and protected as we could be. Also, some countries require different vaccines prior to entry. Ecuador required us to all have Yellow Fever vaccine and a local doctor there administered the vaccine to us for a nominal fee as we entered the country.



Pharmacies worldwide typically have the green “plus” sign so you can spot them easily. The pharmacist will be able to tell you where the nearest doctor is. Over-the-counter meds you grab off the shelf at your hometown drug store, like Advil or Tylenol, are behind the counter at every pharmacy we’ve come across, and usually they are not cheap. I’d pay about $10 for a 100count Advil jug at CVS back in Texas, but in Panama I paid $10 for a 10count box! Ouch again! I’d suggest stock up on as much OTC meds as you can prior to setting off.


We have been very pleased with overseas medical care so far. If you’ve seen our video where Kate fell out of a tree in Panama in 2017 and broke her wrist, you already know this story. She was 10 at the time and handled it very well. We were overwhelmed by the medical staff’s kindness and attentiveness; she got an x-ray within minutes of arrival, and she was wheeled in to surgery shortly after that. They knocked her out, set her arm, put it in a cast, and she was back out in the recovery room within the hour. We paid a total of $1,200 USD cash for the entire thing. No way would that have been so cheap in the US! The hospital room alone would’ve cost thousands! Watch the full episode here.


Before you set sail, make sure to stock up on everything that you can. We have chosen not to do any major procedures outside the US; all regular checkups such as colonoscopy, mammogram, my bladder cancer checkups, etc have been done while we were back home. If you have had a medical procedure in a foreign country, please leave a comment and share your experience.


DON’T go to a “Travel Doctor”

We spent $300 on one and all they did for us was provide some pamphlets and nausea medicine that we could’ve gotten over the counter. They’re not real doctors. Don’t waste your time or money.


I hope this helps, feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. ~Renee