If you have a food allergy or a medical condition that you might need to explain to others, travelling abroad brings new challenges. You have to figure out how to explain yourself in a language you may not speak well (or at all) to ensure you don’t eat something you shouldn’t. That’s where translated medical cards come in — and you can buy them from several online sources if you don’t feel confident enough to make your own.
Food allergies are one of the most common reasons people bring a translated card with them on a trip. As we’ve explained before, it also really helps to know some basic terms in the local language so that you can ask, say, whether a food contains nuts. Better yet, study up before you go to learn what some of the popular nut-containing foods are, and the names of various kinds of nuts, so that you can scan a menu without having to ask the server about every item on it. (Some of the cards include a list of common ingredients that contain the listed allergen, which can help both you and your server to communicate.)
Some places you can order ready-made cards for food allergies and special diets (including religious and medical restrictions) include:
- Select Wisely, which offers a wide selection of cards.
- Equal Eats, which lets you custom design a card.
- Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, which offers a downloadable PDF that you can customise to include the foods you are allergic to.
- FoodAllergy.org also has free downloadable cards.
Besides food allergies, you may also want a card for other medical conditions. Select Wisely has cards for diabetes, asthma, and more. For example, the diabetes card has language asking the person to give you sugar, so you can point to this message if you are hypoglycemic. There is also a message asking for help getting a ride to the hospital.
Before you trust your health to a piece of paper that has words on it you don’t quite understand, it’s smart to have a bilingual person verify that the card says exactly what you mean it to, and also that you’ll be able to understand how the server or chef responds. Select Wisely’s cards usually end with a question like “Are there nuts in this food?” which should have a clear yes/no answer.
And of course, you can always go the DIY route: Have your message translated, and then make your own card or screenshot what you want to say and save it to your phone. Just make sure you still get it looked at by someone who is fluent in the target language, so you don’t end up unknowingly relying on a bad Google translation.