You can travel abroad if you are living with chronic kidney disease, but you'll need to plan ahead to make sure you have a safe, relaxing break. We answer your questions about travelling with CKD or as a transplant recipient and explain what you need to know about Dialysis Away from Base (DAFB).
Please note that the Covid-19 pandemic caused significant disruption to the Dialysis Away from Base (DAFB) system. It is particularly important to contact your home unit before planning your trip, to confirm arrangements upon your return following your DAFB.
If you would like to speak to one of our Patient Support & Advocacy Officers about the best way to work with your unit to plan DAFB, please get in touch with Kidney Care UK.
I'm a kidney patient. What should I do before I travel?
Wherever you’re travelling to, if you have kidney disease there are a few steps you will need to take before you plan your trip.
First, speak to your kidney team so that they can help plan your treatment while you are away, and to ensure that your needs are met on your return if you need to dialyse in unit. This is particularly important, as Covid-19 guidelines caused significant disruption to the DAFB system.
It is important to give your dialysis unit as much notice as possible, typically at least three months for international travel, but it’s worth checking with your unit whether they require a minimum amount of notice if you decide to travel abroad.
I need to dialyse during my trip. Is dialysis free in Europe?
Dialysis is free in EU countries, using either an in-date European Health Insurance (EHIC) card or the new Global Health Insurance (GHIC) card. However, not every unit will accept this as a method of payment.
You can also now use your EHIC/GHIC card if you travel to Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
In order to access a state-run haemodialysis unit in one of the EU countries above and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein:
- Tell your kidney team as soon as possible that you intend to travel. If you do not let them know then you will likely be responsible for the full cost of your haemodialysis treatment abroad.
- Make sure you hold a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
- Identify a suitable unit and check that they accept the EHIC/GHIC. Your kidney team may be able to help you with this.
Some countries will ask for a fee, called a co-payment, and you will be responsible for this. This can be as much as 20% of the total cost of your haemodialysis treatment abroad and the NHS will not be able to refund this cost.
If you travel to a country that does not accept the EHIC/GHIC, you may have to pay the full costs of your haemodialysis treatment while you are away.
Please note that EHIC and GHIC cards are not a replacement for comprehensive travel insurance.
I am considering paying for my treatment upfront in a private European renal clinic. Will I be reimbursed after I return to the UK?
No, you will not be reimbursed by the NHS if you choose to pay for private dialysis in Europe.
Before Brexit, the UK adopted an EU Directive called the Cross Border Healthcare Directive. Under this directive, UK patients could pay for qualifying private care in Europe (such as dialysis) and get reimbursed up to the amount the treatment would cost on the NHS.
Since Brexit, this directive no longer applies to the UK. This means that if you decide to pay privately in full for dialysis in Europe instead of organising your treatment under the UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), you will not be able to seek reimbursement for these costs.
Before travelling, it is very important that you apply and receive confirmation from your chosen healthcare provider that your treatment will be covered on your EHIC/GHIC.
I am travelling abroad, outside the EU. Will I have to pay for dialysis?
Dialysis in a state-run haemodialysis unit can also be arranged for free in some countries that have a reciprocal agreement with the UK. Always check local arrangements for the destination you are planning to travel to.
Can I fly on dialysis?
Yes, but it is important to plan flights around dialysis days. You should not miss a dialysis treatment in order to travel.
If you need to travel on a particular day, speak to your dialysis unit first as they may be able to rearrange the session.
Travelling as a peritoneal dialysis patient
Peritoneal dialysis fluid can be delivered to your destination. Speak to your unit or the company that supplies your fluid to arrange this.
You will need to confirm with your destination that they are happy to receive a clinical supplies delivery on your behalf. This should be arranged to arrive two days before you arrive at your destination.
Travelling as a portable home haemodialysis patient
If you are using a portable home haemodialysis machine, discuss your plans with your Home Therapies Team as they can arrange for supplies to be delivered to your holiday destination and advise on transporting your machine. This service is free of charge, although there are some reports of customs charges for some countries, and you should check with the team for further information.
Check with your kidney unit regarding insurance cover for a portable machine. Travel insurance companies often don’t insure dialysis machines, but these should be covered under your household contents insurance.
Make sure you check this well in advance of travel. Remember to pack a plug adapter for the right voltage at your destination so that you can plug in your machine.
I am on the transplant list. Can I still travel in the UK or abroad?
Discuss your travel plans with your kidney team before travel, so that they can temporarily remove you from the list until you return. You will not lose any time points while you are off the list.
If you travel to the Indian subcontinent or Africa, you will remain suspended for eight weeks after you have returned until virology tests have confirmed that you have not become infected with a virus such as hepatitis or HIV.
For all other parts of the world, unless other factors put you at risk, you will usually be reactivated on the kidney transplant waiting list as soon as virology tests are found to be negative.
I am a transplant patient. What travel advice should I follow?
Always discuss your holiday plans with your kidney team before you make a booking.
If you are travelling to a sunny destination, you should also be very mindful to avoid the sun to minimise your risk of skin cancer. This is because as a transplant patient you are more likely than other people to get skin cancers because of the immunosuppressant drugs you need to take.
Simple sun safety steps include wearing a hat, wearing light clothing that covers your body, wearing good sunglasses and applying strong sun block, at least factor 50, regularly. These steps are particularly important in the year after transplant.
Vaccination against certain diseases is not advised for transplant recipients and you will need to avoid ‘live’ vaccinations.
It is also not advisable to travel to countries where there is a risk of catching malaria.
When you are making your travel plans, your kidney team will be able to offer advice tailored to you.
Will I be able to follow a kidney-friendly diet on holiday?
An important part of many holidays is enjoying food and drink that you don’t usually have at home. If you have been advised to follow a specific diet, speak to your kidney dietitian about what you may need to consider while you are away.
It’s also recommended that you follow standard health advice when it comes to food and drink in countries where sanitation is poor. This includes:
- Using bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth
- Avoiding ice in drinks
- Avoiding any food that will have been washed in tap water, such as salads or uncooked fruit and vegetables.
Read our advice about eating out or taking out on a kidney-friendly diet for tips on the best menu options for people living with chronic kidney disease.
Is any additional holiday support available to CKD patients?
Kidney Care UK holiday grants towards the cost of a basic holiday in the UK or overseas are available for some individuals and families.