Moving Abroad With Severe Food Allergies
Updated: Apr 21
When I first made the decision to move abroad, I knew that I had a huge challenge on my hands. You see, my son has food allergies...and I’m not just talking one or two foods. My son is severely allergic to egg, seafood, nuts, and sesame. Not only is finding something he can eat a challenge when traveling, but it is a challenge anytime.
While temporarily traveling abroad with food allergies is no stranger to us, we have never lived abroad. I’ve never had to stress TOO much over the fact that many foods are different, or that our usual “go-to” medications may not be available, because I knew that our trip was temporary.
Here’s how I managed moving abroad with my son's severe food allergies, and how I keep him safe on a daily basis:
Checking the airlines
Our move abroad started with checking the policies of our airline. While finding the most affordable airline is important to me, it is even more important that I find an airline whose policies take into consideration passengers with food allergies. Airlines that have "no peanut" policies (i.e. SouthWest Airlines) or who have separate seating areas for passengers with peanut allergies (i.e. JetBlue) are almost always at the top of my list.
Allergy translation cards and apps
There are several sites that offer personalized travel “chef” cards in various languages. Some offer to print customized cards for a fee, while other sites offer free printable cards. Prior to moving abroad, I used FoodAllergy.org to print my own card, paste it to the front and back of a business card, and place it in a plastic sleeve for protection.
One of the important things that I learned is that there are multiple ways to write the same food depending on what country we were in. I had to hand write the word ajonjolí on my son’s allergy card, since the word sésamo is not recognized in Mexico. Additionally, considering that there are many different types of nuts, I’ve learned that I need to be very specific about the TYPE of nut.
In addition to an allergy translation card, I also keep allergy translation apps downloaded on my phone to help translate ingredients and allergies. When it comes to grocery shopping, Google Translate is my best friend. Not only can I type in the words that I need to be translated, but using the camera feature I can see the translation immediately by placing my camera over the ingredient list.
Checking the availability and allowance of medications abroad
As the parent of a child with severe food allergies, having at least one Epipen as well as some sort of antihistamine with me is a must at all times. However, when moving abroad, certain medications or specific brand names are not always available. In our case, while epinephrine is available to use in Mexico by a physician, the actual Epipen auto-injector isn’t available for our own use.
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That being said, I made sure to visit his allergist and pediatrician months ahead of time to ensure I had enough on hand to carry with us. I also did my research online to learn what types of medications are available in Mexico so that I can go to the local pharmacy and stock up as needed. While it would be nice to just pack all of our allergy medications into our luggage and head to the airport, I also had to check the country laws to see what medications were allowed to bring across the border. It turns out that some are not allowed without being clearly marked as a physician’s prescription, while others were not allowed at all. Fortunately, I had no problems bringing my son’s medications over in our checked luggage.
Research on popular local foods and cuisines
While I’d love to enjoy the many delicious food stands and restaurants that exist on just about every corner in Mexico, I have to be incredibly mindful of my son’s food allergies and the possibilities of cross-contamination with those items. Prior to moving abroad, I made sure to research what foods the area was known for and what the ingredients were. Prior to dining at a restaurant, I look up their menu to learn what items are served and what our options are. It turns out that many local delicacies include the allergens he needs to avoid.
As a result, restaurants have offered to make completely new meals off the menu to accommodate my son’s food allergies. Many times, the meals that they have made have been more delicious than what is already offered on the menu!
When it comes to his school lunches, although the staff has been made well aware of his allergies, his meals are packed from home every single day. I attach a copy of the allergy translation card to his backpack so that he can show it to someone if a new food is offered or brought into the room.
While living abroad with severe food allergies is a challenge, it has only become easier as we develop our list of “go-to” restaurants and meals. I’ve learned that there’s no reason to fear food allergies whether traveling or completely moving abroad-- it just takes a little extra research and advance preparation.
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