Top Tips for Studying Abroad with Food Allergies

Studying abroad for a semester or longer with food allergies can seem daunting, especially if it’s somewhere with a different language. We asked student Annette, who has food allergies and studied abroad, to share her tips and advice for anyone in a similar situation.

Nuts, gluten, dairy, shellfish… these might be considered everyday ingredients for some people, but for those with allergies, they have a very different meaning especially when studying abroad. It is common to feel apprehensive about what you will be able to eat and where you can eat out in your new city, so here are some tips that might help:

What to bring when studying abroad

One of the worst things you can do when studying abroad with food allergies is waiting until you are in the new country to worry about it. There are several things you can bring with you to prepare:
•    If you do not speak the primary language of the country, you should make a notecard that explains your allergy in the native language. You can also download an app, such as Google Translate, to do the same when explaining to waiters or shop assistants in supermarkets. For more tips, check out our blog post about how to travel without getting lost in translation.
•     You can pack some items that you know are safe when moving in. Whether that’s protein bars or any other dried goods that you are used to eating. One thing you need to check first is whether the food can be taken into your destination country. It’s a good back-up option whilst you are getting used to the new environment.

Eating out

Eating good food is a major part of going to foreign places, and no one wants their allergies to get in the way of experiencing that. So, here are some things to keep in mind when eating at restaurants:
•    Carefully read the menus. In most big cities, the menu will contain allergen information. This can be depicted with words, symbols, or asterisks, so take care and pay attention! Also, use different translation apps which can help you understand the menu a bit better – but remember whilst they are helpful they might not be 100% accurate.
•    Ask the waiter. You are most likely used to doing this at home, so don’t let your habits change in a foreign country. Waiters can often tell you if an item contains your allergen or they can recommend other things for you.
•    Avoid eating anything that you or the waiter are unsure about. Sometimes you will ask a waiter about the ingredients, and they will seem uncertain in their answer. If they do not seem like a credible source of information, do not trust them as you wouldn’t do at home!

Safe options for people with food allergies

With something as serious as a food allergy, it is essential to have some safe options that you can always fall back upon. Here are some great ideas to get you started:
•    Go to chain restaurants. This may seem obvious, but if you are ever unsure of where to eat, locating somewhere you know is safe, like McDonald’s or Chipotle, can be a lifesaver for those early days.
•    Have three or four meals that you know how to make from scratch. That way you can ensure you know what you’re eating.
•    In the case that you do consume something you are allergic to, make sure that the people you eat with know what to do – such as new housemates. They should know where you keep your Epi-pen, what number to call, and anything else you feel they should know in case of an emergency.

There are so many amazing flavours and culinary experiences around the world, but taking some steps to prepare before you go study abroad can help you feel more comfortable. If you already know you want to study in a foreign country, offers great student rooms all over the world.

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