Tips for Traveling Out-of-State for Gender-Affirming Surgery
Many trans and non-binary folks do not receive gender-affirming surgery in our local communities, whether it's because there aren't experienced/competent surgeons nearby, or because we desire a specific provider's techniques or results, or any other valid reason.
If you've selected an out-of-state surgeon, you'll likely have a lot of questions, such as "How will I get there? How much will it cost? When will it be safe to travel after surgery? Who can travel and stay with me?"
No surgery is totally risk-free, and traveling itself can add additional stress. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you plan.
In the United States, health insurance is regulated by state law, and each state differs from its neighbors. Your home state's regulations may be different from that of your destination's.
If you have health insurance, be sure to check with them to see if they cover any of the costs associated with surgery. If you're traveling because there are no in-network providers who specialize in trans healthcare or the type of surgery you need, your plan may cover your out-of-network treatment as if it were in-network.
How to Approach Getting Insurance Coverage for a Trans Surgery—our guide to gathering information from both your provider and your health insurance plan—has some sample language and questions to help get you started.
You'll also want to find out how your surgery may affect your coverage in the future.
Lodging & accommodations
Just like if you were traveling internationally for a gender-affirming surgery, the biggest tip here is to plan thoroughly and well in advance, especially around lodging.
Most people need someone to help them during the first few days after surgery. You'll need to make sure you have a plan for who will travel with you to take care of you immediately following surgery, and in the days and weeks that follow. Depending on your situation, this might be a close friend or family member, it might be a hired care provider, or it might be several people at different times during your recovery. They'll check you out of the surgical center, help get you around, assist with meals and medication, and ensure you're following all of your post-op recommendations to get the best results and the quickest recovery.
Consider who will care for you and begin those conversations early. They may need to take time off from work, or plan and budget for their own travel arrangements.
If you have close friends or family that live nearby, you may want to see about staying with them immediately after surgery. If not, ask your surgeon's office what they recommend to other patients traveling from out-of-town, or consider booking a hotel near the surgery center or surgeon's office.
If traveling by air, make sure you have a plan for getting to and from the airport, as well as getting to and from your appointments during your stay. After surgery, you will likely not be able to drive yourself, so it is essential to plan your departure from the surgery center in advance by either having someone to drive you or researching the availability and cost of rideshares or taxis.
Talk with your surgeon to see how long after surgery you'll need to wait before you can fly back home, as well as ways to make the return flight more comfortable for you.
For many trans folks, air travel in general is stressful, especially if your name and/or gender marker does not match that of your passport. If you are planning to change documentation before traveling (name and/or gender marker), give yourself several months to submit paperwork and wait for approval. (This helpful guide helps prepare you for air travel, covering topics like IDs, airport body scanners, pat-downs, and more.)
If traveling by car, you'll need to either book a rental car or make sure your personal vehicle is ready for the road.
Pillows and cozy blankets can make a long drive far more comfortable, especially as you're recovering. Check your route ahead of time to plan in rest stops or places you can take a break to move around, and ask your surgeon's office what they recommend.
It is important to eat healthy meals leading up to and following your surgery, so your body can recover more quickly and easily. Make sure you have a plan for what you will eat and drink in the days leading up to your surgery, and are able to pack those items or purchase them while traveling. Your surgeon's office can provide you with a recommended diet and nutrition plan, which will likely contain low-sodium and easy-to-digest foods.
Once you are out of the hospital or surgical center, you and/or the person helping you will need to get and prepare your own food. Staying in hotels or room shares that have a kitchen, kitchenette, or fridge is a good way to ensure you can keep healthy food on hand during your recovery. You may also to research nearby restaurants and delivery options ahead of time.
Remember that anesthesia and pain medication can sometimes make eating less appealing, so choose a variety of options, including foods you know work well for you when you feel nauseous.
Medications & supplies
Make sure you pack all of your post-op surgical supplies and medications packed and ready to go. This also includes any regular daily medication or supplements you take, as well as any supplies for your gender-affirming hormone therapy (if applicable.)
Check your surgeon’s office for directions about taking supplements, vitamins, and medications, as sometimes there are requirements about their use before, during, or after surgery.
Surgeons often provide a list of recommended supplies prior to your procedure. Check what will be provided by the surgical center as you leave after the surgery, and what you are responsible for getting yourself. Get all supplies in advance of your surgery so they are waiting for you when you return to the place you'll be recovering.
Planning for when you arrive
If your doctor needs to prescribe additional pain medication or nausea medication or you need additional bandages or supplies, you’ll want to know where the closest pharmacies, grocery stores, and other services are located, so you can tell the person helping care for you where to go.
Once you have arrived before surgery, schedule in some extra time to check out the local area.
Continuing care when you return home
In the event you have a surgical complication after your return, you may be far away from the surgeon who performed your surgery, which may make necessary treatments more complicated or expensive. Discuss with your surgeon ahead of time whether or not you'd have to travel back in the event of a complication.
When you seek care with healthcare professionals in your area, it may mean you'll have to disclose your trans/non-binary status. And, depending on where you live, those medical providers may not be trans-affirming. Be sure to make a plan for when you return home: what providers are competent and safe for you to see in the event you need follow-up care?
Medical issues can arise several years after your surgery has been completed. Once post-op, ask your your surgeon's office for complete documentation of all the medical care you received.
- Unclockable: "Traveling While Trans: Here Are 9 Ways to Make Air Travel Less Stressful"
- National Center for Transgender Equality: Know Your Rights – Healthcare
- National Center for Transgender Equality: Know Your Rights – Airport Security
- National Center for Transgender Equality: Know Your Rights – Passports
- GLAD: "Trans ID Project: Updating your passport"
- Point of Pride: Traveling for Gender-Affirming Surgery in Another Country: Things to consider
- Point of Pride: How to Approach Getting Insurance Coverage for a Trans Surgery
Written by Point of Pride
Point of Pride provides financial aid and direct support to trans folks in need of health and wellness care.