Decide on the venue you wish to visit
This may be decided by acceptance of an invitation from the local surgeon overseas or by personal preference and knowledge of a need for help in the locality. Plan well ahead and ensure that your funding, documentation and timetable for the visit are organised well in advance of the trip.
On the first visit to a new centre it may be better to go alone. We would not advise going to a private hospital although there are better facilities in the private sector and good teaching possibilities. We think, however, Urolink's efforts should concentrate on the public/teaching and missionary hospitals.
The documents you will require
Visa - variable, check with the relevant embassy. In order to get a visa, the country may need evidence that you have bought your return ticket and that you have enough funds to sustain yourselves in that country (e.g. Nigeria) so they may request the last page of your (solvent!) bank statement. This we find risible!
Work permit - if you wish to operate, you will need a local work permit. Check with the local surgeon; he/she will need to arrange this for you and will require the following: a curriculum vitae, letter of invitation stating duration of stay, usual photograph, the last page of a passport and a certificate of good standing from the GMC (c.£40). You may also be asked for confirmation of your hepatitis and HIV status.
Return flight tickets - consultants are usually self-funding. For SpRs, there are grants available; see the the appropriate section on this website and apply well in advance for an award.
Planning your length of stay
First visit - In order to make the journey worthwhile, go for one to two weeks. You may or may not wish to operate on the first visit until you know the local operating conditions. If you do, check what equipment they have i.e. working light sources, working diathermy machines and leads, endoscopes with working telescopes especially optical urethrotomes and stone punches. If these are not available then you will need to take supplies with you. Ru MacDonagh has a supply of endoscopes, as the Urolink equipment "quartermaster", and Christine Evans has good contacts in the instrumentation industry.
Return visits - This is usually easier to organise; communication is almost invariably by e-mail. If you are taking a party of surgeons for one to two weeks operating and lecturing, an advance party one week prior to the main activity is advisable. One SpR or consultant will allow for good selection of cases and help with the organisation locally.
Many countries need equipment and it is better in most cases to carry the equipment with you, if it is not too heavy; otherwise send it by air freight. Fill all of the gaps between instruments with sutures, catheters etc. Make a list of the cargo and its approximate value in a letter on official notepaper, stating it has been donated, with the most important-looking signature you can obtain e.g. the Chief Executive of your Trust.
You will need to negotiate import duty with the customs at your destination but your host, with local knowledge, language and a cash donation, will assist you. If you send him/her the list of equipment you are bringing, negotiations with customs could possibly take place before your arrival.
Check the cost of excess baggage before you depart from your home airport and try to arrange charitable status charging with the airline. Costs have recently escalated and are currently about £23 per kilo.
Organisations such as International Health Partners can provide you with drugs to take with you whilst abroad.