How to travel with a PA - Peanut Allergy Information

How to travel with a PA

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I am 25 years old and have lived with a peanut allergy my entire life. I am severly allergic to the point I will die if I even have the slightest amount of a peanut (without immidiate medical attention).

However I am a frequent traveller and have been to manyt countries. I just want to share some of my tips on how to survive while travelling.

Portugal = Not many nuts in their cooking at all. Even the tradtional portugese custard tart is 100% nut free and tasty. Their English ability is low but if you have a translated card they will help you. I am pretty sure no places use peanut oil.

Spain = Basically like portugal. Watch out for some desserts but other than that its fairly safe.

Germany = Most people speak english and their food doesnt contain nuts. They have many pasteries with nuts but those are easy enough to avoid. I have been able to enjoy nut-free strudels on many occasions. No peanut oil to be found here.

Austria = The same as Germany. In fact at a restaurant on top of the alps my waiter also had a PA and completely understood my situation.

Italy = If you are allergic to pine nuts there might be an issue since pesto is used a lot. But peanut oil and peanuts are rare. However many people speak English (especially in tourist areas) and I had no issues.

Greece = I would eat greek food everyday if I could. There are no nuts or peanut oil in 99% of their dishes. Some desserts use walnuts but those are easy enough to avoid. Also in some areas of Greece english is spoken (Athens, Santorini, Marathon)

Cuba = The food in Cuba isn't that great but it is also nut free. The do not use any peanut oil and I don't even think it exsists on the island (I lived in Cuba for a year).

Dominican Republic = Again things are safe here. No peanut oil used and no nuts in the cooking.

Japan = If you want to go to Asia and have no worry about nuts then Japan is the place to be. I have lived here for almost 3 years and come across peanuts only a few times (and each time it was in a packet not in cooking). Nuts are very expesive here so people don't use it. Peanut oil is never used. Easily the safest place in asia for PA sufferers. If you really want to feel extra safe bring a translated card since no one here speaks English. However they do understand allergies once you get that across. Many Japanese suffer from life-threatening soba allergies (a noodle found in japan). So they will be understanding and cater to your needs. In fact Japan is the best place to get peanut free Chinese food for all the above reasons.

Korea = Is like Japan. Nuts are too expensive so they are not really used. Peanut oil is never used. You do come across nuts and peanuts a bit more often but it is really easy to avoid. Also Koreans speak a lot more english.

Thailand = A lot of peanuts and peanut oil. And no one understand what a peanut allergy is. I basically stuck to western food (which is easy enough to find in Bangkok) and buying and making my own food. If you take the same steps I did you will be fine though. Also some tours I took had some peanut and nut free Thai food (since the tour company understood my allergy).

China = Just got back from China and it was a very difficult trip. Most things have peanuts, peanut oil, or are cross contaminated. Stick to western food if you can. No one understood what a peanut allergy was, and every place used peanut oil, or didnt know what oil they used. Luckily in the major cities you can find enough western places to eat that are safe. But local Chinese cuisine is almsot impossible to eat. Very few people speak English, bring translated cards.

Palau = A great place for scuba diving and a great place for eating. No peanut oil and no nuts. Their food is great and they have a decent super market to get your own food. In Korror they have a very good Indian restaurant that is completly understanding of PA and will provide a safe meal. Also they speak English.

By Food Allergy Assistant on May 11, 2010

Thanks so much for your great insights into international travel with peanut allergy. Lots of helpful info!

By mmg on May 27, 2010

Hi, I appreciated your run down of countries and am sorry your China experience was not as good as some other countries. I travel there quite frequently and have lived in Beijing and Hong Kong without any major problems. I do speak the language though which helps alot. Most Chinese restaurants (especially outside of Hong Kong and Guangzhou) do not use peanut oil because it is too expensive. Most restaurants use something called salatyou which basically means vegetable oil. Some places use lard or soy oil. Also, many restaurants are now beginning to understand food allergies. I sometimes am asked before I even order if I have a food allergy. Of course, as in any third world country, you want to stay away from the small food shacks and street stalls-this is where I have run into problems with my food allergies. If you or anyone else has any questions about China I would be happy to answer them. I have lived in Beijing and Hong Kong off and on since the early 90's and have traveled extensively throughout China. I am allergic to most tree nuts, peanuts, egg and am a vegetarian. If I can make it work in China many people on this board most likely can as well!

By Zachnunes on Jun 25, 2010

Yeah I bet speaking the language would help. And don't worry I won't let my experience hinder me from seeing China again (I loved my trip).

Every place I went to I showed them a Selectwisely card that was in perfect mainland Chinese (I had a Chinese friend double check it). They still had no clue what I was asking or refused to even tell me what oil they used. Also many places had a peanut dish and would cook it in the same pan as everything else. I am sure if you speak Chinese they would be much more accomidating to you.

Basically the attitude I got was "this guy is too much trouble to deal with."

By eager traveller on Aug 10, 2010

Your advice is very helpful! But I am looking to travel to thailand and SE asia, and suffer from a very severe life threatening peanut-nut allergy, much like your allergy. I am getting mixed signs about whether or not its a safe idea for me to go. I wont be staying at a hotel, I will be back packing so making my own meals will be difficult. Im just wondering if it`s a wise decision for me to go, and know that the hospitals and medical system over there is not up to canadas standards and hospitals are pretty hard to come by. If i underwent a reaction i would need to get to a hospital within 15 minutes of taking my epipen or i will die...i would really love to go and not let my allergy hold me back, but just dont know if its a wise decision.

By Zachnunes on Jun 27, 2010

Ok here is the rundown with Japan. I'll cover everything.

Language - Japan has pretty horrible english skills (especially outside tourist locations). However a select wisely car or something translating your needs will go over perfectly. The understand allergies as many people in Japan suffer from certain seafood and soba (japanese noodle) allergies.

Shellfish - They love their shelfish here. But it is easy to avoid. It is never hidden. My sister-in-law has a severe shellfish allergy and when she visited us there were 0 issues.

Nuts - Japanese don't use nuts. VERY rare and only in certain desserts (almonds) and one salad (peanut salad which is again rare). Been here 3 years, eat local food all the time been across nuts maybe only like 10 times (and all those time were obvious). Peanut oil is never ever ever ever used. Seasame Seed and soy beans are used a lot don'y know how you react to those. Most PA suffers are fine with those.

Vegetarian - This is going to be the most difficult. You can find some good tofu places, but every single meal has meat (typical japanese meal is rice, meat, vegetable all seperated). And you have to stress that fish is a meat (some japanese only consider livestock meat). They do understand vegetarians but I have never met a Japanese vegetarian. However I do know people who are even vegan and survive fine here. Just be careful and if you can make your own food.

With that said you will LOVE Japan. Where are you going? I have been all over this country and would be happy to give you some travel tips.

By mmg on Jun 26, 2010

Next time you head towards China do contact me. I will take you out for some real Chinese food. Cross contamination is an issue but I have never really had a major problem with it. You just ask them to scrub out the pan or use a fresh pan. It is also possible that your allergy is worse than mine. You state that one bite of peanut for you is a life threatening issue. I have eaten peanut without suffering from breathing or facial swelling issues. It has made me very sick but not that sick. Also, the language barrier might have something to do with it. Many people in China will give up rather quickly in order to "save face" if they don't understand. This is much less of a problem in major cities and small cities on the backpacker circuit. I also carry select wisely cards in China (I ask the waitress to take it back to the chef) and had no issues with its use. In fact, I ran into many people interested and eager to learn why I was carrying these cards. My main complaint about China are the number of bars that hand out peanuts like they are candy.

Not saying your experience didn't happen-obviously it did and I am sorry about that. I really hope I can meet you someday in China and help make your experience a more positive one food eating wise. One place for people to ease into eating local food in China is a place called Black Sesame Kitchen. It is run by an American born Chinese woman and she not only speaks perfect English but is very willing to cater to people with food allergies.

I would like to ask you a question about Japan. I am going there for the first time this fall and do not speak the language. How hard is it to eat the local food with a nut and shellfish allergy? I am also a vegetarian. This makes life in China easier but would it make it more difficult in Japan? Any tips you could send my way when you have time would be great! Also, I always assumed Thailand would be off limits for me. What tour group do you recommend?

Thank you, mmg

By Elldale on Jul 4, 2010

What a great summary- I'll copy & save it for future travels for my daughter. Have you been to France or Belgium or the Netherlands by chance? We're trying to choose a holiday & I think France looks very difficult PA wise, wondering about the others.

By rpb on Jul 10, 2010

Hey mmg,

Although I live in Shanghai, my family will be coming to visit my fiancee and I in Hong Kong this autumn. I have no allergies myself, but my dad is severely allergic to peanuts. When they came to visit me in mainland China a few years ago, we limited ourselves to eating western food the entire trip, just to play on the safe side. In Shanghai it wasn't so much a problem since there are many great foreign-owned restaurants that understand the severity of allergies and are willing to substitute ingredients to accommodate it (this however is still uncommon outside of Shanghai and Beijing).

My dad admitted later on that he was a bit disappointed that he didn't get the chance to try more local cuisine that trip. So this time, I was hoping to take him to some of my favourite Cantonese restos in HK. I'm sure that like Shanghai, many of the high-end Chinese restaurants will be accommodating, but I'm sure they don't want to be spending this kind of $$$ every night.

Having lived in HK, can you suggest any Chinese restaurants that have a decent selection of peanut-free dishes or are willing to substitute peanut oil with another type? What's been your experience at some of HK's mid-range chinese restos (ie, Crystal Jade, etc.)?

Thank you very much in advance.

By Zachnunes on Jul 14, 2010

I have not been to those particular European countries, but my wife has. I know in all those places their English is very good so you can always get your message across. and getting a simple translated card would also be pretty safe.

Personally just go and stress how sever your allergy is. Never let your PA restrict you. Be safe and you will be fine. If I can survive, Thailand, Cambodia (which had peanuts in the phone booths), and China witth PA you can easily do Europe.

By Gus Mommy on Jul 15, 2010

I have family in Sweden and have travel there with my son, PA. They are following the trend in the US with labeling possible contamination. And as stated before, their English is very good, so communitcation shouldn't be too much of an issue.

By Tayloro on Oct 3, 2011

Can anyone provide me some current advice on Thailand and Cambodia? I have v.severe peanut allergy and will be going to both countries travelling in December. Therefore I will not have places to cook my own food. Has anyone with severe allergy survived thailand after eating thai food and explaining allergy through allergy translation card? Any help/advice would be massively appreciated! Do the translation cards get taken seriously?

By PABlondie on Jan 1, 2012

has anyone traveld to the bahamhas or jamaica and had a good expirence?

By tamingofthesue on Jan 7, 2012

Has anyone been to Switerland?

By Mdmarquart on Sep 13, 2012

I'm wondering if traveling to the Dominican is safe for nut allergies.