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Specialist Advice — 6 minutes

Travelling with celiac disease: how to be well prepared

How do you say “Does this food contain gluten?” in Portuguese, Hungarian or Chinese?

Celiac disease, intolerance to gluten, sensitivity to gluten or wheat. These are among the many terms used to describe the various symptoms experienced by people who consume gluten. Even though celiac disease is the most severe form of these conditions, the course of action for individuals affected by the disease, including the less severe forms, is the same: avoidance of gluten-containing products. It’s difficult enough at home but imagine the challenges when travelling to a country where the language spoken is neither English nor French, or when your smartphone is running out of battery…

woman eating fruits celiac

Here are a few tips and resources from websites dedicated to celiac disease to help you prepare for your trip.

Before the trip:

Pre-trip preparation taking the necessary precautions is essential to travelling with peace of mind to different countries. There are a number of websites and social groups that can help you prepare for your trip. And don’t hesitate to ask your travel agent for advice.

Countries visited: Finding out in advance about the culinary traditions and dishes offered in the countries you’ll be visiting is a great way to prepare yourself. In addition to general websites, consult the websites of local celiac disease associations to discover the food options available. These groups are often the best references for gluten-free foods in restaurants and grocery stores and can sometimes provide you with good addresses. For individuals with severe celiac disease, it is recommended to select destinations with a satisfactory offering of gluten-free products.

Remember to bring all relevant medications, whether prescription or not.


Most airlines, railways, transit and cruise lines departing from Canada or the United States offer meals adapted to different dietary needs, including gluten-free dishes. It is advisable to specify your needs when making your booking and, ideally, to request written confirmation of your meal requirements. It may also be useful to confirm one last time upon boarding.


It is strongly recommended to always keep dry gluten-free snacks with you, such as rusks, bars, nuts, dried fruit, almonds, seeds, packaged tuna, or dried legumes. A snack can tide you over if no gluten-free option is available when you’re on the move.

Attention: Declare all food taken through customs, even dried foods. Some countries are particularly tough on offenders. It is advisable to have a letter from your doctor about your health condition and the necessity of having gluten-free foods on your person in case of emergency. However, a letter is not necessary in every country.


Most large and medium-sized hotels around the world offer gluten-free food options. If not, it’s a good idea to check that the room you’ve booked has a kitchenette or microwave and a small refrigerator so you can prepare and store food. For maximum control over your meals, opt for Airbnb-style accommodations offering all the necessary amenities.

If your hotel offers breakfast that includes easily identifiable gluten-free items, it may be a good idea to have a larger, safer breakfast so that you can skip lunch if necessary.


Apps such as “Find Me Gluten Free,” which can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store or Google Play, can show you nearby restaurants serving gluten-free dishes in over 125 countries—from Albania to Zimbabwe and over to the Fiji Islands.

When eating in restaurants, opt for à la carte menus rather than all-inclusive packages. There is a risk of cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods if you go for the buffet. À la carte choices offer a more personalized dining experience, and you will be better able to explain your situation to restaurant staff.

The site allows you to download restaurant cards in some 60 languages to help you communicate your specific dietary needs.

The card details the following (English version):

“English Gluten Free Restaurant Card”

“I have an illness called Celiac Disease and have to follow a strict gluten free diet.”

“I may therefore become very ill if I eat food containing flour or grains of wheat, rye, barley and oats.”

“Does this food contain flour or grains of wheat, rye, barley or oats? If you are at all uncertain about what the food contains, please tell me.”

“I can eat food containing rice, maize, potatoes, all kinds of vegetables and fruit, eggs, cheese, milk, meat and fish–as long as they are not cooked with wheat flour, batter, breadcrumbs or sauce.”

Thank you for your help. (© Copyright Celiac

Thanks to the many tools and modern means of communication available virtually throughout the world, it is now easier than ever for people suffering from gluten or wheat intolerance or sensitivity, or even from celiac disease, to travel under excellent conditions. Bon voyage!

A blood test to diagnose celiac disease

Unlike less severe forms of enteropathy or gluten sensitivity, celiac disease is characterized by damage to the wall of the intestine following the ingestion of gluten. These lesions do not necessarily manifest themselves as intestinal problems (abdominal pain, diarrhea, occasional constipation, etc.), but result in problems with food absorption, sometimes severe, especially when diagnosed late (stunted growth in children, anemia, osteoporosis, etc.).

Preliminary diagnosis

The preliminary diagnosis of celiac disease is made by measuring the levels of various antibodies in the blood that are produced in response to tissue damage. Among the most useful in detecting celiac disease are the anti-transglutaminase (anti-TG2) antibodies [1]. A negative anti-transglutaminase test result does not rule out symptomatic gluten intolerance other than celiac disease. There is no biological marker to confirm non-celiac forms of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, which remain diagnoses of exclusion.

In celiac disease, the intestinal wall recovers in 6 to 12 months if it is not exposed to gluten. The same holds true for antibody levels, including anti-TG2 antibodies. A gluten-free diet can, therefore, lead to a false-negative result in gluten sensitivity sufferers. Hence, it is advisable to maintain, as much as possible, a gluten-containing diet (equivalent to 4 slices of bread per day) for 4 to 6 weeks prior to the test.

Final diagnosis

The presence of characteristic lesions on a biopsy of the small intestine confirms the final diagnosis. As with antibody levels, the biopsy of the small intestine must be taken before gluten is discontinued.