Using miles and points to travel to a foreign destination is fun and exciting. And careful planning can ensure your international trip is a success!
But sometimes unexpected illness or accidents happen while abroad. Being prepared for these unlikely events is just as important as planning your flights and accommodations! Health and safety are most important when traveling the world.
Medical coverage can be a complicated subject. And costs for treatment can be significant! I’ll explain some medical coverage options to consider while traveling abroad.
Thanks to Million Mile Secrets reader John C. for suggesting this topic!
US Medical Benefits While Traveling Abroad
Depending on your age and employment status, you might be covered under a private employer health insurance plan. Or if you are 65 years of age you might use Medicare, a public government health program. Meanwhile, children (under age 26) can be covered on their parents benefits.
But how do these plans work while traveling?
Every person’s coverage can be different. For example, private health insurance plans often exclude “non-emergency care when traveling outside the US.”
For folks who have Medicare coverage while traveling outside the US, emergency and non-emergency care are NOT provided (with few very limited exceptions).
So, what is the difference between emergency and non-emergency?
Emergencies are considered medical conditions that require immediate attention to prevent serious health issues. Emergencies might include:
- Broken bones
- Heart attacks
- High fevers
- Serious allergic reactions (like Emily’s severe fish allergy)
- Severe food poisoning
Non-emergencies include routine visits to a doctor for an annual check-up, ear infection, or cold symptoms.
Before traveling you should contact your health insurance company to verify your international medical benefits. Make sure to ask how medical treatment is paid while outside the country. You may be required to pay out of pocket and seek reimbursement later on.
If you receive medical treatment while traveling, make sure to keep:
- Itemized bill of medical services received
- Copy of medical records
- Proof of payment
- Proof of travel
Good records will make sure you are reimbursed in a timely manner!
Purchase a Supplemental Travel Insurance Policy
Because many US health insurance plans offer limited coverage outside the US, you may consider purchasing a supplemental travel medical insurance policy.
Supplemental policies can be a good idea for:
- Travelers with a history of medical problems
- People traveling outside the country for more than 6 months
- Older travelers insured through Medicare
There are great resources on the web to research supplemental travel insurance policies. I like to use InsureMyTrip to check prices and benefits when traveling outside the US.
InsureMyTrip is easy to use.
Step 1 – Enter the country you will be traveling to and the dates of your trip. If you will be traveling to more than one country, you’ll need a multi-trip policy which you can select at the end of your search.
Step 2 – Input the ages of all travelers you’re looking to insure and their place of residence.
Step 3 – Fill in the total cost of your trip. If you used miles and points, you can enter $0. This section is applicable so you can purchase appropriate Trip Cancellation coverage
The results will show you the available plans to purchase for your trip including supplemental medical policies, comprehensive plans, and evacuation coverage.
Similar to regular health insurance, travel insurance policies are not one-size-fits-all. Pricing and coverage depend on a variety of factors such as:
- Age of the travelers
- Number of travelers
- Length of travel
- Type of coverage
Supplemental medical travel insurance plans can cost less than $10 for a week-long overseas trip.
Or you can spend more for comprehensive plans that include coverage for trip cancellation and trip delays. But remember you get these benefits when you book your trip with certain credit cards.
Before picking your plan, check with the US Department of State. They maintain a list of private companies that provide travel medical insurance while overseas.
What Is Covered With Supplemental Travel Medical Insurance Plans?
Most supplemental medical policies typically cover the following:
- Services of a physician or nurse
- Hospital charges
- Local ambulance services to or from a hospital
- Prosthetic devices such as artificial limbs or artificial teeth
- Lost or forgotten medication
- Emergency dental treatment
Certain plans have limits to how much they will cover. You might be able to pay more upfront for a travel policy and increase the limits. It’s important to research how much coverage is provided by your policy.
One item that is NOT included in all supplemental policies is emergency evacuation coverage. Should you need to be evacuated from your destination back to the US or to another country for treatment, this coverage will cover the transportation expenses..
Evacuation coverage could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll get evacuation coverage when you purchase comprehensive plans and on certain medical plans.
Or you can purchase it separately for ~$100 depending on where you’re going. Check the details of the coverage to see if family members are covered as well.
You can get travel insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition. Some medical travel plans cover you regardless of pre-existing conditions, while others may charge more or require additional paperwork.
It’s important to read how the insurance companies define pre-existing conditions. Most consider a pre-existing condition an illness or medical condition you’ve had for a period of time prior to you purchasing travel insurance.
Before purchasing a plan, make sure to read the details of how the company defines pre-existing conditions and if your plan will cover you.
Is a Supplemental Policy Worth It?
My friend’s aunt and uncle recently purchased a supplemental policy before traveling from the US to Istanbul for a 10-day cruise. Walking off the airplane stairs to board a shuttle bus, my friend’s aunt fell and injured her leg.
They contacted the supplemental insurance company who arranged for an ambulance and interpreters to accompany them on the trip to the local hospital in Istanbul.
She received medical treatment costing ~$2,000 out of pocket. Because they purchased supplemental insurance, they were reimbursed 100% of their medical expenses and were amazed with the level of care they received in a foreign country!
Credit Card Travel Insurance
You’ll get travel insurance when you use certain credit cards to book your trip. Some cards include the following coverage without purchasing separate policies:
- Trip Interruption and Cancellation
- Trip Delays
- Rental Car Coverage
This travel insurance is different from travel medical insurance.
For example, credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, and AMEX Platinum include benefits for travel and emergency assistance services. This includes medical referrals while traveling. But all costs are your responsibility and will not be reimbursed.
This is why a supplemental travel insurance policy is very important!
When traveling outside the US, be prepared for unexpected illnesses or injuries.
Before traveling you should:
- Verify your international health benefits with your current health benefit provider
- Determine your needs while traveling
- Analyze supplemental medical coverage plans
- Purchase a plan from an established company by researching reputable companies provided by the US Department of State
Credit card trip insurance is different than travel medical insurance. Call your credit card company before your trip to see if you’ll have any medical coverage.
Have you purchased supplemental travel insurance before? Share your tips in the comments!