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Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside the US

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Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside the US

Million Mile SecretsMedical Coverage While Traveling Outside the USMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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 While Traveling Outside The US
Always Travel With Plans for Unexpected Emergencies

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.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Medical Insurance Is Not One Size Fits All

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.”

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Most Plans Do Not Cover Non-Emergency Care 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:

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.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Call Your Health Insurance Company to Verify Coverage Prior to Travel Outside the US

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.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Simply Enter Your Destination and Trip Dates

Step 2 – Input the ages of all travelers you’re looking to insure and their place of residence.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Enter the Ages and Residences of the Travelers

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

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Enter the Trip Cost

The results will show you the available plans to purchase for your trip including supplemental medical policies, comprehensive plans, and evacuation coverage.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
You Can Filter Results to View Only Medical Related Plans

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
  • X-ray(s)
  • 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.

Medical Coverage While Traveling Outside The US
Read the Fine Print to Make Sure You Have the Appropriate Travel Insurance When Leaving the US

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.

Pre-Existing Conditions

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

Link:   How You Can Save Money on 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!

Bottom Line

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!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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When it comes to evacuation, not all are the same either. Some require you to be transported to the closest “acceptable” facility. This is more typical. One outlier, though I’m sure there are many, is medjet assist. They don’t do health insurance, just medevac and a few concierge services, but if you are > 150 mi from home and admitted to a hospital they will transport you to a hospital of your choice –this could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I’ve found my premium to be worthwhile. Customer service has been excellent as well-once they even called out of the blue several months into a policy year to let me know that they’d made a mistake and I qualified for a lower rate and they’d be refunding me money. I have no relationship with them other than that I am a physician working in Africa and a happy customer.

When I did a year long trip around the world a few years ago I took out insurance that not only covered most overseas medical expenses, but also provided a booklet of overseas doctors who were trained in the US. I became extremely ill in Kuala Lumpur and had to go to the ER and visit a private doctor. The ER visit, which included getting a private room and getting an IV cost fifty cents. The visit to a private US trained doctor, including the cost of medicines he prescribed, came out to $8.

Please do a comprehensive review of evacuation insurance. Thank you

Also to look out for is buying the “adventure/extreme” sports coverage add on. I was surprised that mountain biking, canoeing and snorkeling were put in this category with base jumping, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and bobsledding. Any way, if you think you might do something outdoors on your trip, depending on the insurance company, it may be considered too extreme and not covered.

I narrowed down my travel health insurance options to World Nomads and IMG Patriot. I ultimately purchased the latter for it’s higher coverage limits of $1,000,000 vs $100,000 and since World Nomads excludes pre-existing conditions over the last 6 months. It was about $40/wk for two people aged 50 and 40. Fortunately, I didn’t end up needing it on a 4 month trip to Asia.