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Travel Outside The United States: Preparations To Make

Health Insurance

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The preparation required depends on the type of health insurance you have. No matter what type you have, look for provisions about medical care outside the U.S. as well as emergency care. For instance, will your insurance pay for a medical evacuation from a remote, resource-poor area to a hospital where you can receive adequate treatment or a flight back home? If ther are gaps, consider travel health insurance.

  • Managed Care If you have an HMO or other managed care coverage, check your policy to learn what you should do if you have a medical problem while you're abroad. If there are questions, call the insurance company.
  • Indemnity Policy (Fee For Service type policy): If you have an indemnity policy, check it to learn what you should do if you have a medical problem while you' are outside the U.S. 
    • Expect that you will have to pay the bill rather than have it billed directly to the insurance company. 
    • Be sure to obtain proof from the medical provider which shows that your use of a foreign medical system was a medical necessity.
    • If there are questions, call the insurance company.
  • Medicare: 
    • Traditional Medicare does not provide any coverage outside the U.S. (except in very limited circumstances near the borders in Canada and Mexico).
    • Medigap policies C through J cover travel emergency coverage outside the U.S. for the first 60 days of any trip. The Medigap benefit covers 80% of emergency care administered outside the country. A $250 deductible and $50,000 lifetime maximum for foreign-travel emergency care apply.
  • Medicare managed care: If you have a Medicare Advantage managed care plan:
    • The plan must pay for emergency care whenever and wherever you need it. An emergency is when you believe that your health is in serious danger. For example, when you have severe pain, a bad injury, or a sudden worsening of illness. 
    • Medicare also requires managed care plans to pay for "urgent care" if you are outside your plan's service area. Urgent care is care you need for a sudden illness or injury that is not a medical emergency.
    • If there are questions, call the insurance company.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid does not provide coverage outside the U.S.

If your health insurance covers outside the United States

At least ask your insurer the following questions. If possible, get the answers in writing.

  • Does this insurance policy cover emergency expenses abroad such as returning me to the United States for treatment if I become seriously ill?
  • Does this insurance cover high-risk activities such as parasailing, mountain climbing, scuba diving and off-roading?
  • Does this policy cover pre-existing conditions?
  • Does the insurance company require pre-authorizations or second opinions before emergency treatment can begin?
  • Does the insurance company guarantee medical payments abroad?
  • Will the insurance company pay foreign hospitals and foreign doctors directly?

If your health insurance does not cover outside of the United States or for the period of time you will be away, consider obtaining health coverage while you travel by one of the following means:

  • Purchase a supplemental health insurance policy which will cover outside the United States. For example, through a company such as International Medical Group, see: offsite link
  • Obtain coverage through travel insurance which does not exclude pre-existing health conditions. As a general matter, such policies need to be purchased within a few weeks after obtaining your ticket.
    • The Bureau of Consular Affairs includes a list of companies that offer travel medical insurance on its web site: offsite link
    • For information about travel insurance post diagnosis, click here.

International SOS operates 21 health clinics and 24 help centers overseas that you can visit. The company also offers online profiles of over 150 countries. It alerts travelers to problems by e-mail or mobile phone. See: offsite link.

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