Does My Health Insurance Cover International Travel?

Passport on a blue suitcase

Planning an international trip is an exciting experience. Where to go? What to do? Where to stay? However, overlooking vital questions about safety, logistics, and money, is a mistake.

One critical question you must ask – Will my health insurance cover me? Like most things in personal finance, it depends. I’ve laid out the different scenarios below for your review.

Pre-Medicare:

If you are too young for Medicare, you likely have a policy through your employer, the Health Insurance Marketplace, or a private insurance company. Each policy will be different, so I recommend locating your policy documents to review and your insurance company’s customer service number to investigate any questions you may have.

Emergencies:

You should be covered for medical emergencies in another country. However, you must check with your insurance company before you leave to verify. Even if you’re covered, there will most likely be differences between receiving care at home and internationally.

Check your policy for exclusions based on travel destination or activity. If you plan to go skydiving in a war-torn country, a standard health insurance policy will not cover you. Also, check for any additional exclusions that may be contained in your policy.

Your insurance provider will want to be contacted as soon as possible by you or a travel companion if there is an emergency. Often within the first 24 hours, so carry their number with you.

Expect to pay for emergency services out of pocket in a foreign country. Your insurance company will then reimburse you for all covered expenses at a later date.

If you are taking an extended international trip, check how long your coverage will last. It will not be an infinite amount of time. A quick look at my health insurance policy shows coverage for the first 90 days of travel.

If your health insurance coverage is inadequate in any area, add supplemental insurance. If you have a travel credit card, it may offer some coverage. As always, read the fine print.

You can also buy a separate travel health insurance policy. Decide whether you need a primary or a supplemental plan and for how long you will need it. Insurance can be purchased for a single trip, multiple trips, or on a continuous basis. Before buying, check for the same exclusions discussed earlier. Some policies cover pre-existing conditions, and some do not. You can decide whether this is important to you, but make sure the policy’s terms meet your needs. Also, if you’re concerned about pandemics, make sure they are covered.

If you want to compare travel insurance plans, the Point’s Guy website has a list of recommended insurance providers that is frequently updated. Shop for policies based on fit, reputation and financial strength of the policy writer, and price.

American Express Travel Insurance has a nice feature where you can customize a policy to meet your insurance needs. For example, you can obtain travel health insurance without paying for other types of coverage you may not need, such as trip cancellation or baggage protection.

Non-Emergencies

Your U.S. health insurance will most likely not cover you for non-emergencies in a foreign country. Always check your policy or call your insurance company to get the details.

Even if your health insurance does not cover an in-person visit with a doctor in a non-emergency situation, it might offer telehealth services. These services are convenient and becoming more common, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Telehealth patient consults with a doctor online

An added bonus of using remote services is you can sometimes speak with your doctor back home, who knows your medical history. A U.S. doctor can send a prescription to a foreign country such as Canada in some instances. Or your doctor can recommend a drug where a prescription is not needed.

Each country has its own rules and regulations regarding health care. In some countries, pharmacists can write prescriptions or recommend over-the-counter options. Other alternatives are clinics or a visit with a local doctor. Foreign health care costs can vary widely depending on the country, so always ask about prices before receiving treatment in a non-emergency situation.

If you have a travel insurance plan, the company will have a phone number for you to call. The company will help you receive the medical care you need and make a stressful situation better by organizing your care. It may make your life much easier if your first step is to call your travel insurance provider.

Medicare

Emergencies

Original Medicare will not cover you when traveling outside of the U.S. unless you find yourself in a few narrowly-defined situations. Medicare Advantage plans may offer coverage, but this is dependent on the policy you have – check your paperwork. Some Medigap plans will cover you while traveling during your first 60 days. Be careful, though, as not all Medigap plans offer international coverage, and there is a lifetime limit of $50,000 for those that do. Expect to be reimbursed for emergency care after the fact.

If you need supplemental insurance, there are many travel health insurance options, including ones specifically targeted to seniors using Medicare. The travel insurance alternatives discussed earlier apply here as well. These policies are critical for international travelers that aren’t covered by their regular health insurance or will be traveling past their plan’s cut-off date.  

Non-Emergencies

The non-emergency information discussed previously applies to travelers on Medicare as well. Access to health care becomes even more important the older we get, so Medicare participants should take extra care to ensure there are no holes in their coverage when traveling.  

Medical Evacuation

I want to highlight the importance of medical evacuation insurance. It can be part of a travel insurance policy or can be purchased on its own. Medical evacuation insurance covers the cost of getting you to a medical facility for treatment in the case of an emergency. Some plans also cover transportation home once you are stable, which can be of significant importance when traveling internationally. Make sure the policy you choose includes the exact coverage you want.

A medical evacuation can be expensive. It can run well over $100,000, and the more remote your location, the more costly an evacuation can be.

Yellow medical helicopter

Unlike some less-important parts of travel insurance that might cover inconveniences such as lost luggage or a trip delay, medical evacuation insurance can help you avoid a catastrophic blow to your health and finances.

Medical evacuation insurance is included in some travel insurance policies. It is also a perk offered in some higher-end credit cards marketed to travelers. If neither of these options suits your needs, stand-alone medical evacuation policies are available for either a single trip or on an annual basis.

As with all types of insurance, read the fine print. Make sure you are comfortable with the limits on your medical evacuation policy. Understand the conditions for when it will kick in and who makes the decisions on where you will be transported. Policies often have exclusions on locations, activities, and pre-existing conditions, so be aware of these limitations and find a plan that will cover your unique situation.

Summary

Don’t assume your health insurance will transfer seamlessly to international travel. Fill in any gaps in your coverage through travel health insurance that meets your needs. Don’t forget medical evacuation insurance, especially if you travel to a destination with poor health care facilities or is remote. As always, check each policy you are considering carefully, ensuring you understand the benefits and exclusions that apply.


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    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.

    Does My Health Insurance Cover Travel to Another State?

    Does My Health Insurance Cover Travel to Another State?

    There’s no better way to clear a room than to start talking about health insurance. However, it becomes a little more interesting when your health is at risk, and it’s desperately needed. This article is the first in a series that covers health insurance for travelers. I’ll explore scenarios that range from the occasional U.S. vacationer to long-term ex-pat and explain what type of insurance you’ll need in each instance.

    Vacations in the U.S.

    Pre-Medicare:

    If you are younger than 65 and have health insurance, it will most likely be through your employer, the Health Insurance Marketplace, or a private health insurance company. It’s always smart to check your policy before a vacation to verify you’re covered at your destination. I’ll try not to harp on this recommendation repeatedly, but each insurance policy is different, and you must refer to it for any questions you might have. I know reading through an insurance policy is the equivalent of chewing tinfoil, but it’s necessary. If you want to save time, call your insurance company’s customer service line and ask them any question on your mind – but if you’re paranoid like me, make sure they point you to the wording in your policy that confirms their answers.

    Emergencies:

    The good news is your health insurance policy should cover you in the case of an emergency as long as you are in the U.S. or its territories. HealthCare.gov defines an emergency as – “An illness, injury, symptom or condition so serious that a reasonable person would seek care right away to avoid severe harm.” All health care policies in the U.S. should have similar language.

    Sometimes you might get a surprise bill after receiving emergency treatment out of state.

    Surprise Bill Balance Billing

    This occurs when your insurance company is unwilling to pay the entire amount charged for the services you received. This procedure is called balance billing, and it happens approximately 20% of the time in emergencies. The good news is recent legislation has eliminated it starting in 2022.

    Supplemental travel insurance can be purchased if you are concerned about receiving an unexpected bill before the law changes. You might also be covered for accidents through your travel credit card – check your agreement.

    There are currently state laws that apply to balance billing, and you can find state-by-state information here. Your state may outlaw the practice. If your state lacks legislation and you experience balance billing, there are steps to reduce or eliminate the bill you can find here.

    Non-Emergencies:

    Your coverage area for non-emergency health care will be outlined in your insurance policy. Your service area is often limited to your state or region. These restrictions shouldn’t be a major concern to the occasional traveler worried about being covered in an emergency.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has been a miserable experience, but a silver lining is improved telehealth technology and availability. You may be able to jump on a video conference with your doctor, receive a diagnosis, and even obtain a prescription, depending on state laws. Check with your health care provider for options.

    Medicare:

    Once you turn 65, you’re eligible for Medicare. Luckily, your situation simplifies as long as you remain in the United States.  

    Emergencies:

    Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans will cover you in an emergency throughout the U.S. and its territories. However, if you’re going on a cruise, consider supplemental insurance even if you’re staying in U.S. territorial waters.

    Non-Emergencies:

    As long as you visit doctors and hospitals that accept Medicare, you are covered in the U.S. and its territories for non-emergency care when traveling. Medicare also covers telehealth services if you’d like to work with your doctor from home.

    Summary

    Before traveling, check your health insurance policy and make sure you’re covered in your destination. Any holes in coverage can be filled with a travel insurance policy or potentially with your credit card. It also makes sense to familiarize yourself with the telehealth services offered by your doctor.


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    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.

    What Will Travel Look Like in 2021?

    A pay telescope with New York City in the Background

    Some experts believe there will be a slow recovery as newly-vaccinated travelers cautiously test the waters. I think this outlook is wrong – it’s too conservative if the early signs of recovery gain momentum.

    Wanderlust is building, and I’m feeling it myself. I know I’m tired of staring at the same four walls of my home, with an occasional trip to the grocery store or a restaurant to pick up food.  Armed with a vaccine, I will travel. I’m not alone.

    How do I know others are dreaming of a return to travel? 90% of participants in the Generali Global Assistance Holiday/2021 Travel Sentiment Survey indicated they’d be traveling for leisure in 2021.

    Answering a survey is one thing, but taking action, like booking a cruise, is another. In September, Carnival, one of the world’s largest cruise lines, announced 2021 second-half bookings were at “…the higher end of the historical range…”.

    So how do you prepare for travel in 2021, keeping in mind it could rebound quickly? The first question is…

    Are you comfortable traveling?

    Your comfort level with traveling is going to be fluid this year. It will change depending on whether you’ve received a vaccine or not and the overall number of COVID-19 cases in your area.

    There is no right answer when it comes to comfort level, and it may be even more complicated when making plans with family and friends as there may be varying levels.

    Decisions you will have to make include how to get to your destination? Are you comfortable flying in a small, metal tube packed with hundreds of strangers? Or do you prefer the family sedan packed with your hygienically-challenged teenagers?

    Road Trip - Feet out the window

    Where will you stay? An Airbnb can offer a contactless experience, where you won’t have to interact with employees or other guests. Some hotels and motels provide this option as well.

    Are you comfortable with riding up twenty floors in an elevator with other guests? You can try to catch only empty elevators, but there are no guarantees. Or would you be more comfortable in a motel with direct outdoor access?

    Other factors to consider are cleanliness, price, and amenities that may, or may not, be available. 

    How do you feel about being near large groups of people? A trip to the city will put you in close contact with others, whereas you might not see another soul if you vacation in the country.  

    Stay informed

    Even as the pandemic lessens, there will be areas where it may not be contained. Gauge the safety of any destination and make sure there are no restrictions in place for visitors.

    If you’re traveling internationally, many countries will demand proof you’ve been vaccinated, make quarantines mandatory, and test you on arrival. Make sure you’re aware of the current procedures in place, and then double-check them. An internationally accepted proof of vaccination has not been approved, so make sure you have proof that is acceptable to the countries you plan to visit.

    Put together a detailed itinerary and make sure the places you want to visit are open and operating hours fit your schedule.

    Where do you find all of this information? I’ve put together a resource that is a good starting point, and you can find it here:  Coronavirus Travel Advice – a Resource Guide.

    Book early, but book wisely

    If my prediction of a strong travel rebound is accurate, you’ll want to book as early as possible. Supply will overwhelm demand at some point, and prices are going to rise dramatically. However, this is with the caveat of making sure everything is refundable or covered by insurance through a credit card or separate policy.

    Consider using miles to book your trip. Purchases of airfare and hotels using miles are generally refundable but check the fine print. Another reason to use miles is the travel industry is struggling, and these miles may be devalued.

    Budget

    Has your spending dropped during the pandemic? Travel, dining out, festivals, sporting events, movies in theatres – have all been reduced dramatically in my life.

    Did someone say travel fund? Yes. That was me. It’s time to earmark some of your savings for a vacation if you were not harmed financially during the pandemic.

    I realize many people lost their jobs, and a vacation is the last thing on their minds, regardless of how much spending dropped. It still makes sense to start planning, even if the date is in the distant future.

    The simple act of planning a vacation can make you feel better. And who doesn’t want that right now?

    Photos, glassess and a book spread across a map - planning

    Putting together a detailed itinerary and budgeting for your future vacation will not only make you feel good, but you’ll be financially prepared. While you’re at it, consider tucking a little away into a tax-advantaged retirement account. (The retirement advisor in me couldn’t resist.)

    Do I need travel insurance?

    When you start to book your next trip, there will be a strong desire to buy travel insurance. The coronavirus will weigh heavily on the decision. However, before you load up on insurance you might not need, ask yourself if it makes sense in your situation.

    Only buy insurance on non-refundable expenses. Check to see if big-ticket items like airfare and hotel are refundable and under what conditions. Will you get cash back or a voucher to use another time? Under what circumstances can you receive a refund?

    Read your credit card guide to benefits, or call customer service to see if you might be offered coverage. Credit cards targeted at frequent travelers often will cover parts of your trip.

    Your homeowner’s, auto, and renter’s insurance will also provide coverage in certain situations. Check your policies as they may cover your belongings while traveling

    There’s a big difference between losing some money and risking your health. Make sure you are covered for medical emergencies and medical evacuations above all else.

    After you determine what portions of your trip are already covered, calculate possible losses. You may find out the total you are liable for is minimal. Would you be comfortable losing this amount, and can you sleep at night without insurance? If the answer is yes to both of these questions, you should be able to skip travel insurance.

    For a more in-depth discussion on travel insurance and whether you need it, you can refer to my article: Do I Need Travel Insurance?

    Too soon?

    I debated whether it was a good time to write this article. Too soon? However, I firmly believe we will be traveling again in 2021. I could be wrong, but sometimes it pays to be an optimist when planning for the future. Remember to stay informed, book early, budget wisely, and use travel insurance only when needed. Safe travels!


    Your questions about planning for retirement and travel answered. Where to go? What to do? How to plan it? How to afford it?

    You’ll not only be signed up for my newsletter, but you’ll also get a PDF that shows you exactly what a comprehensive retirement plan for people who love to travel is all about. Thanks for reading!

     

     
     
  • *Privacy policy: your email address is safe, and you will never receive SPAM.

    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.