Health Care Abroad

Embarking on an international journey is an exhilarating adventure, full of new experiences, cultures, and the inevitable stories to tell. But amidst the excitement, it’s crucial to consider one aspect that often gets sidelined until it’s urgently needed: health care. Navigating health care issues while traveling internationally can be a lot more confusing than trying to order a meal in a language you don’t speak. Further, decisions and considerations made during an emergency are often fraught with the additional burden of the emotions that attend traumatic events. Planning ahead, as always, is highly recommended.

Imagine this: you’re exploring the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu or the bustling streets of Tokyo when suddenly, you need medical attention. Panic sets in. The good news is that help is not as far away as you might think. The U.S. State Department can help you locate medical services, inform your loved ones (with your permission, of course), and even assist in transferring funds. They won’t pay your medical bills – that’s on you. But your preparations should start long before you need assistance.

Before you jet off, there’s a critical question you need to ask: does my health insurance cover me abroad? Carry your insurance card after definitively determining that your medical insurance will cover you abroad. For senior citizens, Medicare’s stance on international coverage is akin to a strict parent: mostly no, but sometimes, reluctantly, yes. Medicare usually doesn’t cover health care while you’re traveling outside the U.S. There are some exceptions, including some cases where Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) may pay for services that you get on board a ship within the territorial waters adjoining the land areas of the U.S. However, Medicare won’t pay for health care services you get when a ship is more than 6 hours away from a U.S. port. Some Medigap policies cover services that Original Medicare doesn’t cover, like emergency medical care when you travel outside the U.S. It’s a good idea to check with Medicare to navigate the tricky waters of foreign medical coverage with private Medicare supplement plans.

A woman walks through a hospital with a broken arm

Travel insurance is an expense no one wants to pay except those who have failed to do so and then needed it. Succinctly put, travel insurance containing good travel medical coverage is a must. Remember that travel insurance does not always provide travel medical insurance. One guards your trip investment, covering lost luggage and canceled flights. The other is your health guardian angel abroad, covering medical expenses. Knowing the difference can save you from a world of financial pain. Need a doctor or hospital while abroad? Most medical travel insurance companies provide ways to contact and engage a medical professional at your destination. However, especially in our post-Covid era, recognize the possibility of becoming ill in your destination and being unable to travel for several days or a week. The additional cost of airline ticket changes and hotel room nights can quickly add up. Finally, determine if your travel insurance is primary or secondary and if they pay directly to the foreign doctor or hospital or reimburse you for your medical expenses. Many travel insurance companies now provide coverage for such an event. A word to the wise: A medical emergency or care due to intoxication or drugs are commonly not covered.

A doctor speaks with a patient

Traveling with medications is like carrying a delicate ecosystem in your suitcase. Bring ample supplies, a letter from your doctor, and ensure your meds are in their original, labeled containers. Remember, some countries have strict drug laws, so check to be certain your medications are welcome guests. Also, make sure you’re in the know about which shots you need by checking the country information and getting the scoop from the CDC and WHO. It’s not just about being allowed in; it’s about staying healthy while you explore.

Taking care of your health while traveling is a part of the journey. It’s about being prepared, staying informed, and embracing the adventure, all while keeping safety in mind. So, as you pack your bags, make sure you’re also packing the knowledge and preparation you need to keep your health on track, no matter where your travels take you. With a bit of planning and awareness, you can ensure that your health is protected, leaving you free to explore the world with peace of mind.