Understand Your Medical Coverage When Traveling Abroad

Planning for an international trip is a chore, but in the midst of your scheduling take time to consider the possibility of medical emergencies. If you or a loved one catch a disease or become seriously injured in another country, what medical options do you have? Will your insurance company cover treatment abroad? By understanding how medical coverage works on an international level, you can be prepared for the unexpected.

Health Insurance Abroad: A Few Facts

1. There are plenty of horror stories about medical emergencies abroad, but the truth is that medical expenses are different in every country, and will affect you differently depending on your personal health plan. Here are a few useful bits of information to help you sort through the international health care maze.

2. Health insurance companies are not required to extend your benefits to other countries. Only some plans offer any international protection.

3. Plans with international coverage typically have a “customary and reasonable” caveat. If you are seriously injured and incur high medical costs, insurance will not pay them.

4. “Customary and reasonable” also applies to your activities. If you are hurt climbing, skydiving, parasailing, or scuba-diving, the injuries may not be covered no matter their severity.

5. If you travel to more remote areas, insurance will be useless because doctors and hospitals take only cash.

6. In countries with social healthcare (such as many European countries have) or countries where you are not directly insured, you may be denied certain medical services.

7. If you need a medical evacuation, insurance companies will not typically cover it, which could lead to a bill of as much as $100,000 for you to pay, treatment aside.

8. Programs like Medicaid and Social Security do not pay for any medical costs outside of the United States.

Health Plan Options When Traveling

1. An expanded health plan. Call your insurance company and ask for details about your current plan and what it will cover when it comes to international travel. If you plan far enough ahead, you may be able to update your policy or adjust it slightly in order to incorporate coverage abroad in the form of supplemental insurance. If your options are more limited, you can at least obtain valuable information on where to seek medical care in the countries you will be visiting. Many insurance companies have resources of information savvy travelers.

2. Travel health insurance. Travel health insurance (not to be confused with normal travel insurance) offers temporary coverage for medical emergencies while you are traveling. This is an independent policy offered by many travel agencies and insurance companies. While expensive, it is an ideal option for an extended trip. There are minimum and maximum coverage times, with the minimum time frame usually around three months.

3. Carry Emergency Cash. While this method is risky for several reasons, it may be the only reasonable preparation for emergencies in some cases. If you are planning a journey into areas without an advanced healthcare system in place, then insurance will be useless, and you will need to pay cash ahead of time for treatment.

More Resources:

Travel.State.gov: Medical Information for Americans Abroad

Travel Insurance Review: Travel Medical Insurance

FPA Net: Check Your Medical Coverage When Traveling Abroad

CNN: Will Your Health Plan Cover You Overseas?

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