Healthcare When Traveling Abroad

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Many international travelers may be surprised to learn that they have no health insurance coverage for illnesses or injuries that must be treated during their trip abroad. In particular, the U.S. Social Security Medicare program does not provide any coverage for hospital or medical costs incurred outside of the United States. Individual health insurance policies vary in the amount, if any, of the costs they will reimburse for medical services in other countries. While some companies do cover a portion of physician and hospital costs abroad, it is rare for an insurer to pay for medical evacuation back to the United States or to a nearby country with a developed health care system.

The staff at U.S. consulates throughout the world can help traveling Americans locate health care providers and facilities, contact family members in the U.S., and assist with the wire transfer of funds from the U.S. Even if your insurance company will cover part of the charges of your medical care abroad, you will likely need to pay the charges yourself at the time of service and file claims for reimbursement when you return home.

For those who do not have medical coverage when traveling abroad, it is possible to purchase travel insurance that not only covers health care needs while abroad, but also pays for medical evacuation should you need to return to the U.S. for treatment. Many travel agencies specializing in international travel can give you information about travel insurance programs. Medical evacuation insurance and travel insurance may also be offered by tour operators at an additional cost. Senior citizens can contact the American Association of Retired Persons for information about foreign medical care coverage with Medicare supplement plans. The U.S. State Department Web site (http://travel.state.gov) also contains a list of companies that offer travel insurance.

To ensure that you receive needed health care when traveling abroad, before your trip, don't forget to:

  1. Confirm with your insurance company the extent of your coverage while abroad and the procedure for submitting claims for international health care expenses.

  2. Decide whether you need a travel insurance and/or medical evacuation insurance policy.

  3. Write down the addresses and telephone numbers of U.S. consulates in the countries you'll be visiting.

  4. Bring a letter from your doctor if you are being treated for a chronic condition, listing your diagnosis and current medications (including the generic names for the drugs and dosage, since brand names vary by country).

  5. Always bring your insurance card and a claim form information and phone numbers, whether you're using your individual insurance policy or a travel insurance policy.

  6. Be sure the information in your passport about whom to contact in an emergency is correct and up-to-date.

It might also be helpful to research the name of the hospitals in the areas you will be traveling (including countries where you have lay overs). Some countries have government run hospitals and private hospitals. Care at facilities may vary, so it may be wise to determine a hospital you would prefer to be taken to in the event of a medical emergency. Some countries may also have hospitals that are more able to care for tourists (the staff may speak English).

For additional information please visit the Travel Medicine Center.

REFERENCE: U.S. Department of State. (http://travel.state.gov) Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad.


Last Editorial Review: 6/25/2012



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