Does Medicare Cover International Travel?

In this article...
  • Does Medicare cover international travel? Not usually, but there may be some exceptions. Learn how to protect your health and your bank account when traveling.

Accidents and illnesses can occur when you’re traveling, but not all health insurance plans cover international health care, which can leave you with high out-of-pocket costs for essential medical treatment if you fall ill. So does Medicare cover international travel health care costs? Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is no. That’s why it’s important to learn your rights concerning Medicare coverage while abroad so you can protect yourself if an accident or illness occurs. 

Does Medicare Cover International Travel? 

Medicare generally doesn't cover medical costs incurred while traveling internationally, but there are several uncommon exceptions: 

  • You reside in the United States but a foreign hospital capable of treating your condition is closer to your home than the nearest U.S. facility.
  • You experience a medical emergency while located in the United States and a foreign hospital that can treat your condition is closer than the nearest U.S. facility.
  • You experience a medical emergency while traveling by direct route through Canada between Alaska and another U.S. state and a Canadian hospital capable of handling your care is closer than the nearest U.S. facility. 

In these cases, Medicare may cover the cost of a doctor’s care, ambulance transport, dialysis or a medically necessary inpatient hospital stay. Reimbursement is limited to services covered by Original Medicare Parts A and B, as outlined in the plan’s terms. Medicare Part D doesn’t cover prescription drugs purchased outside the United States. 

Do Medicare Advantage Plans Cover International Travel? 

Because Medicare Advantage plans are administered by private insurers, their terms vary widely. MA plans may offer additional coverage for services that aren’t traditionally reimbursed through basic Medicare. This may include a travel benefit. 

Travel benefits, which sometimes include international benefits, are included with certain Medicare Advantage plans, or they may be purchased as an add-on with certain policies. This supplemental coverage is designed to cover beneficiaries, such as snowbirds, who spend extended periods away from home. Plans generally provide coverage for both emergency and nonemergency medical services 

Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer international travel benefits, so be sure to check with your carrier to find out if this option is available with your plan — and if it must be purchased at an extra cost. 

Can Medicare Be Used Outside the United States? 

In addition to the United States, Medicare may be used in any U.S. territory. This includes: 

  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • American Samoa
  • The U.S. Virgin Islands
  • The Northern Mariana Islands 

Medicare Part B may also be used to cover medical services received on a ship if the vessel is located within the territorial waters adjoining land areas of the United States. However, if the ship would have to travel more than six hours to reach a U.S. port, Medicare won’t pay for onboard medical services. 

Do Medigap Plans Cover International Travel? 

Medigap plans are supplemental insurance policies designed to cover the out-of-pocket expenses associated with Medicare, such as copays, coinsurance and deductibles. These plans, which are sold through private insurers, may also provide coverage for medical services or supplies received while traveling outside of the United States if they're not reimbursable through Medicare. 

Medigap Plans C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, M or N cover medically necessary services for individuals who seek emergency treatment for an accident or illness during the first 60 days of a trip. Before coverage begins, beneficiaries must meet a $250 annual deductible, after which they’ll be responsible for 80% of billed charges. The program has a lifetime cap of $50,000 for international travel emergency coverage. 

What Other Health Care Options Do Seniors Have When Traveling Internationally? 

Because some countries require travelers to maintain health insurance when visiting, particularly if they're staying long term, it’s important for seniors to find viable international health care coverage before traveling. Several private options are available to supplement Medicare coverage: 

  • Travel medical insurance: Sold by private insurance companies, travel medical insurance policies offer short-term health care coverage to travelers. These benefits are designed to cover individuals if they suffer illnesses or injuries while traveling. Some policies may also cover dental and vision services.
  • International health insurance: International health insurance policies are intended for individuals who plan to stay abroad for a year or more. It provides coverage for both routine and emergency medical services, including prescriptions, diagnostic imaging and urgent care.
  • Accident insurance: Although accident insurance is designed to cover policyholders if they suffer an injury while traveling, some plans may also provide coverage for care in the event of a serious illness. This type of insurance is a good choice for travelers who plan to participate in high-risk activities such as rock climbing or skydiving.
  • Medical evacuation insurance: Medical evacuation insurance provides travelers with coverage for medical evacuations from the country they're staying in. It’s a good choice for cruise ship passengers or travelers heading to remote regions or developing countries where appropriate medical care may not be readily available.

How Much Does Travel Health Insurance Cost? 

The cost of travel health insurance depends on several factors: 

  • The insurance carrier
  • The amount of coverage
  • The deductible
  • The trip duration
  • The age and gender of the traveler 

Insurance providers can provide an accurate quote prior to purchasing a policy so you can compare comparable plans. 

What Should You Look for Before Purchasing a Travel Health Plan?

A travel health insurance plan is meant to protect your health and your finances, so it's important to research a plan before making a purchase. There are several things you should look for when choosing a travel health insurance plan:

  • Emergency care: The plan you purchase should let you seek urgent care in the event of a medical emergency. It should cover services such as ambulance transport, ER visits and medically necessary inpatient hospital stays.
  • Geographical coverage: Make sure the plan you choose covers the region or country you're traveling to. If a single plan doesn't cover all the countries on your itinerary, you may need to purchase multiple policies.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Your travel health insurance plan should cover any treatment you may need for pre-existing conditions.

Direct payment to providers: Medical care can be expensive, and you may not have the means to pay out-of-pocket for treatment so make sure your plan offers direct payment to hospitals and other providers.

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