What If I … Have To Use My Health Insurance Abroad?

Every country's health coverage is slightly differently. Know what's covered before you leave.
Every country’s health coverage is slightly differently. Know what’s covered before you leave.

By Molly Jensen 

If you think there’s a complicated process to finding out how much your health insurance covers while you’re overseas, you’re wrong. You just have to ask your health-insurance provider.

While you can get answers with a simple phone call, you need to make sure you ask all the nitty-gritty questions to know exactly what is and is not covered while you’re traveling. Coverages can vary greatly from one provider to the next, so cover every angle.

Some good questions to ask, for starters, are:

  • What locations, treatments, or activities are excluded from coverage?
  • What qualifies as an emergency?
  • Is emergency evacuation included?
  • Are pre-existing medical conditions covered?
  • Does your insurance require pre-authorizations or second opinions before treatment?
  • What would be the copay? Are there any caps on the amount the insurance will cover?
  • If you’re going on a cruise, does your coverage stop when you leave U.S. waters?
  • Can they guarantee payments to foreign doctors and hospitals?
  • Will they pay the foreign doctors and hospitals directly?

[Note: Medicare and Medicaid do not cover overseas medical services of any kind.]

If there are gaps in your coverage, it’s time to pick out some travel insurance. For health-related travel insurance, the three types to consider are travel health insurance, medical evacuation, and trip cancellation.

Travel health insurance covers general medical needs while you’re on your trip. If you have to go to the doctor or emergency room, that would be covered here. Just like when you purchase any other type of insurance, know what is and is not covered. If you’re going to be scuba diving in Belize, you want to be sure you will be covered for injuries related to scuba diving in Belize.

We recently had a whole post about medical evacuation, so we’re going to put a link to that right here because the more information you have at your disposal, the better.

And lastly, if you’re making non-refundable down payments on your trip, trip cancellation is a good thing to have in your travel-insurance package. If you have to cancel your trip because you get sick or injured (or a number of other reasons), you won’t lose all of your money.

In a country like the Philippines, health issues can turn an idyllic trip into something else entirely. (M.J. Weigand photo.)
In a country like the Philippines, health issues can turn an idyllic trip into something else entirely. (M.J. Weigand photo.)

Getting a combination of these three things is probably the ultimate option. With BHTP’s ExactCare, you get travel health insurance and trip cancellation, and you have the option to add on additional medical evacuation (which is highly recommended if you’re headed anywhere off the beaten path). Its all-encompassing approach is the best answer to most travel-health issues.

One more thing on healthy travel abroad: When you’re traveling abroad, don’t forget about U.S. consulates and all they can do to help you out. Along with their STEP program, they can:

  • Give you information for local doctors and hospitals
  • Assist in medical evacuations
  • Help arrange to have money wired to you from home (realize that they do not help pay for your medical expenses themselves)

As a final note, if you find yourself needing to use your insurance, save all of your records and receipts! Foreign medical facilities may need you to pay up front, and when you go to file a claim with your insurance provider, normal health insurance or travel insurance, they’re going to need documentation. So stick your receipts in a safe place, travel boldly, and watch out for that first step!

Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.