In Case of Emergency: Will I Be Covered Abroad?

Vacations are about relaxing and getting away from it all, so the last thing on your mind as you prepare for your trip is whether or not your personal health insurance is sufficient to cover you while you’re away. Unfortunately, accidents and illnesses happen, even on vacation. Before you head for the airport or board a cruise ship, you should know what kind of coverage your health insurance will provide if you get sick or hurt while you’re traveling outside of the U.S.

How to Read Your Policy

Rather than wade through every page of your policy, head straight for the section marked “Medical Emergencies” or “Emergency Care.” Look for wording that states whether you’re covered when you’re out of the country. Most health insurance policies provide at least some coverage for emergencies when you’re traveling. But what constitutes an emergency?

In the case of your health, an emergency is anything an average person would consider life-threatening or that has the potential to result in permanent injury. If you pass out or experience chest pains, most people would agree these could be symptoms of life-threatening conditions and would thus constitute a medical emergency — even if you turn out to be suffering from the effects of an over-indulgent meal or not getting enough sleep. An injury that results in loss of consciousness, potentially broken bones or significant blood loss would also qualify as an emergency. A sore throat, a rash or a cut that doesn’t require stitches probably wouldn’t qualify as an emergency unless these symptoms persisted and/or worsened over time.

Talk It Over

If you have any questions or are still unsure about anything, call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card and ask the company to verify its policy for overseas medical coverage. Explain you’ll be traveling and ask for advice for what to do if you or your loved ones become sick or are hurt while on vacation.

How It Works

Your insurance card will be useless while you’re overseas, since foreign countries don’t accept U.S. insurance. You’ll be expected to pay for your medical care upfront and turn in your bills when you get home. Be sure to get an itemized receipt of all medical care you received. File these papers with your insurance company, and they will pay according to its schedule of usual charges. In general, if your insurance only covers 80 percent of the cost of emergency care in the U.S., or requires a co-pay, these same conditions will apply to any care you received overseas.

Exception to the Rule

Medicare is a U.S.-only insurance program. If you travel outside the U.S. and need medical care, Medicare won’t supply coverage. In this case, look to your supplemental medical insurance policy for help. Review your policy and call customer service to find out if your policy will reimburse you for emergency medical care overseas.

Like staterooms on a cruise ship and seating on a plane, not all health insurance plans are created equal. If you’re a frequent traveler, your policy’s coverage for overseas emergencies matters when it comes down to buying the health coverage that’s right for you. Before you set sail for your next vacation, find out if your insurance will be there for you, even when you’re far away from home.

About the author

Felicia Baratz is a freelance writer and designer living in Indianapolis. As a contributor to Cooks & Travel Books, she discusses the latest in cultural trends and their relation to travel and education.