Does My Health Insurance Follow Me When I Travel?

  • Angela Borden
Oct 13, 2015

Does My Insurance Go with Me on my Trip?

There’s no easy answer to this question. It depends on several different factors, including:

  • Where you are traveling
  • What type of health care you need
  • What type of health insurance you have
  • How much of the medical expense you can or want to absorb yourself
Clear as mud, right? While I can't give you a definitive answer to this question, I can at least point you in the right direction, so you can figure out if you are protected when you travel.

I have a health insurance plan in the United States. Why wouldn't it cover me no matter where I go?

Honestly, there is no blanket answer. To know for sure, you will need to read your policy, paying special attention to the exclusions to see if there is mention of excluding care outside the U.S.

I read through a few policies and discovered that the exclusion can be phrased in different ways, so I highly recommend calling your insurance company to ask them directly. Policies are tough to read, and there is a great deal of fine print. If you find out there is coverage outside the U.S., ask what type of care is covered. Some plans cover emergency treatment only.

Again, ask what this means. To you, an ingrown toenail which is preventing you from hiking may be an emergency, but is it an emergency to your carrier?

What about Medicare and Medicaid?

Most of the time, there is no coverage if you are outside the U.S. (That means you are outside Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands). For traditional Medicare, there are three very specific exceptions which would provide coverage if you had a medical emergency. For more information on this, take a look at If you have a Medicare Advantage plan or Medigap policy, you may have coverage. Read your policy and check with your provider to find out for sure.

Most Medicaid plans do not cover you outside the U.S., although some provide emergency care if you are hospitalized in Canada or Mexico.

What about countries with national health care systems?

I was traveling in Europe recently and had a well-meaning but misinformed fellow traveler from a country with national health care insisted that I would be covered there if I got sick while visiting. So, I did a little digging. Generally, this is not correct. These countries provide care for their citizens and residents (the rules vary by country), and the coverage is not intended for visitors who are popping in for a few days.

Have there been cases where people received treatment? Yes, apparently this traveler's friend's aunt’s sister’s brother received treatment without ever being billed, but would you want to risk it? We’re talking about what’s legal and what’s not, and your health could be at stake.

How is the coverage provided for care overseas?

Let's say you're one of the lucky ones. Can the medical provider file a claim with your carrier? If so, will the medical provider file a claim? The real question you need to ask yourself is whether you can afford to cash flow potential medical bills. Doctors and hospitals overseas may not want to go through the process of submitting a claim with your insurance company and then waiting to receive their money. Instead, they may require you to pay up front.

If you are in a situation where you need medical treatment, you may be required to hand over a credit card or other type of payment. Then, you will file a claim with your carrier for reimbursement. Be careful about the amount of the bill. Generally, the United States is one of the most expensive places in the world to receive health care, however, your wallet could still take a bigger hit than you may have imagined.

Be especially careful in resort areas — there have been cases where tourists are routinely overcharged.

Here's a solution that doesn't require a million questions

You may be feeling a little frustrated with the information I've shared, because the topic is, at best, convoluted. What I can tell you is that you won't have to worry about whether you're covered if you buy a travel insurance policy. For a small price, you can have peace of mind when you travel.

Not certain what type of plan you would need? Give our interactive guide a try. With a couple clicks, it will guide you through a series of questions to help you decide which plan is best for you.

Peace of mind is one click away.

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