Medical Insurance Coverage Outside the United States on Trips

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My recent skiing mishap while in Canada brought the issue of health insurance to the forefront of my mind.  I take lots of trips outside of the country, and while most are totally illness or injury free, you never know when your luck may run out on any given trip.  My knee injury was stable and not life threatening in any way, so we opted to just wait to get it checked out until we got back home the next day.  However, before we knew if it was going to swell up worse or become a bigger problem, I started to think through my options if I needed medical assistance while in Canada.

Clearly I’m not covered by Canadian health care, so I wasn’t sure what the final bill would be for a doctor’s visit if I needed one.  Luckily the commonly recommend Whistler Medical Clinic lists their office visit charge on their website, so I knew what that price would be to get in the door ($135), and any other charges you could get an estimate for once you were told what you needed.  The website clarified that you did have to pay if you didn’t have a Canadian health plan (what, no free doctor’s visit?!).

Your Health Insurance May Cover You Outside the US:

Once I decided I didn’t really need to see a doctor in Canada, I didn’t give insurance another thought until I got home and settled, but now I decided to dig a bit deeper in case my family is faced with a similar or more serious issue in the future.  A call to our health insurance provider revealed that we are typically covered in 200 countries outside the US for emergencies, but may or may not be for non-emergency issues.  That coverage will depend on where we are, what doctor we see, what the treatment codes are, etc.  I was told we need to pay up front for the charges (hello credit card points), and then would submit a form to the insurance company to get reimbursed for the allowed portion.

Given that I do travel so often with my family, this is probably something I should have clarified a long time ago, but now we know.  A more detailed list of providers is on their website should we need it in the future.  We were also encouraged to call if we are outside the country and need medical assistance as they can give us some information over the phone.  If you want to be a bit more proactive than me, you should give your insurance company a call to see what the protocols are for when you are outside the US and need medical assistance before you hop on the plane.

Consider Travel Insurance:

Another option if you are concerned your coverage outside the standard network isn’t sufficient, is to buy travel insurance.  I have found medical travel insurance is often bundled in with trip insurance that covers things like delayed bags, hurricanes, illness at home, job loss, or other things that would cause the trip to be cancelled.  I have bought this a couple of times through USAA for specific trips and found the prices to be quite reasonable, but I would not personally buy it for every trip as I would likely end up paying way more in premiums than I ever would get back out of it.  However, it can be smart if you think the trip is particularly higher risk for some reason or if it is to a location outside of your health coverage zone.  Some good basic info on this and other insurance options can be found here. 

Get Back Home:

I’m certainly not a doctor, so don’t confuse this with medical advice, but if you have the ability to get back home without making your condition worse or spreading an illness to others, then that is an option to consider as well.  That is certainly what I opted for, but it was a pretty easy call in my case.  I knew that even if I got some tests in Canada, my doctors at home would probably do them again anyway.  My injury also wasn’t going to get worse as long as I took it easy.  The further away from home you are, and the worse your condition, the less likely that will be an easy call.

Hopefully you will never be faced with an issue like this, but it is a good idea to at least think through your options as it can be hard to make rational decisions in the moment when you or a loved one is sick or injured on a trip.  I had the luxury of being able to think through my options on a relatively minor injury, so now I’m prepared in the event one of us faces a more serious event in the future.  Hopefully that will never happen to us or any of you, but it’s never a bad idea to have a basic understanding of how your own health insurance coverage works.

I’d love to hear from other family travelers out there about how you handle health insurance and medical issues when away from home!

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Comments

  1. I have found the customer service of my platinum Amex to be very helpful. The prices are ok and are bundled like you mentioned. One note, always book BEFORE you leave…Once your at your destination you can’t be covered by the Amex insurance. you can always claim that you trip starts a day “later” and risk not being cover for a day….

  2. I always call my pediatrician at home to get his opinion. The healthcare treatments can vary greatly in different countries. We have been prescribed medicines in Mexico that he did not think were at all necessary. When my son had a concussion in Paris he was examined by the hotel doctor. We paid out of pocket and never sought reimbursement. It is possible our insurance or Amex would have covered it.

  3. Before going to Thailand for 2 weeks, we looked into travel insurance since our medical plans only covered us after our out-of-network deductible ($2K). The plan we got from GeoBlue was $40 for both of us, and had coverage up to $1M. While there I was scratched by a wild monkey and went to the hospital for a rabies vaccine. The total cost of the vaccine plus doctors visit was a whopping $37. However, good thing I had insurance when I got back to the US, as what I really needed was a large dose of globulin and 4 vaccine shots over 2 weeks, which without insurance would have been $7K or so, give or take. I got my $37 check from GeoBlue this week – took about 1 month for reimbursement.

  4. This is definitely one issue that every American travelling abroad you look into before they leave home. Stuff happens, and it’s better to know what to do beforehand.
    My understanding is that most employer-issued insurance policies will “work” overseas (mine does), but that’s the extent of my knowledge. I am surprised there aren’t more resources on this. I guess it doesn’t affect that many people.

  5. I travel by myself and world nomads provide a really good, affordable service. $100K of medical coverage, $500K of evacuation coverage, trip cancellation, delay, baggage loss, etc… I’ll be hiking amongst volcanoes in Iceland amongst other things and my 5 week policy is $157. Were my activities going to be less “dangerous” the policy would be $114. The couple/family price is double the single price. Well worth it in my mind.

    Interestingly, the cost doesn’t go up much as you add weeks. A year’s worth of single “adventure” coverage is $1200 (regular coverage is $913) and they define travel as anything more than 100 miles from home. A person doing a lot of international travel might consider an annual policy.

  6. Try insuremytrip.com which is a great broker/search engine of policys and I have used them many times to buy policys and have been reimbursed before as well. You can also buy a medical policy good for all year and it’s really not expensive.

  7. I second insuremytrip to shop for travel insurances. I almost always buy travel insurance especially when traveling insurance (I didn’t do it once and that one time ended up quite costly).

    So yeah, I’d always buy one as a “safety insuranace” and hope I never have to use it.

    It’s something that most people never think about (medical issues that could come up) until it does, and it is that much more reassuring to know that you’re covered by insurance. Peace of mind.

  8. I’m very comfortable with MedJet Assist, which provides more flexible evacuation coverage than many others. (If you are hospitalized with a serious condition more than 150 miles from home, and meet transport criteria, they will transport you to the hospital of choice within your home country at no additional cost.)

  9. Bummer about the knee! Hope you’re feeling better.

    I’m curious about the services provided to carriers of the Amex Platinum (Global Assist). Does anyone have experience with exactly what they provide and how helpful it is?

    Anita

  10. GeoBlue Trekker Choice is a great option if you live in one of the states its offered. Its $199.00 for 1 year of unlimited trips abroad and includes 500,000 medical evacuation coverage and 250,000 medical coverage with no pre-existing limitations. It does require a primary health plan in the States even though GeoBlue is primary when you are out of the country.

    I’ve used it once when I cracked my head open in a lava tube cave on Easter Island and needed stitches. Paid hospital ER with credit card at time of service, submitted receipts when I returned home, and was promptly reimbursed.

  11. I also use medjet assist. Know what you are paying for, though. Medjet and some others are EVACUATION insurance that move you to an appropriate medical facility ( some companies like medjet allow you a choice others will require you to go to the nearest “appropriate” medical facility as determined by their medical staff) these cover what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in specialized medical transport but do not cover the actual medical care. It’s important to know what your policy covers.

  12. Buying travel insurance primarily to get medical coverage is a vastly under-reported part of the travel dialogue.

    Many people have little or no coverage once they leave the US-start will everyone with standard Medicare, which provides none. Even with a good Medicare supplemental plan, coverage may be limited. Figuring out what, if any, coverage you already have is step one.

    The process of finding and comparing coverage to buy is filled with details, exceptions and exclusions. Yes the policy has evacuation coverage. But are you evacuated home or just to a place where “adequate medical care” is provided. So does an aneurism while hiking in Nepal get you to Cedars in LA or just down the mountain to Katmandu? Do you have a history of high blood pressure that means your affliction was a pre-existing condition?

    Mommy Points’ experience is a good reminder to consider getting coverage. Just don’t think it is something that can be done the day before you do in a few minutes.

  13. I always make sure I have $500k medical and evac coverage any time I travel TATL or TPAC. For a trip to Canada I don’t worry about it (we drive through the tunnel to Windsor for dinner sometimes).

  14. Thanks for this post! After reading about your mishap on the mountain, travel insurance was at the top of my mind too. I hope you’re healed up soon!

  15. As someone who has lived in both Canada & the UK, I have NEVER travelled without buying Worldwide travel insurance which includes a hefty medical cover.

  16. I live overseas in Taiwan but return to the US every summer so that my kids can see their grandparents and other relatives. Taiwan has awesome universal health car coverage that includes reimbursement for emergency care overseas, but only up to what they’d pay physicians here. Since health care costs in the US are crazy expensive, and I have 2 young kids, I always get coverage before coming back. Knock on wood I’ve not had to use it yet but after hearing friend’s horror stories about accidents their kids have gotten into, I prefer the peace of mind.

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