How to Research Your Foreign Health Care Options

Whether you’re planning a trip or considering a move, traveling abroad takes careful planning. Amidst the reservations and plane tickets, itineraries and sightseeing excitement, don’t forget perhaps the most important item on your checklist: your health care.

Health care options vary depending on the length of your stay and the type of coverage available in your destination country. You’ll want to start a conversation with your current health insurance company well before you board that plane. Emergencies happen, and the last thing you want is to discover you’re in a foreign country without any medical coverage.

The question, of course, is where to start. First, you must identify the type of coverage you will need based on the length of your stay. Then you’ll need to look into the health care options available to you in the country where you’re traveling. Last, you’ll need to contact your current insurance companies to discuss any changes that need to be made to your coverage, whether that’s adding supplemental coverage or canceling your policy altogether.

Just Traveling

The first thing you should know is that most health insurance companies have very strict policies on coverage in other countries. For instance Medicare does not transfer to medical coverage received abroad. Private companies may or may not offer coverage for emergency services, but they almost never pay for medical evacuation costs if you need to be transferred via ambulance or medical flight back home.

There are a few ways to deal with this. The most important thing to do is call your insurance company and find out exactly what they will cover while you are out of the country. If the coverage is limited, and it probably is, you’ll want to consider purchasing a travel medical insurance policy through an insurance company that specializes in this sort of coverage. Again, you’ll want to thoroughly inquire about specifics of coverage, particularly evacuation coverage since this is something often left off policies and is also very, very expensive.

Medicare Advantage (the private Medicare) may offer some coverage, but you’ll also want to ask about a Medicare Gap policy that will assist in paying for those potential overseas charges.

If you’re in the U.S., a great place to start is the State Department Bureau of Consulate Affairs. They provide a list of insurance companies that offer travel medical insurance policies as well as other pertinent information about receiving health care abroad.

Moving Abroad


If you’re relocating on a more permanent basis, the above information still applies. Do contact your insurance company to ask about how you can cover any dependents that are remaining in your country of origin and if you need to continue the policy for coverage on short trips home. If neither of these conditions applies to you, it’s unlikely you’ll want or need to continue your current policy.

However, moving abroad also presents some unique challenges and options. If you’re moving for a job, it’s likely you’ll be able to purchase coverage (or have it paid for) through your employer. Make sure all family members can do the same, and you’re ready to go.

But if you’re retiring or moving for the adventure of it, you’ll need to do some research. Does the country you’re moving to offer a national health care plan? If so, as an immigrant, are you allowed to participate in this plan? Can you pay into it, or are you automatically covered? What are the residency requirements?

Another option is to purchase private insurance once you’re in country. Overall, countries outside the U.S. have cheaper medical care, so you may be pleasantly surprised at the price tag on a confidentially funded plan. Some countries even offer expatriate plans that have special price points and specific kinds of coverage for expats.

You can also go without coverage. This is obviously a choice you should only make after very careful consideration. Are health care costs low enough that you don’t need health insurance? Are you financially stable and secure enough to take this gamble?

One important plan feature you must pay attention to whether you’re subscribing to a national health care plan or purchasing private health insurance is preexisting conditions coverage. Most plans have specific language regarding this common question, and if you have any preexisting conditions at all (even mild asthma or postpartum depression), you need to find out how it will be covered.

Other Considerations

As you begin your research, make a list of questions you’ll want to ask. For instance:

  • How are medications paid for?
  • Is medical transport covered?
  • What about vaccines?
  • Once I relocate, will my new insurance cover me if I travel to other nearby countries for short-term visits?
  • Does each family member need his or her own policy?
  • How does the referral process work?
  • Are premiums paid monthly or annually?

The important thing to remember is that when in Rome, do as Romans do. In other words, the health care process is likely to be very different than you’re accustomed to, but don’t let it overwhelm you. People travel all the time, and people relocate all the time. Prepare yourself by talking to the right people and asking your questions until you receive satisfactory answers.

There are many resources available to you as you plan this new adventure. Take advantage of them, and you’ll do just fine.

How about you? Have you had an overseas medical scare that made you glad to have the right coverage? Any tips for getting the best bang for your buck for those pricey travel medical plans? Let us know!

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