Your flight’s booked, your bags are packed, and your itinerary is planned... you’re almost ready to go! But before you take off, have you checked to see if you’re covered by your insurance in case you get hurt, fall ill, or face a travel mishap during your trip abroad?
We know it’s no fun to think about, but you never know what kind of accidents might occur while traveling in a new and foreign land. That’s why it’s so important that you have adequate insurance coverage for your trip. It’s possible you won’t get that from your standard health care plan.
So, how can you find out whether your U.S. health insurance covers international travel? And what should you do if it doesn’t?
This article will give you the tools to help make sure you’re properly covered for your trip.
Is U.S. Health Insurance Valid Abroad?
Many people don’t realize their regular health benefits may be limited—or may no longer apply—as soon as they step foot outside the country. That’s a risk you don’t want to take.
Verify whether you’re covered abroad by consulting the policy wording for your U.S. health insurance plan—or, as the CDC recommends, by contacting your provider directly to ask about your coverage and conditions.
Ask your provider: “Does my insurance policy cover emergency medical care abroad?”
In some cases, your standard health care plan will not cover any medical expenses you incur outside the U.S. However, there may be certain situations in which you’re covered, or at least partially covered. Your provider will be able to inform you of these special instances.
If Your Plan Does Provide Some Coverage Abroad, Ask These Additional Questions:
- Does my insurance policy cover emergency medical evacuation?
Emergency medical evacuation, or “medevac,” is the emergency transport of an individual from an inadequate medical facility to one that is more suitable for treating the condition at hand. This is important when traveling abroad because many regions of the world—especially those that are isolated—may have sparse access to quality medical services.
NOTE: Even the U.S. health insurance plans that do offer international coverage may not offer coverage for medical evacuation.
- Do I need pre-authorization for treatment, hospitalization, or other medical services?
It’s possible that your insurance only covers treatments that your provider deems medically necessary beforehand. If this is the case, ask your provider what those treatments are and what procedures you would need to follow to obtain these covered services.
- What are my deductibles/co-pays/limits for out-of-network services?
Policies for international, out-of-network coverage are likely to differ from your standard coverage. In many cases, you should be prepared to pay these fees out of pocket and file a claim for reimbursement later.
Does Medicare Cover Travel Outside the United States?
Medicare subscribers are typically not covered outside of the United States, meaning you will be solely responsible for any medical expenses you incur abroad. However, there are certain rare cases in which Medicare does provide some assistance.
If you meet any of these criteria, Medicare may cover up to 80% of your medical costs:
- While in the United States, you experience a medical emergency or need treatment for a medical condition and a foreign hospital is the nearest qualified hospital to treat you.
- While driving the most direct route between Alaska and a U.S. state, you experience a medical emergency and a Canadian hospital is the nearest hospital qualified to treat you.
- You receive medically necessary healthcare services while onboard a ship located in U.S. territorial waters (the ship must not be more than 6 hours from the nearest U.S. port).
Consult our Medicare coverage guide to learn more about Medicare coverage outside the United States and to find out how much you might be required to pay in the situations mentioned above.
What Does This Mean for International Travelers?
Traveling abroad without international health insurance doesn’t mean you won’t be able to receive treatment if you have a medical emergency. It could, however, mean that you alone may be responsible for paying potentially costly expenses for treatments or procedures.
Hospital bills add up quickly with services like room and board, x-rays, anesthesiology, and visits from specialists, among others. Even seemingly commonplace treatments can be expensive.
One example comes from a claim filed with WorldTrips by a traveler who developed multilobar pneumonia and exudative tonsillitis from an infected insect bite.
Without insurance, this person would have been responsible for over $12,000 of treatment. Because this traveler’s treatment was an eligible expense under Atlas Travel Insurance, he was relieved of 95% of those expenses. Ultimately, he paid his premium and deductible, which totaled $568.78.
Consider Travel Health Insurance
Travel health insurance is a kind of international insurance designed to cover emergency health care costs incurred while traveling abroad, such as those associated with unexpected injury or illness. In addition to emergency medical coverage, travel health insurance often provides certain travel benefits as well.
Since your domestic health insurance may not cover you in all the ways you need to be covered when traveling abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of State both recommend purchasing a travel health insurance policy before embarking on your trip.
Travel health insurance provides coverage for eligible medical expenses that may arise while traveling. It’s also a budget-friendly way to augment U.S. health insurance policies that offer limited international coverage.
WorldTrips' Atlas Travel insurance may be suited to your needs. Travelers can choose from a wide range of deductibles ($0 - $5,000) and select their overall maximum coverage limit (up to $2 million).
What Can Atlas Travel Insurance Cover?
- Costs associated with emergency medical treatment – Atlas Travel covers eligible costs of a local ambulance (should you require inpatient hospitalization), your hospital room and board, and other eligible medical expenses.
- Emergency medical evacuation – One of the most crucial benefits of travel medical insurance is coverage for the cost of transportation from a medical facility that is not able to provide adequate, medically necessary care to a facility that can provide the needed care. The CDC warns that without insurance, medical evacuation may cost upwards of $100,000. That’s why Atlas Travel offers up to $1,000,000 for a covered emergency medical evacuation.
- Costs associated with death – In the event of your death, Atlas Travel insurance will cover eligible costs associated with the repatriation of your remains—or your local burial or cremation. It also offers Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) benefits, which pay a predetermined amount to your beneficiary in the case of a covered injury resulting in your death.
- Unexpected events – Atlas Travel covers certain unforeseen circumstances, which could include medical expenses resulting from terrorism or evacuation expenses related to a political evacuation.
- Family transportation due to medical emergency – If you are hospitalized due to a covered medical emergency or medical evacuation, Atlas Travel would provide coverage for the cost of transporting a family member to your bedside.
- Travel benefits – Atlas Travel also provides coverage in cases of lost or stolen checked baggage, trip delays, lost passport or travel documents, and more. Review the Atlas Travel Description of Coverage to see full benefits, limits, and exclusions.
Travel Health Insurance in Action
Imagining the worst-case scenario can be daunting but important. Here are some examples to give you a better idea of how travel health insurance like Atlas Travel could come in handy during your trip:
- While in France, you sign up for a cooking class, where you practice the various ways to chop, cut, and slice. Clumsily, your hand slips and instead of a carrot, you slice your finger julienne. Unfortunately, the cut requires stitches. Your travel health insurance may cover your visit to the emergency room as well as the cost of dressings and sutures for your hand.
- You and a friend decide to rent bikes while in Mallorca so you can explore the challenging and scenic Mediterranean terrain. On a descent, your wheel slips on a patch of sand and you tumble off your bike, resulting in a broken leg that requires surgery. Your travel health insurance could cover the cost of a local ambulance, surgical expenses, hospital room and board, and other eligible fees associated with the surgical repair.
- On the long trip from the Manila airport to the small Philippine island that is your destination, you have to take a taxi, a bus, and a ferry. Between all the different transfers and your jetlag, you manage to lose your passport along the way. Your report your loss to the police and obtain a report. Your travel health insurance may reimburse you for costs of replacing your passport.
CALL OUT: Learn how to use your travel health insurance abroad.
What May Not Be Covered by Travel Health Insurance?
Don’t assume you have coverage for all injuries, illnesses, or travel mishaps you might face abroad. There are some types of expenses that many travel health insurance plans don’t cover.
These could include:
- Pre-existing conditions*
- Routine medical exams or preventive care
- Mental health care
- Injury or illness due to certain extreme sports
- Drug-related injury
- And more
Read more about the different scenarios where your travel health insurance may not cover you.
*A general definition for a pre-existing condition is an injury, illness, disorder, disease, or other physical or mental condition that exists in a defined period (usually 180 days – 5 years) before your policy goes into effect.
Do You Need to Buy Travel Health Insurance?
Not sure if you need travel health insurance for your trip? The truth is that travelers of all kinds may want to consider purchasing a policy, including:
- Backpackers, adventure travelers, and eco-tourists
- Tourists and vacationers
- Business travelers
- Missionaries and service workers
- Study abroad students
NOTE: Depending on your destination, you may even be required to purchase travel medical insurance for your visa.
Still, there are a few types of travelers that may not benefit from travel health insurance. If you fall into one of the following categories, travel health insurance might not be right for you:
- Individuals needing coverage for a pre-existing condition
- Expats or long-term travelers requiring a normal health insurance replacement
- “Medical tourists” traveling for the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment abroad
How Much Does Travel Health Insurance Cost?
Travel health insurance is often quite budget-friendly. The price of your policy depends on these factors:
- Trip length
- Whether you’re traveling inside or outside the U.S.
- Deductible you choose
- Maximum coverage limit you choose
Dependent on trip length, policies for younger travelers with a lower maximum coverage limit and a higher deductible are the least expensive. Meanwhile, policies for older travelers with a higher maximum coverage limit and a lower deductible are the most expensive.
With Atlas Travel insurance, policies start at $0.50* per day for the youngest age group with the lowest coverage maximum and highest deductible. Policies go up to $16.12** per day for the highest age group with the highest coverage maximum and lowest deductible. You can price your Atlas Travel plan in just a few minutes using our Atlas Travel quote engine.
*$0.50 per day based on the 2023 Atlas Travel daily rate for a traveler in the youngest age group (14 days – 17 years) who is traveling outside the U.S. with the highest deductible ($5,000) and the lowest overall maximum coverage limit available to this age group ($50,000).
**$16.12 per day based on the 2023 Atlas Travel daily rate for a traveler in the oldest age group (80+) who is traveling to the U.S. with the lowest deductible ($0) and the only overall maximum coverage limit available to this age group ($10,000).