Health Insurance: International Coverage Pt. 2

Hospital visit
This is the second installment of the Guide's health insurance series. Part one discussed the basics and how it relates to your career, and part two will go through how your health insurance covers you when you're abroad.

Whether you're a student, an expat or just traveling, it's important to ensure that you are covered by your health insurance policy in case something happens while you're away from home. Most travelers may not consider this during their planning, but it's actually pretty easy to set up.

In this article, let's explore the different international coverage you have and how you can ask if your insurance provider covers you while you're abroad.

health insurance

Types of travel insurance

Whenever you book a flight, you're normally prompted as to whether or not you want insurance to cover your trip. But what does this cover? Let's go through the three common aspects of travel insurance coverage.

  1. Travel Insurance - this is the most general insurance and usually covers the financial aspects of your trip. Two examples are the costs of lost luggage or cancelled flights. It is meant to cover what are considered "unforeseeable" situations, such as a last-minute medical emergency or a large weather event. For more information, Allianz, which provides travel insurance, provides a great list. I personally use Allianz on all flights that I purchase.
  2. Travel Medical insurance - this insurance covers the more general or basic levels of overseas treatment that you may need. This may include a visit to a local doctor for a cold or going to emergency care for breaking an arm.
  3. Medical Evacuation Services - this would provide evacuation services for overseas travelers, such as air ambulance, medical evacuation or medical escort services.

If you're looking to purchase travel insurance outside of the usual option that's included in the last step of your flight booking, there are companies out there that offer coverage plans at different levels.

It's important to determine what level of insurance coverage you would need when abroad.

Who is recommended to buy travel medical insurance

There are certain travelers who are suggested to purchase travel medical insurance. It's normally straightforward, but here are some examples:

  • People with pre-existing medical conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Those at risk for serious health issues
  • Anyone traveling to countries considered "risky" for health concerns

In most cases, you can go to the State Department's website or the CDC's site to look up which countries require vaccines or may be experiencing higher levels of contagious or spreadable diseases. This ranges from bird flu to yellow fever to, now, Zika.

How to find doctors internationally

Once you're abroad, often in a country where you don't speak the language or know anyone, it may seem difficult to find a local doctor. But a visit to the local U.S. embassy's website will often do just the trick in case of a medical issue.

Here is the government's official list of embassies, by country:

When in doubt, it is best to reach out to your consulate or embassy for advice, as that is essentially one of the main purposes that they serve. 

You can also do a simple Google or Yelp search, however those results aren't guaranteed in terms of quality nor language-speaking capabilities. However, as some reference, I used Yelp to find a doctor when I visited Barcelona once and, aside from the high price, the service itself were top notch.

I would highly recommend doing some research and making a decision that best fits your situation.

Paying for health services

So, you've seen a doctor or had to visit the hospital and suddenly you're stuck with a bill. This is a good example of when checking with your home health insurance before leaving is important.

In most cases, your health insurance will offer reimbursement for medical claims. Meaning: you pay for the local services out-of-pocket and then file a claim with your medical insurance back home to reimburse you for the amount spent.

Your standard coverage will extend to the services that you used, so you can expect to pay any normal fees, such as a copay, which will be deducted from your reimbursement.

Just so you know, this process could take a while, so be sure to keep all relevant paperwork and information such as receipts from your visit so that you don't have to go digging later on.

Important note: if you have Medicare, it does not cover overseas medical emergencies, so please plan accordingly.

health insurance

Final Notes

When traveling, it's fun to plan day trips and excursions, but it's important to cover all of your bases ahead of time to avoid any issues, which can really dampen any trip. So, the next time you're booking a trip and are about to skip through the insurance section like usual, take a moment to consider where you're visiting, what you'll be doing and your options.

As usual, feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Safe travels!


U.S. Department of State 1 | 2

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