If you are planning an overseas trip, you’re probably looking at your insurance options. You may see the medical coverage included in these often expensive travel insurance policies and wonder if you really need that. Doesn’t your health insurance cover you outside of the country?
To give you a quick answer to that question: it depends on your health insurance.
But, even if your health insurance does cover you for some medical treatment overseas, that doesn’t mean you should skip travel insurance.
Not only does it protect other elements of your trip such as lost baggage and flight cancellation, but it will also cover emergency medical evacuation and emergency dental work, both of which almost certainly aren’t covered by your health insurance.
But let’s dive into the details. We’ll look at whether your health insurance is likely to cover you when outside the country, and if it does, what it is and is not likely to cover.
Finally, let’s look at what you do get with travel insurance that makes it worth your while.
Does U.S. Health Insurance Cover International Travel?
The answer to this question is that it depends on your policy. Some policies will offer you a level of coverage overseas while others won’t. You will need to read the fine print of your policy or contact your insurance provider to find out.
But you can probably assume that if you have a basic bronze policy or equivalent, you aren’t covered, while if you have a more comprehensive platinum policy, some of your overseas medical expenses may be covered.
If you have an Original Medicare policy, you are almost certainly not covered. But Medicare Advantage and Medigap often include worldwide coverage.
To learn more about the different types of health insurance policies, read our review of the best health insurance companies.
What Overseas Treatments Will My Policy Cover?
If your health insurance policy does cover some medical treatment abroad, what exactly it will cover depends on your specific policy. And again, it is time to look at the fine print.
As a general rule, you can probably expect your policy to cover emergency medical treatment to a certain level, and that you will need to pay for that treatment yourself and then submit for reimbursement.
What exactly counts as an emergency again depends on your provider. Generally speaking, most insurers will define a medical emergency as a situation in which a reasonable layperson believes their health to be under threat without immediate treatment.
So a heart attack or serious accident will likely be covered. But if you decide to visit a doctor for cold symptoms, you will probably need to pay for that yourself. Of course, if you are traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, cold symptoms could represent an emergency and your insurance should cover you.
What Won’t My Health Insurance Cover Overseas?
The most important thing your health insurance won’t cover when you are overseas (but your travel insurance will) is emergency medical evacuation.
This is basically what it will cost to transport you from where you are to another location to receive the medical treatment you need.
This may be something you aren’t all that concerned about if you are traveling in Western Europe. Hospitals in Germany, France, and other nearby countries are excellent, and you are not likely to find better treatment elsewhere.
But if you are traveling to a Caribbean island, for example, where there aren’t a lot of big hospitals or specialists, you may find that you need to be transported back to the U.S. for treatment. Similarly, if you are visiting the small African country of Lesotho, that sits within the borders of South Africa, you will probably need to be transported to a nearby South African city to be treated for a serious illness.
This kind of medical evacuation commonly costs around $100,000. Remember, it is not just the cost of putting you on a flight. If you are ill enough to require evacuation, you will need special medical transportation.
Most health insurance plans also don’t cover dental, so if you chip a tooth overseas, you can’t rely on your insurance. The medical coverage in travel insurance will usually cover emergency dental work.
Do I Need Travel Insurance?
So, if your health insurance does cover emergency treatment overseas, do you need travel insurance? Like with all of these questions, the answer is that it depends.
Firstly, it depends on where you are going. Are you going somewhere with good medical facilities, or somewhere that the need for medical evacuation is a realistic concern?
It is also worth investigating whether the country you are visiting offers tourists free health care under their universal healthcare system, or expects visitors to pay?
For example, Australia and the United Kingdom extend their universal healthcare to visitors, so you won’t be hit with a big bill or be turned away. By contrast, many Arab states have universal healthcare for their citizens but expect visitors to pay.
When considering whether you need travel insurance, the most important thing to remember is that medical treatment is only one of the things it covers. If your luggage gets lost or delayed, travel insurance can cover the cost of buying the things you need to still enjoy your trip.
If you miss a connecting flight, travel insurance can cover the cost of rebooking.
If the company you book your holiday with goes out of business and cancels, travel insurance means you get your money back, and you can still book your big trip with another provider.
The good thing about travel insurance is that it doesn’t just cover you for medical costs; it covers you for anything unexpected that might happen while you are far from home.
If you need help looking for travel insurance read: What to look for in travel insurance for an international trip.