Retirement is a chance to check things off your bucket list, and travel is often at the top of that list. But when you rely on Medicare to cover your medical expenses, you might wonder what happens to your coverage if you leave the country on vacation.
The short answer: Original Medicare isn’t designed to cover medical expenses outside the U.S. — but there are other options. Here’s what you need to know about Medicare coverage when traveling abroad and how to fill in the gaps that Medicare won’t cover.
Why Medicare Coverage Outside the U.S. Is Limited
Original Medicare does not usually cover healthcare outside the country. However, Medicare may cover foreign travel emergencies in some circumstances. The list of places that accept Medicare includes U.S. territories and commonwealths, such as: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
If you visit one of these locations, you can use Medicare coverage to pay for medical care, should you need it. Outside these places, Medicare does cover some foreign travel emergencies. For instance, you can use Medicare if you meet one of the following criteria:
A medical emergency while you’re in the U.S. but the nearest hospital is outside the country
Non-emergency medical care while you’re at home in the U.S. and the nearest hospital is outside the U.S
On a ship in the territorial waters adjoining the U.S. and within six hours of a U.S. port
When traveling a direct route through Canada from Alaska to the continental U.S. and the nearest hospital to treat an emergency is a Canadian hospital
Know Your Options Should You Get Sick Abroad
If you fall ill while traveling and incur medical expenses, a Medigap plan may provide more coverage than Medicare alone or Medicare Advantage. There are a few Medicare supplement options to consider:
Medigap plans C, D, F, G, M, and N: These plans cover emergency travel healthcare when you’re traveling to foreign countries.
Medigap plans E, H, I or J: These plans provide coverage outside the U.S. These plans are no longer for sale, but seniors who bought them before June 1, 2010, can still keep them for use while abroad.
No matter which Medigap plan you have, there is a lifetime limit for emergency travel health coverage of $50,000 when used outside the U.S. There is also a $250 annual deductible for this type of coverage. Once the deductible is met, Medigap can cover up to 80% of the charges that Medicare doesn’t cover.
The emergency travel health coverage will also only apply if it’s used within the first 60 days of your trip. If you’re traveling for a longer period of time, you may want to purchase specific travel insurance that covers medical expenses.
What To Know About Medicare Advantage While Abroad
Unlike Medigap, Medicare Advantage does not provide coverage when you’re traveling outside the U.S. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan and want to travel abroad frequently, you can unenroll from that plan and switch to a Medigap plan — just make sure your new provider offers foreign medical coverage.
Understand the Rules for Living Abroad as an American Citizen
If you retire abroad but retain your American citizenship, you won’t be able to use Medicare plans unless you find yourself in one of the limited situations previously described.
That said, you may still want to sign up for Medicare, and here’s why: If you miss the Medicare enrollment window, you’ll eventually pay higher premiums if you move back to the U.S. at some point and try to enroll. So it may make sense to pay for Medicare while you’re living abroad if you plan to move back to the States eventually, even if it doesn’t cover your medical expenses while living in a foreign country.
Buy Separate Travel Coverage
And, finally, if you’re going on vacation abroad, you can also purchase separate travel coverage . Non-Medicare travel insurance may cover emergency medical expenses that you incur while abroad, like hospital bills, imaging, prescriptions and more.
These plans only cover one-off trips, so you can customize the policy depending on the type of vacation you’re taking and your current health concerns. Make sure to compare policies from a few different companies to see which policy is the best fit.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The above is meant to be strictly educational and not intended to provide medical advice or solicit the sales of an insurance product or service of any kind.