A primer on what to know before you go.

By Real Simple
Updated March 06, 2007
Jonelle Weaver

What You Need to Know About Getting Medical Care Abroad

  • U.S. health insurers may not cover medical care or prescriptions when you’re out of the country―even in emergencies―so check your coverage carefully before you go. Be sure to carry any potentially necessary medications with you, even if you don’t anticipate needing them. And consider purchasing supplemental travel insurance to cover medical-care and medical-evacuation costs. According to the U.S. Department of State, “Many health-insurance companies will pay ‘customary and reasonable’ hospital costs abroad, but very few basic plans will pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States, which can easily cost $10,000 and up, depending on your location and medical condition."
  • Visa, MasterCard, and American Express cardholders: Check your travel benefits before you leave home. You may have access to a telephone help line with an English-speaking operator who can help you find local medical facilities. Be sure to get a local number for the country you’ll be visiting; U.S. toll-free numbers often don’t work overseas.
  • Hotel concierges and tour guides can usually recommend English-speaking local doctors for minor health issues or refer you to a good hospital.
  • The International Society of Travel Medicine (istm.org) and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (astmh.org) offer free directories of physicians around the world

Trip-Related Insurance Plans

Flight-Accident Insurance
What to know: This life-insurance policy pays your beneficiary in the event your plane crashes and you perish.

Bottom line: Your regular life-insurance plan covers your death whether or not you’re on vacation. So a flight-accident policy pays off only if you don’t have a regular life-insurance policy.

Travel Insurance
What to know: These plans are package deals that include a range of different types of coverage for everything from the cost of medical bills if you get sick to expenses incurred if your trip is canceled. They typically cost 5 to 7 percent of the trip’s total value.

Bottom line: “Travel insurance is a good option if you’re taking an expensive, prepaid vacation or traveling where your health insurance won’t cover you,” says Michelle Higgins, who writes the Practical Traveler column for the New York Times. Otherwise, skip it. If you’ve planned the getaway yourself, you can cancel or change plans with minimal hassle and cost. For example, rescheduling your flight due to an illness may cost you $100, but travel insurance could set you back more than a mere penalty. You can compare costs and benefits for more than 100 travel-insurance plans at insuremytrip.com.