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By Lisa Zamosky
July 7, 2016
Illustration by Mikey Burton for Money

No one wants to think about mid-vacation health scares. But emergencies happen, and your regular insurance may not cover your care overseas. To avoid any expensive surprises, lay the groundwork before you board a plane.

Mind the gaps

Once you go abroad, most policies cover emergencies that jeopardize your health—a heart attack, for instance, or broken hip. But it will be out-of-network care, so you may face high deductibles and coinsurance payments—and you’re on your own for lesser issues. “If you get a bad cold and decide to get it checked out, expect to pay out of pocket,” says San Diego insurance agent Craig Gussin. Details vary, so check your plan’s non-U.S. rules, co-insurance rates, and out-of-pocket maximums.

Medicare is a special case: It rarely covers services outside the U.S. except in certain circumstances—on a cruise ship within six hours of a U.S. port, for instance. You’ve got some coverage built in if you have one of the Medigap plans (C, D, F, G, M, N) that pay 80% of bills for emergency care as long as it’s during the first two months of a trip abroad. (There’s a $250 annual deductible plus a lifetime limit of $50,000 for foreign-travel emergency care.)

Buy extra protection

Worried about high out-of-pocket costs? You can get a supplemental travel medical policy to kick in on care your primary insurer won’t cover. Compare options on sites like InsureMyTrip or eHealth. An Ohio couple in their fifties planning a two-week trip to France, for example, could get a $100,000 medical limit and $500,000 for a medical evacuation, with a $100 deductible, for about $100. Aim for $50,000 to $100,000 in medical expense coverage, suggests Los Angeles travel agent Terry Bahri.

Cover preexisting conditions

Travel medical plans usually have exceptions for emergencies related to ongoing conditions. If you have health issues that might require medical care, choose a broad travel policy—covering things like trip cancellations and baggage loss—and tack on a preexisting-condition waiver. (For that Ohio couple, this would cost around $300.)

Line up local pros

If you run into trouble mid-trip, call your carriers right away. Travel insurers can recommend local care options, and even U.S. plans may be able to identify the most appropriate nearby facility. For extra help, join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, a nonprofit with a global network of English-speaking doctors and health professionals.

Keep your paperwork

When you get home, you’ll need all of your receipts in order to get reimbursed. And get copies of medical records outlining the care you received. “A credit card statement will not be sufficient,” says Brian McGuire of insurer UnitedHealthcare Global.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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