Planning is half the fun of travel abroad, whether it’s researching cities on a mainland European tour, seeking out culturally unique side trips, or looking for the most fun-packed, sun-drenched cruise itineraries.
Once you’ve settled on the destination, though, there’s another crucial stop to make. On the country’s official tourism website—under “practical info,” “travel tips,” or even something as jarring as “emergency information”—you can find what you need to know about your vacation spot’s healthcare system. That’s probably also where you’ll realize purchasing travel medical insurance is a good idea.
Won’t my own insurance cover me?
One of the biggest travel health insurance myths is that it’s not necessary, say the experts at Travel Professional News; people think their medical coverage travels with them: “Many consumers don’t realize that while they may have great health insurance here in the U.S., many or all of those benefits may not apply the moment they leave the country.” That’s especially true for seniors. Except in rare cases, Medicare coverage stops at the U.S. border.
Your insurance may cover emergencies and “reasonable” expenses abroad, but you’ll want to look very carefully at their terms and conditions. Consider, too, that medical evacuation is another expense entirely—and can easily cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
But you can get free healthcare in countries with socialized medicine, right? “The answer to this straightforward question is a bit complicated,” writes travel writer Ferne Arfin in TravelSavvy.com. “Maybe, but probably not.” You may find the emergency care is provided gratis, but the prescription meds for the aftercare is out of pocket (and expensive).
3 vacation hot spots, 3 travel insurance scenarios
These examples reveal why it pays to research the healthcare situation in the trip-planning stages. We’ve included the Source info to show how finding this info can sometimes take a bit of digging:
1. A vehicle jumps the curb while you’re strolling down Los Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, sending you to the ER for a minor head injury and a broken ankle.
About the healthcare system in Spain: “Although you’ll be treated in an emergency, this treatment will require payment, so you’re advised to take out medical insurance.”
Source: The Tourist Offices of Spain | Practical Info | Travel Tips | Health and Safety | What you should know about medical care if you come from a non EU member state)
2. You’re learning the art of preparing restaurant-quality sushi from a master chef at Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market when you discover first-hand just how sharp those knives are.
About the healthcare system in Japan: “Keep in mind that payment by credit card is only accepted at major hospitals. Clinics generally accept cash only. You will be charged separately at the pharmacy for any medicine you need.”
Source: Japan: The Official Guide | Plan Your Trip | Basic Information | Emergency Information |If You Become Ill | Guide for when you are feeling ill
3. Your Caribbean vaca is going swimmingly until you step on some glass on a Punta Cana beach.
About the healthcare system in The Dominican Republic: “Emergency treatment before payment is not required by Dominican law, and a deposit or fees for services may be required before emergency medical treatment.”
Source: U.S. State Department | Passports & International Travel | Country Information | Dominican Republic | Health
The bottom line: get travel medical insurance
Like auto and homeowners’ insurance, travel medical insurance policies cover unexpected medical mishaps and emergencies. They provide a needed financial buffer for between the things your own insurance won’t cover—and can provide a lot more than that, from 24/7 concierge service to help you find the best local care, to translation services to help you communicate with medical staff.
In addition to scouring your destination’s official tourism site for information, be sure to check out our own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s online Yellow Book is a treasure trove of useful information, organized by “chapters” that include everything from “Self-Treatable Conditions” like jet lag and motion sickness to “Obtaining Health Care Abroad.” (Note: The U.S. State Department also has useful info; find your destination using the link above.)
Travel insurance is a broad term, so be sure you’re purchasing a comprehensive plan that includes robust travel medical insurance, as well as medical evacuation coverage.
It’s a small price to pay if you don’t have to use it, and of course, hopefully you won’t! But if you do, it can help ease complications on site and save you money when you get back home.
Have you ever run up against another country’s healthcare system on a trip abroad? Did you have travel medical insurance at the time? Share your personal tips and insights in the comments section below.
For all things travel-related, go to AAA.com/Travel.