Medicare coverage overseas

One of the most popular endeavors during retirement is international travel and many seniors choose to live overseas after leaving the workforce. While traveling or living abroad is one of the best ways to experience new cultures and do things you may not have been able to do before retirement, you should know that your Medicare coverage likely won't be coming with.

Depending on where you go and how long you plan on staying, you may need to invest in supplemental insurance while traveling abroad. Before you take a trip or plan to move overseas, you will need to ensure you have access to hospitals and doctors and have coverage for your medical expenses. Without easy access and medical coverage, you are putting your finances and health at risk.

Medicare coverage limits
When you travel abroad, the coverage you receive in the U.S. generally does not apply, though there are some situations where your Medicare coverage may extend while you are traveling. Medicare will cover your health care expense within the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. If you have Original Medicare, your hospital visits and doctor services will be covered within these territories and states. If you have a Medicare prescription drug plan, your coverage will not extend beyond the U.S.

There are a few other circumstances when Medicare will cover health care services at a foreign hospital. Specifically, if you are in the U.S and need to be treated immediately for an illness or injury, Medicare coverage will apply if a foreign hospital is closer than a U.S. hospital. Additionally, if you are traveling through Canada between Alaska and the continental U.S. during a medical emergency, Medicare may cover a hospital visit in Canada if the travel was deemed "without unreasonable delay." Finally, if you live in the U.S. but a foreign hospital is closer to you than a U.S. hospital, Medicare may cover your health care services there for a medical condition – emergency or otherwise.

When you need supplemental insurance
Regardless of where you go, you should always have health insurance and consider investing in travelers insurance. If you're traveling or will be living outside the U.S. and your Medicare coverage no longer applies, you should invest in supplemental insurance. Without insurance coverage, you run a high risk of financial burdens if you were to need medical treatment for an illness or injury while traveling. Coverage is most important for seniors, people with chronic medical conditions, travelers who will be overseas for an extended period of time and people who plan to participate in high-risk activities. Travelers insurance can protect your finances if your plans were to suddenly change or your flight was canceled. 

To get coverage for your international travels, invest in a Medicare Part C plan or Medigap coverage. These plans are sold by private companies – just be sure to choose one that offers foreign coverage. If you are planning on living overseas, it can be a good idea to choose a plan that offers evacuation coverage in case you need to be brought back to the U.S. for medical treatment. Some countries, such as Costa Rica, may offer government-sponsored health care coverage, which is relatively cheap for residents. If you are moving to a country with this type of coverage, you may not need or want Medicare coverage at all. Before you sign up for another country's health care system or forego Medicare, however, be sure to read the fine print for age limits and foreign nationals.

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Pete Blasi