Does Your Healthcare Plan Protect You Abroad?

With health insurance reform in the spotlight, travelers should become aware of their healthcare benefits available while overseas.

A survey commissioned by UStiA, the United States Travel Insurance Association, concluded that traditional domestic health insurance plans typically limit coverage for out-of-country medical expenses to emergency-related costs; have high deductibles and co-pays for emergency treatment abroad; and don't necessarily cover out-of-country emergency medical transportation in cases of life threatening illness where medical evacuation may be required.  Medicare, in most cases, does not provide coverage when traveling outside the U.S. and its territories.  Those concerned about the possibility of a health emergency while overseas should consider travel insurance.?

Travel Medical Insurance

Short-term travel medical insurance provides health coverage and services like access to qualified medical providers, evacuation and repatriation, plus 24-hour worldwide assistance. Focusing on medical coverage, these policies differ from standard comprehensive travel insurance policies in several ways:
  • Travel medical policies may be limited to geographic areas, but offer options as to length of coverage time. Comprehensive travel insurance provides coverage worldwide, but only up to completion of the trip. 
  • Travel medical policies are more like traditional health insurance, including restrictions on pre-existing health conditions, and are usually for people on extended trips or residing outside their country of residence, such as students or expatriates.
  • With travel medical insurance, a benefit period covers treatment worldwide up to 180 days for an eligible condition.  Comprehensive travel insurance usually provides coverage until a trip is terminated. 
  • Most travel medical insurance policies include a small trip interruption and baggage loss benefit, but do not generally protect against trip cancellation due to illness, job loss, and other situations, as does comprehensive travel insurance.

Long-term travel medical insurance is also available for U.S. expatriates and for those going abroad to work or volunteer. These policies offer a choice of medical benefit options like maternity, mental, dental, vision and preventive care, not found in short-term travel medical plans. Coverage for these policies is worldwide, with open and full access to global health care delivery. Sold on an annual basis, these policies also allow for voluntary travel to the U.S for treatment; however, coverage for pre-existing conditions may be limited or require higher premiums.

Medical Evacuation Air Ambulance Services

Travelers going to remote parts of the world, where local health services are either not available or inadequate for a serious injury or illness, may want to consider a medical evacuation policy or plan. A medical evacuation plan or insurance is also advised for travelers who don't want the other benefits available with a travel medical or comprehensive travel insurance package. Depending on the policy or plan, medical evacuation services provide 24-hour assistance and air evacuation with qualified medical staff to the nearest adequate facility, or in some cases, back home to the hospital of your choice. Air ambulance evacuations from distant areas can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so it's imperative to select a plan that has limits high enough to cover possible expenses.? ?

Comprehensive Travel Insurance Package 

Available on a per-trip or annual basis, comprehensive travel insurance offers financial reimbursement if a traveler has to cancel for medical or other reasons. These policies also offer medical coverage and medical evacuation up to a pre-set limit, assistance services, and other coverage such as reimbursement for expenses due to trip interruption, lost baggage, and more.

Assessing Needs

When traveling overseas, weigh your options and select the type of travel insurance coverage that is right for you.  Travelers should examine their current healthcare policies as well as any benefits offered by their credit cards or air carriers, and then consider the potential risks.  After determining whether your needs are likely to be primarily medical in nature, or if you may forfeit vacation deposits and monies paid because of an unexpected illness or other unforeseen events such as inclement weather, choosing the right type of travel insurance policy can provide peace of mind that your needs are covered.

Where To Find Help 

Travel insurance companies typically provide customer service representatives who can help you determine the best type of travel insurance policy for your needs. Travel insurance policies are also available over the internet, through travel agents, insurance brokers, tour operators, cruise lines, and through organizations that arrange for volunteer and other travel. Or visit the UStiA web site: for consumer guidelines and a list of the association’s member companies, all of whom adhere to high standards of professional conduct.


US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA)
UStiA is a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.