Medicare coverage and travel: Does Medicare reimburse international medical bills?

A senior man walks alongside a senior woman who is using a walker.

Planning to travel in your retirement years? Make sure you're covered should you need healthcare away from home—whether you’re out of town, out of state or abroad.

Does Medicare cover me while I travel?

Many older adults look forward to fulfilling their travel bucket list during retirement, but Medicare may not be along for the ride.

If you have Medicare coverage, you will not receive reimbursement for international medical bills. Healthcare services accessed beyond U.S. borders are not covered. In some cases, Medicare may cover inpatient hospital costs, ambulance services or dialysis for the following circumstances:

  1. You are in the U.S. when emergency treatment is needed and the closest hospital is in a foreign country.
  2. You are traveling through Canada between Alaska and another state (via the most direct route) when an emergency situation occurs and the closest hospital is in Canada.
  3. You are a U.S. resident, but a foreign hospital is closer to your home than the nearest U.S. location that can treat your condition, regardless of whether it is an emergency situation.1

In any of these situations, the foreign hospital is not required to file a Medicare claim. If they don't, be prepared to submit an itemized bill to Medicare.2

If you are traveling to another state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Marina Islands, or American Samoa, your Medicare coverage follows you.

Going on a cruise? You may be covered for medically necessary care if the ship is within 6 hours of its U.S. port.3

Does Medicare offer travel health insurance?

Some Medigap or Medicare Supplement insurance policies do offer coverage for out-of-country travel. Medigap Plans C, D, F, G, M and N generally cover some type of travel-abroad emergency help.4 What is covered will vary based on the plan, and in particular, the state in which you are covered.

How can I make sure I’m covered while abroad or away?

Since Medicare coverage and international travel do not necessarily go hand in hand, those who plan to leave the country should consider a Medigap policy, or check their private insurance plan to determine what kind of services they could receive abroad—and at what expense.

Travel health insurance (not simply a travel insurance policy, as many don't include healthcare insurance5) may be a worthwhile investment if you hope to be away more than home during your retirement years, especially if you have health conditions that could require continual care and services, certain medical supplies, prescription drugs, or treatments.

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