What To Do if You Get Sick While Traveling Overseas

Aug 11, 2021

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No one enjoys getting sick, but when you’re far from home, illness can quickly veer from inconvenient to frightening.

Though you hopefully won’t get sick while you travel, a big medical emergency can happen at any time, whether or not you’re ready for it. In order to minimize stress and inconvenience, it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected.

Talk to your insurance company before you go

While some insurance companies do provide coverage abroad, most plans don’t cover medical evacuation home. Talk to your carrier to find out what you’ll be covered for, if anything. If you are covered, be sure to travel with your health insurance card and a claim form.

Be aware that Medicare doesn’t cover hospital or medical costs outside the U.S., so contact the AARP for information on foreign medical coverage with Medicare supplement plans.

How to purchase travel insurance

Paying medical bills abroad can be financially devastating, so if your insurance company doesn't cover you, purchase a short-term policy to cover you abroad for travel medical insurance or medical evacuation. Typically, you can purchase a package that also includes things like trip cancellation and interruption, lost baggage coverage or rental car insurance.

The cost of travel medical insurance depends on the package you purchase, your age and the cost of your trip. Most policies require you to purchase extra coverage for pre-existing conditions.

A travel insurance package including trip cancellation, interruption, baggage and travel delay, medical and emergency evacuation could cost about 4 - 8% of your total trip cost. The older you are, the more expensive your insurance will likely be.

Although many tour operators sell their own insurance, it’s a good idea to purchase travel medical from a third party, as a tour insurance package provides no coverage if the supplier goes bankrupt. Choose an insurance provider that is financially stable (at least an “A” rating from A.M. Best, which rates the financial stability of insurance providers). Verify that the company is licensed and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

As part of NerdWallet’s Best-Of Awards, we analyzed various travel insurance policies to help you choose the plan that best aligns with your travel goals. Check out our results here: Best Travel Insurance of 2021.

Be prepared

Add an emergency contact to the information page on the inside of your passport so that you can be more easily identified in case of an accident where you’ve been rendered unconscious.

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, carry a letter from your primary care physician describing the condition and any prescription medications you are currently taking.

» Learn more: Keep your money safe while you travel the world

Travelers often get sick because of sudden changes in food or environment, so get your body in shape for whatever awaits it. If you’re planning a backpacking trip with a lot of physical exertion, for instance, start working out before you hit the trails. Be sure to get any required and/or recommended vaccines at least six weeks before you travel.

And if you don’t yet have a travel credit card, start researching your options. It can help if you need to balance unforeseen costs.

What should I do if I get sick?

To find a doctor, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy for a list of local doctors and medical facilities. Alternatively, search the list of English-speaking foreign doctors in the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.

If your illness is serious, consular officers can help you find medical assistance and inform your family. They can also assist you in transferring funds from family or friends in the U.S., as payment of hospital and other medical bills are the traveler’s responsibility.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: How to find the best travel insurance The top credit card offers for travel protection Should you insure your cruise?

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