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.
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 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card