When it’s time to enroll in Medicare, there are many things to consider. Your future travel plans should be one of them. If you’re considering international travel during the next year, it can impact your health insurance choices and Medicare decisions.

Medicare itself doesn’t cover international travel. However, some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may cover certain emergencies if they occur outside the United States. In most cases though, you’ll need supplemental travel insurance.

If you plan to travel out of the country, it’s a good idea to review the details of your current Medicare or private health insurance plans to be sure you’re covered in case of an emergency.

If you’re not covered for international travel, you can explore other options to help fill any gaps in your coverage. We’ll explore your options, including Medicare supplemental plans (Medigap), short-term traveler’s insurance, or long-term coverage through Medicare Advantage.

Medicare is healthcare coverage for Americans ages 65 and older. The government program is broken down into four parts: A, B, C, and D.

You aren’t automatically enrolled in these programs — you must sign up during the enrollment periods. You can choose the best plans for your healthcare needs.

Most Americans sign up for Medicare parts A and B. To qualify for other Medicare coverage, you must also be enrolled in parts A and B.

Medicare Part B is essentially traditional medical coverage that covers outpatient care. Medicare Part A provides hospital coverage. If you need prescription drug coverage, then you may consider signing up for Medicare Part D.

Medicare Advantage (Part C) is another way to get your Medicare coverage. Depending on the plan you choose, your plan may include vision, hearing, dental, and prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage plans generally limit you to the doctors and facilities within a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and may or may not cover out-of-network care.

To buy a Medicare Advantage plan, you must already be enrolled in Medicare parts A and B. Coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan is offered through a private insurance plan.

Medicare Advantage plans may lower your out-of-pocket costs overall or provide additional coverage, such as when you travel.

There are no rules that dictate whether Medicare Advantage will cover a certain percentage of foreign hospital bills.

It’s important to check with your insurance carrier before you travel to know how much, if any, your individual plan covers international healthcare emergencies.

Medigap is supplemental insurance offered through the Medicare program. It’s different from Medicare Advantage plans in that it doesn’t cover things like long-term care, vision, dental, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing.

Medigap is another private insurance option within Medicare that’s designed to help cover costs like deductibles, copays, and other medical services not covered by other Medicare parts.

Medigap plans provide coverage for care related to medical emergencies that happen while you’re outside the United States. This type of insurance is often used to provide coverage during international travel.

Medigap can also help offset high deductibles and copays for insurance while you travel. In fact, depending on the plan you choose, Medigap may cover up to 80 percent of international medical emergencies once you’ve met your deductible and you’re within your policy’s maximum limit.

Medicare Advantage plans may offer more international coverage because they’re through private insurance providers. However, not all plans offer the same coverage.

Medigap plans also provide coverage internationally You must already be enrolled in Medicare parts A and B to be eligible for Medigap. Since Medigap is offered through private insurance companies, the amount of international healthcare coverage, if any, will depend on the specific plan you purchase.

If you plan on traveling on a frequent basis, you may want to pay more up front for a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan to cover costs away from your home state or out of the country.

Tips for enrolling in Medicare
  • Start early. Begin investigating your Medicare plan options a few months before you turn 65.
  • Collect the required documents. At minimum, you’ll need your driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. You may need a copy of a W-2 form if you’re still working.
  • Understand your current healthcare needs. Know how often you see the doctor each year, how many prescription medications you take, and any special medical needs you have.
  • Know your budget. Consider whether you want to spend extra money for the additional benefits that a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan offers.
  • Consider your travel plans. If you’re planning on traveling extensively, consider additional Medigap coverage.

If you’re on a budget, another option is to obtain supplemental traveler’s insurance. This isn’t medical insurance, but is instead a short-term plan that covers emergencies while you’re out of the country. You may also be able to buy short-term insurance through a travel planner.

The catch is that you’ll need to buy the coverage ahead of time for a specified itinerary. You can’t buy traveler’s insurance once you’ve already left the country.

Also, not all supplemental plans cover preexisting conditions. If you have chronic health conditions, be sure to review the exclusions before you purchase travel insurance.

Does Medicare cover you if you travel to Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, so your Medicare plan will cover your travels to the island. Residents of Puerto Rico are also eligible for Medicare.

The same rules apply to other U.S. territories, including:

  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • The Northern Mariana Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

If you travel, Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may have advantages over Medicare parts A and B for you. However, since these are private insurance plans, Medicare Advantage doesn’t automatically cover costs during international travel.

It’s important to review your policy before you travel and consider supplemental coverage with either Medigap or traveler’s insurance if you’re concerned about the potential cost of medical care while you’re out of the country.