Should I Take My Medicare Card When I Travel Overseas?

Traveling overseas can be an exciting adventure. But if you have Medicare, you may be wondering if your coverage applies abroad. Here’s what you need to know about using your Medicare benefits internationally.

Medicare Coverage Outside the U.S. is Limited

In most situations, Medicare won’t pay for health care or supplies you get outside the United States. This includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

There are a few exceptions where Medicare may cover emergency care overseas. But in general, you can’t rely on your Medicare benefits for medical services abroad.

Three Situations Where Medicare May Help With Overseas Emergency Care

Medicare Part A and Part B may help pay for inpatient hospital and ambulance services in these limited situations:

  • You’re in the U.S. when an emergency occurs, and the nearest hospital is in Canada or Mexico. Medicare may cover care at the closest appropriate foreign hospital if it’s closer than the nearest U.S. hospital.

  • You’re traveling through Canada without unreasonable delay between Alaska and another U.S. state when an emergency occurs. Medicare may cover care at the closest appropriate Canadian hospital if it’s closer than the nearest U.S. hospital. Medicare determines what counts as “without unreasonable delay” on a case-by-case basis.

  • You live in the U.S. near the Canadian or Mexican border and the nearest appropriate hospital is in Canada or Mexico. Medicare may cover emergency care at that hospital regardless of whether you’re experiencing an emergency.

In these cases, Medicare will only pay for Medicare-covered inpatient and ambulance services related to your emergency care. It won’t cover follow-up care outside the hospital.

Medicare Won’t Cover These Services Overseas

Except in the above emergency situations, Medicare likely won’t cover these services abroad:

  • Outpatient doctor visits
  • Lab tests or X-rays
  • Home health care
  • Medical equipment
  • Prescription drugs
  • Preventive care like annual checkups
  • Elective procedures

Medicare also won’t cover dialysis overseas unless you get it during a covered inpatient hospital stay.

Cruise Ship Care May Be Covered Near U.S. Ports

Medicare may cover medically necessary health services from doctors on cruise ships if:

  • The doctor is licensed to provide services on the ship
  • The ship is within 6 hours of a U.S. port when you get care

Once the ship is more than 6 hours from a U.S. port, Medicare won’t cover health services onboard.

You Must Pay Original Medicare Cost Sharing Amounts

If you get emergency inpatient care overseas that Medicare covers, you’ll owe the same deductibles, copays, and coinsurance amounts as you would in the U.S.

However, because foreign hospitals don’t have to submit Medicare claims, you may need to pay the full cost upfront. You can then submit a claim to Medicare for reimbursement.

Travel Insurance Can Supplement Limited Medicare Coverage

Since Medicare benefits are so restricted abroad, comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended. Look for a policy that includes emergency medical care and medical evacuation coverage overseas.

Many Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) plans provide limited emergency coverage abroad. But you’ll likely need to purchase additional travel insurance for adequate protection.

Take Your Medicare Card in Case of Emergency

Your red, white, and blue Medicare card proves you have Medicare coverage. Carry it with you when traveling abroad in case you need emergency hospital care.

Even though Medicare will only pay for care in limited circumstances, your Medicare card still serves as identification and provides important information to foreign hospitals.

Having your Medicare card doesn’t guarantee Medicare will cover your overseas care. But hospital staff can use it to easily access your Medicare information if coverage applies.

How Medicare Advantage and Other Plans Work Overseas

Medicare Advantage Plans and other Medicare health plans must follow Original Medicare’s rules for emergency care abroad. But many plans offer additional overseas coverage and benefits.

Check with your plan before traveling to learn about your international health coverage. They may have different cost sharing, provider networks, and claim filing procedures overseas.

Tips for Traveling Abroad With Medicare

Consider these tips to stay protected when traveling internationally with Medicare:

  • Carry your Medicare card — it’s essential for hospital identification.

  • Bring any prescription medications you’ll need in carry-on luggage.

  • Know Medicare’s limited overseas coverage — don’t assume your care will be covered.

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance for adequate medical and evacuation protection.

  • Check your Medicare Advantage or Medigap policy for details on international health benefits.

  • Carry cash and credit cards to pay upfront for medical care if needed.

  • Learn how to say “hospital” in the local language in case you need emergency services.

  • Bring copies of your passport, prescriptions, and other key documentation.

  • Know how to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consultate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Medicare cover care on a cruise ship?

Medicare may cover medically necessary care from licensed doctors while the ship is within 6 hours of a U.S. port. Once beyond this limit, Medicare won’t cover health services onboard.

What if I live near the Mexican border?

If the closest appropriate hospital for your care is in Mexico, Medicare may cover emergency and non-emergency services there.

What if I’m traveling for several months?

Unfortunately, Medicare won’t cover routine medical care, prescriptions, or medical evacuations for extended overseas trips. Comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended.

What if I need to be hospitalized while abroad?

Medicare will only cover inpatient hospital care in very limited overseas emergency situations. You’ll likely need to pay out-of-pocket and submit a claim to Medicare for any reimbursement.

Does Medicare cover an air ambulance back to the U.S.?

Generally no. Medicare typically won’t cover medical transport or evacuations back to the U.S. from overseas. This is why travel insurance with medical evacuation is so important.

The Bottom Line

Medicare coverage outside the U.S. is extremely limited. You can’t rely on your Medicare benefits for most medical services abroad. Take your red, white, and blue Medicare card when traveling overseas. But also be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for care and have appropriate travel insurance.

Do I Need Medicare When Living Abroad?


Should I carry my Medicare card when traveling internationally?

Medicare doesn’t typically cover you when you travel internationally, although there are limited circumstances when Medicare will pay for your health care outside the United States. Medicare Advantage international coverage is similar, although it differs from Original Medicare for travel within the U.S.

Does Medicare cover me in another country?

But the coverage is limited: Medicare won’t pay for ambulance or doctor services in the foreign country after your covered hospital stay ends. If you qualify, the foreign hospital may file a claim with Medicare, but it’s not required to do so. In that case, you may need to submit an itemized bill to Medicare.

Should I bring my health insurance card overseas?

Before you go abroad, learn what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas. If your health insurance policy provides coverage outside the United States, remember to carry both your insurance policy identity card as proof of insurance and a claim form.

Does my US health insurance cover me abroad?

Generally, most domestic health insurance policies are not accepted abroad, so there is a benefit to purchasing travel medical insurance as a supplement to your health insurance coverage. The travel medical coverage is only valid while you’re traveling.

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