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The traveler’s guide to Medicare: what you need to know before you go

Are you 65 or older and heading out on a big trip? Here’s how to make sure you’re covered if you get sick or injured while traveling.

A major perk of retirement: having the time and freedom to travel. But you also want to make sure that your health care is covered in case you get sick or injured while traveling.

Since you’re likely already enrolled in either Medicare (aka Original Medicare) or Medicare Advantage, it’s important to know what both plans cover — or not — while you’re traveling.

Before you hit the road (or the skies), you’ll want to understand your health coverage options. Your coverage will depend on whether you’re traveling within the United States or abroad, and whether you have Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Here’s a guide to help you get started.

Need help understanding your Medicare options? Call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730 or enter your zip code to search available plans.

How does Original Medicare cover me while I’m traveling?

Even when you have Original Medicare, it can sometimes be hard to remember what it covers. A short reminder: Original Medicare is Medicare Parts A and B. Part A covers hospital insurance and Part B covers medical insurance. Original Medicare is a national plan, so you can get care anywhere in the United States as long as the provider accepts Medicare patients (some don’t, so it’s always worth asking).

But if you’re traveling outside the United States, Medicare typically does not cover medical care from foreign providers. “Outside the U.S.” means anywhere other than the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

There are rare exceptions. Medicare may cover emergency care for you in a foreign hospital if you:

  • Are in the United States and need emergency care, and a foreign hospital is closer to you than the nearest U.S. hospital. (You can get care at the foreign hospital regardless of whether you have a medical emergency.)
  • Need emergency care while traveling through Canada (without unreasonable delay) between Alaska and another state, and the Canadian hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can treat you. (Medicare determines on a case-by-case basis what qualifies as “without unreasonable delay.”)

If you have any further questions, get more details now or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730 to discuss your options.

How does Medicare Advantage cover me while I’m traveling?

A quick refresher: Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is an alternative way to get Medicare Parts A and B coverage. These plans are sold by private health insurance companies and may have additional coverage not included in Original Medicare.

A key difference between Medicare Advantage plans and Original Medicare: many Medicare Advantage plans have limited service areas. While Original Medicare can be used anywhere in the country, a Medicare Advantage plan may have a limited network of doctors that you can go to within a specific city, county or state. If you go to a provider outside of that network, you may pay a higher “out-of-network” fee — or even 100% of the cost.

That said, Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover emergency care or urgent care anywhere in the United States. So if you have a medical emergency while traveling in the U.S., your plan will cover your care wherever you are, without added costs.

If you’re traveling internationally, you likely won’t be covered by your Medicare Advantage plan. (Medicare Advantage plans must cover at least what Original Medicare covers, so you’d be covered in the few rare foreign travel exceptions outlined for Original Medicare above — but beyond that, how and what you’re insured for depends on your plan.) If you’re planning on traveling out of the country, call your health insurance company to see what they’ll cover. Or you can call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730 to discuss your Medicare Advantage plan options.

Ready to explore insurance plans where you live?

How will Medicare cover my prescription drugs while I’m traveling?

If you have Original Medicare, you’ll need a separate Part D plan for prescription drug coverage. It’s important to review your Medicare Advantage plan to understand if prescription drug coverage is included.

Whether you can fill prescriptions while traveling may depend on your plan. Since Part D plans and Medicare Advantage plans are managed by private insurance companies, they may have limited provider networks. Check your plan details to see where you can fill your prescriptions in the U.S.

If you’re traveling outside the country, keep in mind that Medicare drug plans will not cover prescriptions that you buy outside of the U.S. You’ll have to pay 100% of the cost to fill a prescription in another country. That’s also assuming you are able to fill your prescription at a pharmacy abroad.

“Every country has their own prescription drug laws,” says Noor Ali, M.D., a health insurance advisor and owner of Dr. Noor Healthcare Advisor. “They’re all different as to how they process prescriptions, what pharmaceuticals are allowed to the public and what requires a prescription.”

If you take prescription medications, it’s best to travel with enough of them to cover the whole length of your trip. Bring a few extra doses, too, in case of travel changes or delays. Talk to your doctor before your trip to make sure you have enough.

If you do need to fill a prescription while abroad, the U.S. Department of State recommends bringing a letter from your doctor that describes your medical condition. Ideally, the letter should also include the generic name of your prescribed medications.

Do I have any other options for being covered while traveling?

If you have Original Medicare, you can purchase a Medicare Supplemental Insurance (or Medigap) plan that can help cover emergency medical care while traveling outside the country.

Medigap policies are sold by private insurance companies and can help cover costs like deductibles, plus copayments and coinsurance. (A deductible is the amount you have to pay for health services before your insurance pays the rest.) Medigap plans C, D, F, G, M and N all cover emergency care in a foreign country. The plan will pay 80% of your medical bills for certain medically necessary emergency care.

You can only buy a Medigap policy if you are enrolled in Original Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you cannot buy a Medigap policy. Instead, you might want to consider buying a travel insurance plan for your trip.

Travel insurance is a type of supplemental insurance that helps cover the costs of unexpected events while traveling. That could include medical emergencies abroad, but it may also include incidents like trip cancellations and lost luggage.

One option is UnitedHealthcare Global SafeTrip travel protection. Choose a SafeTrip plan that is right for you. Plans can cover unexpected overseas medical emergencies, trip cancellations and more for domestic or international travel. To learn more about policy and plan options, visit the SafeTrip website.

You don’t have to let worries about health care and what your Medicare plan covers stop you from enjoying your travels. Talk to your doctor before you go on a big trip. Your physician can offer advice and let you know what you’ll need to bring with you to stay healthy.

You can also talk to a licensed insurance agent to understand what your Medicare plan covers and if adding a supplemental plan might be a good idea. Call today at 1-844-211-7730.


Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “Medicare coverage outside the United States.” January 2023. Retrieved from “Medigap and travel.” Retrieved from Accessed March 22, 2023

U.S. Department of State. “Your health abroad.” November 22, 2022. Retrieved from

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