What do I do about healthcare while abroad?
September 10, 2009 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be living in France and then Germany for two months (or maybe longer) and I'm not sure what to do about my health insurance.

I am currently on my old workplace's plan, paying almost $400 a month for pretty good health insurance and I don't want to lose it, but do I need american health insurance while I'm gone? It seems like it would be a waste of money to spend that if it's useless to me for that time period. Can one suspend their insurance while traveling? And is this even a good idea?

Also, how does it work to be a on a tourist visa if you get sick or get in an accident in France or Germany?
posted by minicloud to Travel & Transportation around Germany (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you need to get travel insurance IN ADDITION TO your current insurance. I'm guessing you're on COBRA, and you can't suspend it. You drop it, you lose it, and you can't get it back. But, call them and check, as I am not an insurance professional.

In terms of travel insurance, they have short term policies for people who are going away for extended periods of time. I just had to pick some up because I was going on a cruise. I ended up going with something from HTH, since they had good reviews all over the place and had a very economical plan since I already had health insurance in place. If I was going away for longer, I'd probably look at what Lonely Planet has on their web site. (I do not work for any of these people.)

If you're thinking about skimping on this, you need to think about worse case scenario here, and not colds and sniffles. What if you break a leg and need to be flown home and have to buy an entire row of seats to sit in because of your cast? What if you're in a terrible accident and want to fly your mom or sister over to help take care of you? Things like that.
posted by micawber at 8:53 AM on September 10, 2009

Best answer: You should check first with your current insurer to see what kind of coverage you have already. Chances are you will be covered during your trip, though you'd probably have to pay out-of-pocket for immediate healthcare, medicine and so on. Save all receipts!

Travel medical insurance doesn't really cover much except for emergencies, and 2 months is not really long enough to look for separate medical insurance. You may want to look into travel accident insurance, especially if you'll be doing something risky. This page may help. If you'll be driving, see what your car insurance covers, or get the right coverage when you rent a car.

If you are on any prescription drugs, be sure to take an adequate supply with you, copies of prescriptions, any existing conditions, and so on, and the phone number of your doctor. If you get into really deep shit, you should contact the local U.S. embassy or consulate.

Another thing to consider is that over the counter medicine is not as readily available in Germany or France as it in the U.S. - you have to get just about everything by consulting the pharmacist about your symptoms, who will then hand you out a small amount (e.g. 1 week's worth). And it's generally more expensive than in the U.S. So if there are any OTC medicines you rely on, be it anti-itch ointment or Tylenol or even vitamins, carry some along with you, with labels intact.
posted by thread_makimaki at 8:56 AM on September 10, 2009

As I understand it, many American insurance plans cover you while outside of the U.S. You need to call them and ask if you have coverage.

Your status abroad is important - you need to remain a resident of the U.S., so you can only be a "tourist" during your time abroad (which it sounds like you are).

Not sure about your tourist visa question... as an American (I'm assuming you're an American citizen), you don't need a visa to travel in the Schengen treaty zone for up to three months. (You can travel visa free for three months every six months)

Again, you should call up your insurance provider.
posted by mammary16 at 8:57 AM on September 10, 2009

Take a look at your policy. Does it cover you outside the US? When I last went on long term travel I had to drop my policy because it only covered me for 90 days outside the US, after which I would have nullified it. Most people I talk to say their policies cover them outside the US for ay length of time so maybe it was just me (and my individual catastrophic policy) or my state.

I always get travel insurance anyway to, at the very least, cover repatriation of remains, getting flown home etc. Then again, I'm usually in some developing country not Europe.

If it were me I'd hold onto a COBRA policy for dear life. After you've been uninsured for a while its really hard to get back even if you are healthy.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2009

In case it wasn't entirely clear from micawber's comment, you will have no coverage in Europe as an American tourist. Some health plans do include coverage for foreign travel so you should check your policy first. This isn't common though and you will likely have to purchase additional insurance.

If you have minor issues while you are here you can go see a pharmacist or doctor. Try the former first. They can help solve most minor issues. If you do need to see a doctor, as a non-European, you will have to pay a doctors fee.

I second the advice to keep your insurance. It is not useless. If you have a serious medical issue you may need to suddenly return home to take care of it. Thats when you will really need that insurance.
posted by vacapinta at 9:02 AM on September 10, 2009

Nthing thread_makimaki. I'm also going to be out of the country for a couple of months. I checked my big-name policy and I'm covered while abroad, but as thread_makimaki points out, I have to pay upfront for treatment and then submit a claim.

Even if you do have to get a separate travel package, don't cancel your main insurance. When I did that many years ago, it was extremely hard to get insured again.
posted by PatoPata at 9:27 AM on September 10, 2009

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