Medicare doesn’t usually cover health care outside the U.S. (And the government’s definition of the U.S. includes the 50 states and the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.)
However, there are some small exceptions. If you are traveling in the U.S. and have a medical emergency but the nearest hospital is in Canada or Mexico, you can qualify for Medicare coverage at that hospital. Similarly, you can use your benefits if you are traveling to or from Alaska via Canada and the nearest hospital is in Canada.
If you are on a cruise…and you become ill or have an emergency, you must seek assistance from the doctor on that particular cruise ship. If the ship is no more than six hours from a U.S. port, you will be covered by Medicare. And if the doctor determines you require hospitalization…in a hospital in Mexico or Canada, for instance, Medicare will pay for services provided by hospital staff.
Importantly, though, the ship’s doctor must have taken care of you while on board, and while the ship was within six hours of a U.S. port – and the doctor must send you to the hospital on the same day for the same medical condition.
How to be prepared
If you travel a lot internationally, consider one of the Medicare C through J supplement (Medigap) plans sold by private companies that provide foreign coverage.
If you relocate overseas, many countries offer its residents a government-sponsored health insurance plan. And often you can buy a private plan for far less than it might cost in the U.S. Some countries and insurance companies have age limits on participation, however, so be sure to do your homework.