Retiree Travel Tips for Dealing with Health Issues Abroad

If you plan to travel, make sure you safeguard your health and finances wherever you are. With access to time and discretionary income, many retirees are traveling abroad to see the world’s epic sights and experience different cultures. But medical emergencies do happen, so plan ahead. Here are three strategies to help you avoid some common pitfalls:


Plan ahead for emergencies

For many seniors, traveling abroad is the culmination of years of hard work and saving for retirement. But as we age, health issues become more prevalent. If you get ill before setting off, think twice about going. A cruise ship or hotel may not be a comfortable place to convalesce. And remember to bring your required medications.

Since international travel can often come with surprises, consider purchasing travel insurance or, if you’re taking a cruise, the insurance waiver offered by the cruise line. That way you’ll be able to cancel without losing money.

Remember to arrange travel insurance through the airline, if needed. And be careful when booking hotel stays. Make sure you have the option to cancel these without paying a penalty.

Finally, always keep insurance contact information and ID cards, along with personal contact and primary care physician numbers, easily available.

Take precautions with medications

Pack a letter from your physician describing your condition and listing your medications. Leave prescriptions in their original containers. Pharmacists overseas are often unfamiliar with American brand names, so know the generic names. Lastly, check with the foreign embassy of countries you’re visiting to make sure your medications are considered legal.

Get required vaccinations

Some countries require visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination, called a Yellow Card, as proof of inoculations. Research online for country-specific updates and information, and contact the foreign embassy of the country you’re visiting or transiting through for their requirements. If going on a cruise, the cruise line will let you know if any vaccinations are required. For more information, visit U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization.


Do you know if your current health insurance or Medicare plan covers medical services you might need while traveling overseas? If you’re enrolled in a UC-sponsored retiree medical plan, you can start by researching coverage. Using the plan contact information on UCnet, you can call with specific questions or concerns before you travel.

If you are not enrolled in a UC-sponsored plan, make sure you also research and understand fully what is covered outside of the United States. Learn more about what Medicare covers.

Know the difference between medical insurance and travel insurance

Medical insurance specifically covers the costs of medical attention you may need while traveling abroad. Travel insurance insures your financial investment in your trip. However, some coverage may be unnecessary if it overlaps with protection that you already have in place through a homeowners, auto, life, or health insurance policy.

Consider including evacuation insurance that pays for getting you to the nearest medical facility, especially if you’re going to someplace remote. Paying a few hundred dollars for evacuation insurance may be preferable to paying tens of thousands for an emergency medical flight home.


If you’re taking a cruise, don’t assume the ship is a floating hospital. While doctors and nurses are usually available at all times, the scope of treatment can be somewhat limited. For example, if the ship’s doctor determines you need surgery, you could be dropped off at the next port.

In the U.S., the Coast Guard will airlift you to the nearest port that has a hospital. If abroad, evacuation will be handled by the military. After you recover, you’ll have to find your own way home.

If you’re traveling on your own, learn simple steps that can help, like knowing how to dial the “911 equivalent” in each country you visit. If you need medical help, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting for help locating medical services. They’ll be able to direct you to medical facilities where English is spoken, and help you transfer funds from the United States, if necessary.

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