Medicare abroad: what you need to know

Suzan Haskins
A doctor works on a patient in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Yuri Cortez | AFP | Getty Images

No matter what politicians decide about healthcare, one thing is for sure—your Medicare coverage won't go with you if you decide to retire overseas.

Luckily, though, there are many countries where, as a legal resident, you can qualify for a local healthcare plan that's often more comprehensive and less costly than Medicare.

Here's what you need to know:Medicare doesn't normally cover healthcare costs outside the U.S. (The official definition of the U.S. includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands—you can use your Medicare benefits in these countries.)

More from International Living:
5 countries with the best health care in the world
The 4 best hospitals in Mexico
Seeking access to world-class healthcare? Check out these countries

There are however, some small exceptions that allow you to use your Medicare benefits internationally. 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 nearby 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 become ill or have an emergency while on a cruise, and you seek assistance from the doctor onboard, if the ship is no more than six hours from a U.S. port, you will be covered by Medicare.

How to be prepared:If you often travel internationally, consider one of the Medicare C through J supplement (Medigap) plans sold by private companies that provide foreign coverage. Especially if you relocate overseas—consider an evacuation plan (many are available) that will cover the cost of your transportation back to the U.S. for treatment.

But here's the good news: Even though you may want to maintain your Medicare coverage as a fallback if you retire overseas, you'll find many countries offer residents a government-sponsored health coverage plan. In some cases, you'll pay a percentage of your income…often $100 to $200 a month for a couple, depending on your age, for a full government healthcare plan that covers office visits…hospitalization…prescriptions, and more.

In some cases, you can even qualify despite your age or pre-existing conditions. And, some healthcare plans are even free to those of retirement age.

Almost every country we cover offers a three-tiered healthcare system—free public healthcare, some kind of subsidized government healthcare, and a private system.

Private hospitals are typically the best equipped, with state-of-the art technology and doctors that have studied in the world's best medical universities—many of them speak English and are well acquainted with the newest diagnostic and treatment procedures…some of which may not yet be available in the U.S., for example.

If you have a resident visa and you qualify, you can buy a private health insurance plan for far less than it would likely cost in the U.S.—often for one-fifth the cost.

Healthcare—especially when you are of retirement age—should be one of the most important considerations in your decision to move overseas. Fortunately, you have many great, affordable options.

This article originally appeared on