Are you getting ready for that bucket-list trip to the Australian Outback? Tuning up your bike before hitting the cycling-friendly roads of France? If so, don’t forget to do this important piece of travel research: Find out what health insurance coverage you have outside the United States.

Even the healthiest retiree-traveler could have a cycling mishap. And emergency medical conditions don’t always wait to hit until after you’re home and unpacked. Plus, the longer and more frequently you travel outside the United States, the higher your chances of getting hurt or sick while you’re on the road.

When Travel Medical Insurance Makes Sense

Even if you’re well insured while you’re at home, you may need some extra medical coverage while you’re traveling. According to Kiplinger, one good option is a stand-alone travel medical insurance policy. You also can buy a more comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency medical coverage, along with other benefits.

A good travel policy could cost you up to 10% of your total trip costs, notes Kiplinger. So, before you buy extra insurance, check to see if you have any international medical coverage through your current health insurance policy.

Medicare to the Rescue?

Many retirees assume Medicare will automatically cover them while they’re traveling internationally. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Medicare. Your policy doesn’t pay for emergency medical costs if you’re outside the United States or its territories, according to AARP. Medicare may cover your necessary medical expenses while you’re on a cruise ship. However, you’re on your own if you get sick when you’re more than six hours away from a U.S. port, according to Kiplinger.
  • Medigap policies. Supplemental plans C, D, F, G, M, and N do cover emergency medical care in foreign countries. So do the no-longer-sold supplemental plans E, H, I, and J, says Kiplinger. Medigap plans pay 80% of your emergency medical care costs (after your deductible) while you’re traveling. The maximum they’ll typically pay is $50,000. That may sound like pretty generous coverage. However, keep in mind that a medical airlift evacuation could easily cost up to $200,000, depending on the flight distance, according to Kiplinger. Surgery and other complex medical procedures can be unpredictably costly in other countries, too.
  • Medicare Advantage policies. These plans tend to have limited service networks — even within the United States. So emergency care you get in another country may be considered far “out of network” and much more expensive. Check with your insurance plan.

Two Ways to Buy Extra Insurance

If you decide to buy extra medical insurance for your travel, you can buy it two ways: as part of a comprehensive travel insurance policy or as a stand-alone travel medical insurance policy.

Comprehensive travel insurance is designed to help financially protect you when you travel. It can reimburse you in case you need to cancel a trip, and cover expenses such as lost baggage and missed connections. Many comprehensive travel insurance policies automatically include a small amount of medical insurance, such as $10,000 per person. However, retirees may need more coverage, suggests Kiplinger.

Your other option is to buy designated travel medical insurance. This is a one-time-purchase policy that specifically covers emergency medical expenses while you’re outside the United States. It may be less expensive than a more comprehensive travel insurance policy.

Important Questions to Ask Before You Buy

As with all insurance, the policy that’s best for you depends on your individual needs. Here are a few things to consider before picking a policy:

Do I need a full travel policy, or just extra medical insurance?

In addition to medical insurance, a comprehensive travel insurance policy usually includes coverage for issues such as missed connections, trip cancellation, and lost luggage.

However, you may already have some of those travel protections through one of your credit card accounts. Check your account benefits. Also, your homeowners insurance probably covers lost luggage or stolen belongings as part of the “off-premises protection” portion of your policy.

In other words, you might be able to save some money by buying just travel medical insurance.

Do travel medical policies cover preexisting health conditions?

Some policies automatically cover preexisting conditions as part of their benefits. (Preexisting conditions are health issues for which you’ve been tested or gotten care before your trip.) However, there’s an important key to getting coverage for these health issues, says Kiplinger: You typically have to buy the travel medical insurance policy very quickly after making your first trip down payment — often within 14 days. You also need to insure the entire cost of your trip — not just your airfare costs or your nonrefundable hotel fees, for example.

If you have a serious medical condition, you should talk to the insurance company about whether you need to purchase an extra waiver to cover your medical care, according to Investopedia. In this case, you may need a doctor’s letter. Also, some travel insurance companies don’t cover emergency care for certain disorders at all — including Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.

Be sure to talk to an insurance company representative and read the fine print on a sample copy of the policy.

If I travel a lot, can I get a medical policy that will cover me on multiple trips?

Yes, some insurers offer multi-trip policies. You may also be able to buy travel medical insurance that covers you for up to a year, no matter how many trips you take during that period.

However, some companies only insure you for multiple trips if each one is no longer than 30 days. You may have to show proof that you’re returning home between jaunts.

Also important: Year-long travel medical policies don’t replace health insurance. To qualify for one of these plans, you’ll have to prove that you already have regular, ongoing health insurance.

If you’re planning to travel outside the United States for more than a year, you may want to look into special “international health insurance.” These policies are designed for expatriates and frequent travelers. This insurance tends to offer coverage for routine, ongoing health care and not just emergency medical care.

Is medical evacuation coverage included?

Depending on where you travel, this coverage is probably a must for retirees, says Kiplinger. Why? Many remote locations don’t have access to reliable medical transportation. Cruise ships, for instance, often drop off sick passengers at the nearest port, whether it has airlift options or not, says Kiplinger. If you’re in the midst of a medical emergency, quick transport to a well-equipped hospital could mean the difference between life and death.

First, check to see whether your own health insurance covers international medevac transportation in an emergency. If not, you may have good reason to buy a supplemental travel medical policy with medevac coverage.

Ways to Save Money on Travel Medical Insurance

As a retiree, you’ll likely face some restrictions when you buy any kind of travel medical insurance. Some companies limit the dollar amount of coverage they offer travelers who are age 70 and older. Companies also tend to charge older travelers higher premiums, since seniors often are at higher risk for illness or injury and their care often is more expensive.

As a result, it makes sense to look for ways to save some money on your policy:

  • Choose a higher deductible. The deductible is the cost you pay out of pocket before your insurance policy begins paying your emergency medical costs. You’ll typically pay less for your policy if you’re willing to accept a higher deductible, according to the price-comparison site InsureMyTrip.
  • Ask about group insurance options. If you’re traveling as part of a tour, ask the operator if you’re able to buy travel health insurance through them. Or if you have 10 or more friends and family members traveling together, you may even be able to buy your own group travel insurance policy. Group travel insurers often ignore travelers’ ages when setting their policy prices. This factor can make group insurance much cheaper for older travelers.
  • Compare prices online. To get the best possible price, Consumer Reports suggests researching travel medical policies online, rather than buying them through a booking company or travel agent. Look into comparison sites such as InsureMyTrip, TripInsuranceStore, or SquareMouth.

The bottom line: If you’re planning an international trip, travel medical insurance can be a smart companion to take along with you.