Many of our clients will ask if their medical insurance works the same way when travelling overseas as it does in their home country or country of residence.

With the exception of occasional differences with regards to co-pays, medical provider networks and emergency telephone numbers, the simple answer is yes. If your medical insurance plan covers you worldwide, then your plan’s claim and pre-authorisation procedures work the same way whether you are in America or Zimbabwe, in Australia or Zaire.

Most international insurance providers will provide direct billing globally. We recommend that if you’re making a trip overseas to check your insurance carrier’s medical provider network list in the country or area you will be visiting, prior to making the trip. We suggest saving the contact details of the main hospitals and clinics in your vacation destination in your laptop computer or mobile phone. Many insurance providers also make the lists available on their website through a searchable database, some of which we have noted below at the bottom of the page.

Many internatonal insurance providers have different 24-hour international helpline numbers depending on where you are calling from. For example, CIGNA & CMC’s insurance membership card notes three numbers to call: one for use in China, one for use when in the United States, and a third number for use when travelling anywhere outside of China and the United States. If you need to call your insurance provider to arrange pre-authorisation or even if you have a simple question related to your plan’s benefits, make sure you call the right number. Again, we suggest you check the number prior to making your trip and save the correct number in your mobile phone. The numbers will be noted on the back of your insurance membership card.

When packing for a trip overseas, make sure to pack your insurance membership card and to print (or save as a PDF on your laptop computer) a copy of your insurance carrier’s claim form (again, also usually available through your insurance carrier’s website). If you are travelling in a remote area and need to visit a Doctor, chances are that the clinic will not be in your insurer’s medical provider nertwork list, so you’ll need to pay and claim. You should ask the Doctor to complete a copy of the claim form. Make sure too to collect a copy of the Doctor’s medical report and collect all receipts, and a copy of the itemised bill, so that you may submit a claim for reimbursement once you return from your vacation or, for expats, your trip back to your home country. We also suggest having a credit card with you to pay any medical bills up-front, if necessary.

A word regarding medical evacuations. All emergency evacuations must be arranged for and coordinated by your insurance provider. Approved evacuations will be to the nearest hospital or medical clinic that is able to provide the necessary level of medical treatment. If your situation is critical or life threatening, do not wait to call your insurance provider. Get yourself as soon as possible to the nearest hospital and once the situation has stablilized, then contact your insurance provider on their 24-hour international helpline number to let them know there’s an ongoing emergency and to arrange for an emergency evacuation, if necessary. Examples of emergency evacuations might include evacuating someone from a remote area to the nearest city, or from a high altitude mountainous region to a lower altitude.

Finally, if you are planning to schedule any kind of surgery while you are back home for your summer vacation, call your insurance provider now to get the ball rolling in terms of arranging the pre-authorization of that surgery. It’s never too early to get started and getting things arranged and confirmed, in writing, from your insurance provider can avoid a last minute rush when it comes to the time for your surgery.