Healthcare On the Road

photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon/unsplash

When Brett and I begin traveling next May, we will leave the U.S. with no concrete plans to return. It’s not that we won’t return, but there are no calendar dates are set and no visits planned, at least for the first couple of years.

A big consequence of this is that we won’t be in the U.S. for regular doctor visits and prescriptions refills, or to have dental work taken care of. We are doing careful planning to make sure we can get prescriptions refilled as necessary, see a dentist at least once a year, and get our vision checked regularly as well.

As it is illegal to ship prescription medication into most other countries, we will begin our journey with a six-month supply of our medications. Our regular prescriptions are for 90 days, and we can get a one-time 90-day “emergency supply” as well to carry along with us. But what do we do when that runs out?

We have a few arrows in our quivers when it comes to prescription medication. First, as military retirees we can visit any U.S. military hospital in the world and get a prescription filled, so we will carry written prescriptions from our doctor with us that will get us through the first year as well as a letter explaining the reason we take the medication. When those supplies run out we will have to have a doctor’s visit at a military hospital or in the country we’re in to get a new prescription. Our military health insurance follows us world-wide so those costs can be reimbursed, but a visit to a physician overseas is not the wallet-emptying expense it is in the U.S. For example, we will need to visit a GP when we’re in the UK because it is against the law in there for a pharmacy to fill any prescription that’s not written by a British physician. The cost for the visit to see a GP at a same-day clinic is around $55, and we can get a check up as well as our prescription. The cost for a GP visit is even less in other countries such as France or Italy.

photo credit: Yusef Belek/unsplash

Dental care is another area where we’re doing some research so we know our options before departing. We have been reading a lot about “dental tourism,” or places where excellent dental treatment is available for a fraction of what it costs in the U.S. Two noted areas for quality dental work in Europe are Spain and the island nation of Malta. Having a crown procedure in Spain, for example, is around $500, the same cost as it is in the U.S. if you have good insurance. Thankfully, our dental insurance also travels with us throughout the world, but it’s good to know that if we need any sort of major procedure done we can get it done overseas without breaking the bank, and could even get a side visit to Spain or Malta! Cost comparisons for dental procedures overseas can be found online. Japan also offers good dental care at a lower cost than the U.S. although not as low as in Europe.

Vision care is currently the big unknown. For the past few years I’ve needed a new lens prescription almost every year; it’s been every other year for Brett. Since we have no idea of what an exam and new glasses might cost overseas, we plan to set up a separate vision savings account that will be dedicated to these potential costs, and hope that we estimate too high. I will be getting new glasses next month, and Brett will get new glasses next spring right before we depart, so hopefully this is something we won’t need to worry about for a while. I wouldn’t mind getting new glasses in Japan though – they honestly have the most stylish frames I’ve ever seen.

We’re doing our homework on what’s available where, how much it costs, and how we can keep up with our prescription, but know there are still going to be unknowns. We are extremely fortunate to have good health insurance to take along with us, and several options for care no matter where we are in the world, but the goal as always is to be proactive about staying healthy so that we can enjoy our time as much as possible as we travel.

10 thoughts on “Healthcare On the Road

  1. You’re lucky that they’re are US military bases in so many places you’re travelling to. But also that medical costs are cheaper nearly everywhere else that the US. When we take out travel insurance, there’s a higher rate if we travel to the US.

    I remember thinking I’d never seen so many optometrist shops than in France. And large shops with massive range of frames. Maybe, as a stylish culture, they have a great range of stylish frames too?

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    1. The location of nearby bases are one of the first things we check out. We don’t pick a destination because there’s a base nearby, but it’s good to know that we’ll be able to access one if necessary. We found though that other than Japan, we didn’t need one. We purposely located ourselves away from any bases when Brett retired in 1992, and have pretty well figured out how to manage without using them (ID card renewals are the main reason we use them now, but my next ID will be good for the rest of my life!).

      I told myself to pick up frames the last time we traveled, but never did. I will be paying better attention this time, and definitely looking in France.

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    2. Is there a medium type cost for supplemental healthcare abroad? Does Medicare cover out of the country? It’s just myself, it’s been a few years since I’ve been out of the country but at 67 would now never leave without knowing I had coverage.

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      1. Medicare does not cover medical care outside of the U.S. However, our military insurance (Tricare for Life) requires Medicare coverage, so we will not be dropping it. Outside of the U.S., Tricare for Life becomes our primary insurance versus the other way around like is is here.

        There are loads of good travel insurance policies available for seniors. Not sure of the cost, but with some research you should be able to find one that fits your needs.

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  2. A prescription was free for my husband in England because he was over 65, but the doctor visit was $110. Maybe it was more expensive because he had an illness? Medicare and travel insurance paid most so we were only out $15. You’ve got a great plan and excellent insurance. Makes me wish one of us had been in the military.

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    1. More good news (about the no-cost prescription). We’ve been investigating same-day medical clinics, both in England and Scotland, and the price seems to be about US$55 for a visit.

      The medical benefits were something we enjoyed when Brett was on active duty, and we knew they’d continue after he retired, but of course never thought about how valuable they would be. Brett was promised FREE healthcare for himself and family for the rest of his life when he retired. We knew that wasn’t sustainable, but it’s still very, very affordable although definitely not free!

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  3. Is there a way to DM you with a question about your military health insurance? Hubby is retired AF reserves, and we’re at the point where we need to start thinking about MediCare choices. TIA…

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