As you prepare for your trip overseas, you may be dreaming of exotic cuisine, extraordinary sight-seeing adventures or lazy days on a tropical beach. You've carefully mapped out every stop on your countryside tour, planned for each delicious meal at the highest-rated local restaurants and created an itinerary of awesome activities for every single day. But aren't you forgetting something? If you're like countless other international travelers, you've probably neglected to plan for health care coverage. (For related reading, check out The Basics Of Travel Insurance.)

In Pictures: Vacation Savings Tips

What if you come down with strep throat or contract a parasite while you're abroad? What if you take a nasty spill off those slippery beach rocks and gash open your leg or break an arm? Will your insurance company cover the medical expenses? Maybe not.

If you don't plan ahead for such an unfortunate event, your dream trip abroad could quickly turn into an overseas nightmare. Here are some tips to make sure you're covered, no matter where your travels may take you.

Read The Fine Print
Many health insurance policies do not cover your medical expenses while you're traveling overseas. For example, Medicare does not cover international travel health expenses. However, certain Medigap policies do. It's extremely important to review your health insurance contract before you embark on your next trip.

Better yet, give your insurance company a call and ask exactly what services are covered while you're traveling abroad. Does your coverage include hospital care, emergency room services, doctor's office visits and prescription drugs? What about medical evacuations?

If you are one of the lucky few with insurance coverage that includes international travel, be sure to bring your member ID card as well as a copy of your insurance policy along with you. You should also ask your insurance company if you need to travel with any other forms of identification. Do not pack this paperwork in your checked luggage. Carry it on the plane with you so you'll have access to it even if your luggage gets lost.

Vacation Medical Insurance
If your insurance policy does not cover overseas medical expenses, you should cough up the cash for short-term vacation medical insurance. Before you start whining about one more extra cost, think of it this way: medical vacation insurance may run you between $50 and $200 dollars for $50,000 to $100,000 worth of coverage. The exact cost will depend on your age, where you're traveling, the length of your trip and how much coverage you want.

While $50 may seem like a lot of dough, it's only a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of overseas medical services. For example, a simple prescription for antibiotics may cost you hundreds of dollars - and the prices only go up from there. A trip to the emergency room could set you back thousands of dollars, and an overseas emergency medical evacuation costs around $50,000 a pop. That's enough to bankrupt some families.

That $50 travel insurance policy doesn't seem so costly now, does it? (For money-saving travel tips, read Save On Planes, Trains And Automobiles and Cruise Ships: Reining In Vacation Spending.)

Compare and Save
Take time to do a little research before you buy travel insurance. Visit an insurance comparison website to see how the costs and benefits for each insurance policy measures up.

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure the travel insurance policy covers prescriptions, doctor office visits, hospital stays, treatments and tests, 24/7 emergency assistance and medical evacuations. You should also check the policy for any exclusions. Some travel insurance policies will not cover injuries that result from "risky" activities, such as mountain climbing or scuba diving. (Find out how to read these documents in Understand Your Insurance Contract.)

Do Your Homework
Although quite a few international destinations, such as China, Costa Rica and Thailand, offer top-notch medical care, many other countries do not. Do your homework and find out if and how you'll be able to get medical care if necessary. If the country you're planning to visit has a notoriously substandard health care system, you may want to choose a different destination.

If you are traveling to a particularly exotic country, you should familiarize yourself with common diseases and medical conditions in that area. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out what diseases are common in certain countries (www.cdc.gov/travel). For a list of countries that require vaccinations, visit The World Health Organization's website (www.who.int/ith).

If you do get sick during your trip, you may have a hard time communicating your aches and pains to a doctor who doesn't speak English. Before you leave for your trip, print out a list of English-speaking doctors in your vacation destination. You can obtain this free guide from the nonprofit organization, International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (www.iamat.org).

Bon Voyage
Anything can happen while you're overseas. Unfortunately, some vacation surprises aren't as pleasant as others. You could come down with a severe case of food poisoning, catch the flu or even crash your moped into a nest of killer bees. So, before you start making excuses about how you've already drained your savings to pay for your trip abroad, you may want to reconsider vacation medical insurance. It could end up saving your life and your finances. (Read more in Ensure Your Vacation Is Insured.)

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