Medicare does not usually cover care that you receive outside the United States. However, know that it is usually best for you to enroll in Part A and possibly in Part B if you live abroad on a temporary basis or travel back to the United States frequently.

Most people pay no premium for Part A, so it should not cost you anything. Remember that while you live abroad, you can apply for and receive Social Security Retirement benefits if you are an American citizen. In some countries, you can receive Social Security Retirement benefits if you’re not a United States citizen but you or your spouse worked and paid Social Security taxes in the United States for at least 10 years. You cannot turn down Part A if you want to keep collecting your Social Security benefits. For more information about your eligibility for Social Security Retirement benefits while you live abroad contact your nearest Social Security office, United States Consulate or Embassy.

If you plan to move back to the United States one day or will travel back frequently, think carefully about enrolling in or remaining enrolled in Part B. Be sure to do your research before deciding to drop it when you leave the United States.

If you fail to enroll in or keep Medicare while you live abroad, you may go months without health coverage when you return to the United States. You may have to wait until the General Enrollment Period (January 1 – March 31 of every year) to enroll and wait until July 1 for your Part B coverage to start again. Also, you may face lifelong premium penalties which will make your Medicare coverage more expensive.

If you plan to move back to the United States one day or will travel back frequently, you should only consider delaying or dropping Part B if:

  • You (or your spouse) currently work outside the United States for a foreign or American company that provides you health insurance, or you (or your spouse) work in a country with a national health system. You qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in Part B without penalty, and at anytime while you or your spouse are still working and for up to eight months after you lose your health coverage or stop working.
  • You volunteer internationally for at least 12 months for a tax-exempt non-profit organization and have health insurance during that time. You have a six month Special Enrollment Period to enroll into Medicare without gaps or penalties that starts once your volunteer work stops, or your health insurance outside of the United States ends, whichever is earlier.

Make sure you know about enrolling in Medicare if you are currently living abroad.

Remember, the rules regarding Medicare enrollment if you live abroad are complicated. The information above serves as a general guide and is not intended to as advice for your particular situation. Be sure to contact Social Security or the United States Consulate or Embassy in the foreign country where you reside before making any final decisions about Medicare enrollment.