What Does Obamacare Mean for Travelers and Expats?

By Courtney McCaffrey


Let’s face it. As travelers, we’re always more worried about where we’re headed than what American politicians are arguing about. In fact, many of us travel because we’re sick of American politics.

450px-Pedestrian_border_crossing_sign_Tijuana_MexicoIt’s no secret that American retirees have been moving to Mexico because healthcare is more affordable. Of the well over 40,000 American retirees currently living in Mexico, thousands of them have enrolled in the Mexican Social Security Institute, which offers health care with no limits, no deductibles and zero cost for X-rays, dental work, medicines and eyeglasses – for roughly $250 a year. So what if some of the hospitals aren’t using cutting edge technology? We all know you can’t get a tooth pulled here in the U.S. for that price.

But now we’ve got Obamacare. So what happens if you left the country for good, simply because no insurance company would cover your pre-existing condition? Or what happens when you come back to the States after years abroad? Will you be penalized for not having health insurance?

Us stinky traveler types aren’t used to having to think about issues like this. Many of us have 800px-ตึกโรงพยาบาลพระรามเก้าbeen exploring the world, dropping into Mexican dental offices and Thai hospitals as we saw fit. Maybe we had a toothache or knew we had to get a mole removed, but heaven forbid we do that in the States.  We told our foreign friends, “It would cost thousands there!” And we were right…

But contrary to what South Carolina news channels say, Obamacare presents zero need to panic.  Americans who live abroad for at least 330 days in a 12-month span qualify for an exemption, so if you’re still out of the country when the end of March 1, 2014, deadline hits, you won’t be penalized for not having coverage. You actually won’t have to buy health insurance until you return, but you must prove on your 2013 taxes or through a conversation with your state health care exchange that you are indeed living abroad.

769px-Puerto_Vallarta_dentist_officeSo what about travelers who leave the country for big chunks of the year but not quite 330 days? It’s simply time to sign up for health care. You may appreciate that if something serious happens abroad, you can always come home to the doctor you trust. And Obamacare certainly doesn’t deny you access to those dentists in Panama that are still cheaper than your deductible in the States, so go ahead and get your teeth cleaned.