By In Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Abroad and Injured? Your HSA Works for That!

I’ve occasionally posted “death of a thousand cuts” updates about the quiet desperation of navigating our health care system. Well, as one of my more troll-y friends pointed out, one experience isn’t exactly science but a recent experience with big, bad socialized medicine was almost pleasant.

On our blowout summer vacation for the whole family, my mother-in-law injured her heel from too much exploring on ancient Roman roads of solid marble. Luckily, we had an Italian friend who got her to a doctor to ensure it wasn’t more than just swelling. The doctor, not accustomed to billing for visits, didn’t charge my mother-in-law for checking her foot and then gave her crutches to rent for €1.50 (~$1.75) per day. We ended up buying them outright for €$20. She also got prescription-strength ibuprofen for a steal. All in all, my MIL’s costs were less than $30. Zoinks!

But the cost itself isn’t the reason for this post. What came to mind was that, had it been me, my wife or one of our children, we could have used our tax-free HSA funds to pay any bills that were incurred. That’s right, you can use your HSA — or FSA — funds for medical expenses pretty much anywhere on the planet. The two important rules are whatever product or service you’re getting has to be

  1. On the approved list of HSA/FSA products/services. That’s the U.S. list. Duh.
  2. Legal both in the U.S. and in the country where you’re receiving the service.

For example, if you’re in Spain and prescribed a drug that’s legal in Spain but not legal in the U.S., then no go on HSA reimbursement. Likewise, if you’re traveling abroad to get a procedure done that you can’t have done in the U.S., then again, no go.

But if you’re traveling simply to save money on a procedure that you could also get in the U.S. for a lot more — AKA “medical tourism” — then you are good. And if you just get injured while abroad, you’re good as well. Just always remember to save all receipts and paperwork, and make sure they have dates on them!

(Sidenote: You cannot, however, go to another country to get prescription drugs for cheaper for the sole purpose of bringing them back to the U.S. and personally using them. Seriously, the FDA will jack you up if you try to do that!)

Does this info mean that you shouldn’t get travel insurance as well? No, not at all. You should still look closely at what medical costs you might incur if you get hurt while traveling. Not every country is Italy and not every patient is as charming as my mother in law!

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