What You Need to Know About Health Care Outside the U.S.

Medicare will not travel with you overseas, so before retiring abroad get your health insurance in order.

With a few exceptions -- such as a medical emergency as you are passing through Canada on your way to Alaska -- you can't use Medicare in other countries. Still, you should sign up for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital costs, when you turn 65 so you can use it when you come back to the States. It's free, and you can enroll online at www.ssa.gov.

If you don't plan to spend any time in the U.S., you can skip enrolling in Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient services and doctor visits. It costs most new enrollees $110.50 per month (higher-income retirees pay more) and can be used only in this country. Be aware, however, that if you decide to enroll in Medicare Part B later, you'll pay a 10% penalty as part of your monthly premium for every year after age 65 that you delayed enrolling. If you retire before age 65, one option is to live overseas for a while and move back home for good once you become eligible for Medicare. That's what Rosanne Knorr, author of The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away From Home (Ten Speed Press, $14.95), recommends. But if you're too young for Medicare when you return, you might not be able to purchase health insurance for the first six months after a lengthy foreign stay.

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Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance