Imagine being on a flight about to take off for a vacation overseas. You've found cheap tickets, a fantastic travel time and even receive a complimentary drink on the flight. Thinking of everything from the hotel to the off-the-beaten-path activities, you are ready for the most memorable vacation of your life. The flight lands, you get settled in your hotel, and your vacation has officially started. Life is good.

But after a day of relaxing and enjoying delightful meals, you start to feel ill. You reassure yourself that everything is fine but then your left arm starts tingling. Your chest begins to throb. Understandably, you're beginning to worry. You wonder if you should find a doctor but are afraid because you don't speak the local language. What options do you have?

This scenario unfortunately was a real-life situation for an employee I worked with. She and her husband were enjoying a cruise off of the coast of Mexico when suddenly her husband fell ill with heart-attack-like symptoms. An emergency medical helicopter landed on the boat to escort her and her ill husband to the nearest hospital off of the Texas coastline. At that point, they didn't know if their health insurance would cover these out-of-network charges.

With summer vacations right around the corner, here are some areas to cover in upcoming employee newsletters to guide workers toward the necessary travel information:

* Be specific about what level of out-of-network coverage your health plan provides. Some plans cover providers within a specific contract agreement or geographic area.

* Inform employees if your plan provides out-of-country coverage and how employees can file a claim if they become ill while abroad.

* Detail which prescription drugs are eligible for reimbursement if prescribed in a foreign country. For example, my employer's plan will cover prescription drugs prescribed in another country only if the drugs are FDA-approved.

* Explain whom to call in an emergency situation. List your employer's phone number with the full country code to dial into the United States. Do you have a 1-800 or 1-866 number? Make sure employees can dial into the U.S. with this number. Not all toll-free numbers can be dialed from another country.

* List the vaccines your plan covers or specifically excludes. In some situations, overseas travelers are required to receive a particular vaccination for safety reasons.

In addition to covering these points, you may also consider providing information about two supplemental coverage options: medical evacuation (air ambulance) and repatriation of remains. These are additional add-on options that an employee and their dependent(s) can purchase for a nominal cost for peace of mind. In the event that someone falls seriously ill or is injured, the medical evacuation would pay for an air ambulance to fly the individual to an appropriate facility to treat the condition. In the unfortunate event that someone dies while traveling, repatriation of remains would transport the individual's body to their country of citizenship.

Happy employee-travelers are those who receive helpful and relevant information about summer vacations from their employers. Consider adding these topics to your benefits communications. If you don't have the resources to advise on these topics, your employer's employee assistance program may also be able to counsel on international travel and insurance coverage. I wish you and your workers safe travels this vacation season.

Contributing Editor Emily Chardac spent over four years in an international recruitment office serving individuals of over 80 nationalities. She's been working in the international HR/benefits field since 2007. She holds a Master's in HR with a focus on international business and French. Emily can be reached at

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