The Importance of Health Insurance for International Students & Travelers

The Importance of Health Insurance for International Students & Travelers

Study Abroad can be inspiring and rewarding – meeting new friends, learning valuable knowledge, experiencing new cultures and customs, and exploring exciting and faraway places. But traveling to a foreign country can also pose unexpected challenges – from the simple complications of a different diet, to an unexpected illness or injury, or even to a more serious accident far from home. Often there are unexpected medical expenses that can present financial challenges, and which may even interrupt your travel abroad. This is especially true in the United States, where the cost of medical care is very high.

Most of us acknowledge that health insurance is a necessity today, and especially when traveling abroad for an extended period of time. However, most people don’t realize that their regular health insurance at home usually does not provide medical coverage while traveling outside their home country. If you are considering study or travel abroad, it is strongly recommended that you purchase adequate International Health Insurance – and budget for the cost accordingly. Fortunately, affordable International Health Insurance is available for international students and scholars, visiting faculty, exchange program participants, dependents and families – and any international traveler worldwide (including your friends and relatives who may visit you!).

International Health Insurance is important for two fundamental reasons – to avoid the financial challenges of unexpected medical expenses, and to ensure that you have access to immediate and proper medical care wherever you travel. International Health Insurance pays for most medical expenses and is accepted by most medical providers worldwide, and therefore provides peace of mind so that you may enjoy your study or travel abroad.

The following is a brief overview of International Health Insurance – including how the insurance generally works, the types of health plans that are available, and definitions of some common insurance coverages and terms. If you wish to obtain International Health Insurance, or if you are required to purchase health insurance by your school or for your travel visa, it is prudent to contact an international insurance professional for advice and assistance to ensure you obtain the proper insurance coverage.

How It Works

International Health Insurance pays for doctor, hospital and medicine expenses if you are injured or become sick while traveling outside your home country. The cost of health insurance (called the “premium”) is an additional expense to consider, but in exchange for the premium the insurance company will pay for all covered medical expenses while you’re far from home. Importantly, many doctors and hospitals will not respond unless you provide evidence of your ability to pay for their medical services – your insurance confirms your ability to pay. To summarize, health insurance provides financial protection against unexpected expenses, and ensures timely access to medical care abroad – all of which provides peace of mind so you can study and enjoy your trip!

Basic Insurance Coverage and Terms

All International Health Insurance includes some amount of basic medical insurance, usually with a small deductible amount that you pay first, and also includes the often-required medical evacuation and repatriation coverages as well. Medical insurance pays for covered doctor, hospital and prescription drug expenses, and usually is paid directly to the medical provider. A deductible is the amount you pay to the doctor out of your own pocket first, and then the medical insurance pays the rest of the covered expenses up to the maximum amount of coverage you have selected.

Helpful Hint: make sure you purchase enough medical insurance to cover foreseeable medical expenses, and choose a deductible that isn’t so high that it presents a financial problem of its own.

Some health insurance also may include additional coverages, such as lost baggage, personal liability, political evacuation, reunion and 24-hour assistance services, which helps locate local medical providers and provides lost passport and language assistance services. These coverages are helpful, and do not add much to the cost.

Example of the Most Common Insurance Coverage

Medical insurance may be purchased in a “maximum per accident or illness” amount of $50,000 all the way up to $1,000,000 or more. The most common medical “maximum” purchased is $100,000 per accident or Illness – which also is the U.S. State Department minimum insurance requirement. However, it really doesn’t cost much more to increase the medical coverage substantially – so obtain a basic insurance quotation, and then compare the cost to add more medical coverage.

Helpful Hint: make sure the medical coverage is “per accident or illness” (not “annual”) to ensure adequate coverage, and also compliance with U.S. State Department and university requirements.

A deductible can be $0 (no payment required by you) all the way up to $500 or more. Remember, the higher the deductible, the less expensive the health insurance price – because you are paying the deductible amount out of your own pocket first. The most common deductible is a $100 “annual” deductible.

Helpful Hint: an “annual” deductible means you pay this amount only once per year; whereas a “per accident or illness” deductible means you pay this amount each time you have a separate medical issue during the year. An annual deductible usually is preferable, if available.

Health Insurance May Be Required (by Your School and/or Your Travel Visa)

Most schools now require proof of health insurance prior to enrollment. Health insurance also may be required by your travel visa; for example, the U.S. State Department requires at least $100,000 medical insurance coverage for all J-visa participants.

Three Types of International Health Insurance Plans

There are three types of International Health Insurance plans. Traditional Health Plans provide the essential “accident and sickness” coverage described above, and meet or exceed the U.S. State Department J-visa insurance requirements (make sure you select at least $100,000 Medical coverage). Traditional Plans are accepted by most U.S. universities and colleges, though some may require more coverage. Enhanced Health Plans usually offer additional coverages – such as maternity, pre-existing conditions, mental health and/or sports – which satisfy most school requirements. In the USA, Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Plans provide unlimited medical coverage and include routine vaccinations and wellness care, and are ideal for schools requiring ACA coverage and for students desiring more coverage. However, ACA Plans usually are not required for International Students and Scholars.

Health Insurance Prices

International Health Insurance is affordable, and the price is based on your age and the amount of medical coverage you wish (or may be required) to purchase. Insurance coverage usually is priced on a daily basis, and may be purchased daily, monthly or for the entire school or calendar year.

Helpful Hint: many schools now require evidence of prepaid annual insurance prior to academic enrollment – so be sure to check your school’s requirements, and purchase insurance in the proper amount and for the required duration.

Usually you may obtain a refund if you cancel your insurance early, though some restrictions may apply so check with your insurance provider. International Health Insurance is available from a variety of companies, and health plans from independent providers often is much less expensive than insurance offered through your school.

If you are uncertain about which International Health Plan is right for you and your school requirements, contact a health insurance professional that specializes in insurance for international students – or contact the international department at your school.

The best advice is to obtain the proper International Health Insurance and get peace of mind – so you may enjoy your study and travel abroad!

Peter A. Constandy is the Chief Executive Officer of VISIT® International Student Health Insurance in Washington, DC.






Show More

Download Study in the USA® Magazines