The lowest priced plans are eagerly purchased by the price sensitive and courageous international students who think they will never need to use their health insurance. It’s probably also true that many students are arriving from countries with socialized medicine or affordable healthcare. It is likely that students coming into the US for the first time do not understand how expensive healthcare is in the United States.
Yes, many of these economical plans have benefits that pay up to $150,000 or even $250,000 per illness per injury. To a young person this certainly seems like a more than adequate amount. However, when you dig deeper within these policies’ details there are internal limits or caps on reimbursement amounts for particular services. For example, the reimbursement on surgeries can be capped at $4,000 maximum.
A typical surgery will include costs for the facility, surgeons, anesthesiologists, lab, medications, dressings, and other medical services and supplies. That’s a lot to pay for. Something like appendicitis is unpredictable and can strike at any time. And the bills can be in the thousands of dollars. In fact, in 2014 the average cost of an appendectomy was $33,000 (1). With internal limits for surgery at $4,000 maximum, the student would be stuck with a $29,000 bill!
We believe a much more practical plan for students (without pre-existing concerns) would be a policy moderately priced with more liberal internal limits. Such a plan could be purchased for about $0.60 more per day. Under this plan, the same appendectomy would be covered at 80% of the bill until the member pays $2,000. Once the $2,000 is paid, eligible expenses are paid at 100%.
It’s critical to make sure students read the policies before making a purchase. We always advise they read and understand the table of benefits, the exclusions, and the definitions. Our job as insurance professionals, international student advisors, student health employees- all involved- is to help educate what is being purchased.
This article was published by GoAbroad.com in co-operation with Compass Student Insurance. Click here to see the complete article on the GoAbroad website.
1. Know why you need international student health insurance.
Regardless of how old you are, how well traveled you are, or your relative health (future Olympian vs. hours-spent-watching-Sarabhai-vs-Sarabhai-on-couch-record-holder), there are very real risks that need to be prepared for before studying in the United States. Yes, remembering to pack your favorite hair products or must-have tennis shoes is important, but your international student health insurance carries even more weight. Not having health insurance coverage in the United States—a country particularly notorious for expensive health care costs—can have lifelong consequences for both your health AND your bank account.
[Get Answers to the Medical Insurance Abroad FAQs]
You will be treated in an emergency situation regardless of your health insurance coverage in the United States; however, in the instance where you are uninsured, you will have to pay out of pocket for all medical costs incurred. And trust us when we say… you better hope your pockets are DEEP. Even something as little as a two mile ambulance ride can rack up $2700 in bills. Eek.
2. Memorize the terminology.
We know you might still be getting a handle on the English language, but as you shop around for health insurance for international students, it’s helpful to know the definitions of a few important terms, like:
3. Fulfill the health insurances requirements necessary for your visa.
Your international student health insurance requirements will vary based on your full time student statuses—aka your J1 vs. F1 visa. For more information on these different visa pathways, check out this resource from the University of Chicago.
Whether you have a J1 or an F1 visa will impact the type of health insurance you need for studying in the US.
International students entering the USA on a J1 visa must have adequate health insurance that fulfills requirements set forth by the US Department of State AKA the visa authorities. As of now, the J1 visa insurance requirements include:
Note that these requirements are also extended to your dependents, so if you are coming to the United States as a graduate student or researcher with your family, children, or spouse, they too will need adequate health coverage.
F1 visa holders do not have to meet government mandated standards. They have less stringent health insurance requirements than those holding a J1 visa, as these international students don’t have any oversight or requirements from the US government. These policies are typically determined by the educational institution the student is enrolled at.
4. Understand what health insurance for an international student typically covers.
There are many different organizations out there keen to provide you the type of coverage that you are looking for. Typically speaking, medical insurance for international students in the USA covers new illness or injuries, so wellness or preventative care is usually not covered. Emergency doctor visits and lab orders, emergency surgeries? Yes. Routine check ups? No.
Keep in mind that additional coverage, such as dental or eye insurance, can often be purchased separately or in addition to basic inclusions. Further, you might also have to pay a little extra if you would like protection for an emergency evacuation (i.e. natural disasters, political upheavals, etc.) or the repatriation of your remains if you happen to pass away while studying in the United States 😭 (note that this coverage is required for J1 visa holders). On the flip side, you can also find policies that cover “Trip Interruptions,” such as a need to return to your home country due to an emergency.
If you are coming to study in the United States with a pre-existing condition or chronic illness, be cognizant of purchasing an insurance plan that covers your potential medical needs, like prescription drugs. No one wants a stack of receipts from out-of-pocket expenses as a souvenir from their adventures in America!
Note: Travel insurance is NOT health insurance—But you can find policies for both
If you want coverage for lost luggage or delayed flights, etc., be sure to look into travel insurance policies on top of your health insurance policy research! Or, if you’re wise, find a policy that combines all of your needs—worldwide travel medical & accident insurance (including medical evacuation and repatriation) and 24/7 assistance services, such as Compass Student Insurance. You can browse travel insurance providers that GoAbroad loves here.
5. Budget properly to cover the cost of health insurance for international students.
What is the average cost of health insurance for international students in the USA? Generally speaking, international student health coverage plans are very affordable (your young age and good health might have something to do with that!). You need to plan ahead to pay for your monthly premium, but to also budget additional savings to cover any unexpected out of pocket expenses, such as deductibles, co-insurance, or co-pays.
We recommend having a nest egg of $1500 in your bank account to cover any unplanned for medical expenses per year of study in the United States. It is very unlikely that you will need to tap into these funds—or that you will need to use all of them—but having them there will make an already stressful situation slightly less-so if finances are taken out of the equation.
6. Select a trustworthy, high quality insurance provider.
Every other link on Google is telling you that they are the most reliable, trusted, and easy-to-work-with provider on the market. But let’s be serious—not EVERYONE can be the best. Right? So, who does provide the best health insurance for international students in USA? Here are our most recommended options:
7. Other tips to keep in mind:
Don’t delay. Coordinate your health insurance in advance of setting foot in the United States as an international student. While you might not need insurance coverage from day one of your arrival, you will need it during your actual studies or once the semester begins. Consider buying short-term health insurance for international students on OPT to right any gaps in your coverage as an F1 student.
Double check your school’s requirements. The institution you’re studying at in the USA might have additional health insurance requirements, like waivers. Double check with your campus advisor or guidance counselor to ensure no document is left un-submitted!
Make sure you remain eligible. Some insurance providers will have unique eligibility qualifications, like a requirement that you attend classes for a set number of hours each week. If you’re not able to follow through with these, don’t pay for that insurance. It won’t work!
Review the cancellation policy with someone more knowledgeable than you. We get that you’re a bright student, but legal jargon can be tough to understand—even for native English speakers. Walk through the cancellation policy with your advisor or education consultant so you’re aware of any red flags.
We know, that it’s difficult to understand the different requirements to insurance if you want to study in the USA. Therefore, we summarized the most important facts for you:
J-Visa Health Insurance Requirements
As of May 2015, J-Visa holders and their dependents are required to have medical insurance coverage with the following minimum benefits:
All our Compass Student Insurance Plans meet these J-Visa Requirements.
OPT and F1 Insurance Requirements
For OPT visa holders, there are no government-related health insurance requirements, however your school may have insurance requirements and also require you to purchase a school-sponsored insurance plan.
You should ask them about all the details about the medical insurance plan, including cost and detailed information about what will be covered and if dependents can be added (if that is relevant to you). You often have the option to waive the school-sponsored plan and purchase another insurance plan that you prefer which is more often a better value while still matching the requirements.
If you need help to understand your school’s insurance requirements or want to know if our plans fulfill all needed requirements, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some schools also request that your insurance plan needs to be comparable to ACA (Affordable Care Act). Watch out for our next blog article, where we explain what ACA requirements are and how international students are affected by these.
There are three chief reasons to carry foreign student health insurance:
But be careful: It is not uncommon to see low cost plans that only cover outpatient care to a certain limit (usually $750 to $1,500). These same plans often cap hospital stays at $1,500 per day. While this may be adequate coverage in your home country, it is considered low for medical coverage in the U.S.
These low cost plans often mislead buyers by not identifying the limitations. Examples are some of the plans under the PSI or ISOA, but it can sometimes be the school plan that is written more for American students that may have coverage elsewhere.
Please review any product you purchase carefully. Be sure it meets your needs and your school’s requirements. This includes the Compass Plans – be aware that there are some limitations relative to dental, pre-exisiting conditions, mental health and certain therapies such as physiotherapy.