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Health Insurance for International Students in the U.S.

Wednesday | April 3, 2019 | by WES Advisor

health insurance international students

If you plan to study abroad in the United States, you will likely need to enroll in a student health insurance plan. Unlike in many other countries, the U.S. does not offer universal health care, so most health insurance plans are provided through private companies.

Health care is expensive in the U.S.—and without health insurance, even a routine doctor’s visit can set you back $100 USD. However, the real costs arise with unexpected health scares and emergency room visits. Falling sick without health insurance can put you at risk of accumulating debt.

Luckily, most universities offer student insurance plans that are easy to enroll in. Some U.S. schools might also let you select your own health insurance plan.

Here are some points to consider when exploring health insurance options as an international student in the U.S.

Visa Category

Shown below are the specific health insurance requirements by visa, as determined by the U.S. State Department:

  • J-1 visa: Research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors on this non-immigrant visa must have medical insurance for the full length of their program.
  • J-2 visa: The spouses and dependents of J-1 exchange visitors must also be covered by medical insurance for the full length of their program.
  • F-1 visa: International students who hold an F-1 visa are not required by the U.S. government to have health insurance.
  • M-1 visa: International students enrolled in technical and vocational programs on an M-1 visa are not required by the U.S. government to have health insurance.

Even though the U.S. government does not set health insurance requirements for students on F-1 or M-1 visas, many schools establish their own insurance guidelines. Below you will learn how health insurance requirements vary by school.

Visit the U.S. Department of State website for the latest updates, as student visa requirements may change.

Health Insurance Requirements by School

When researching schools, you will find that many—such as the University of California, Berkeley—require international students to sign up for the school’s health insurance plan. These schools will automatically enroll international students, and then charge them for the student health insurance plan.

Other schools—such as Southern Methodist University—allow international students to submit a waiver to decline the school’s insurance plan. But they must prove that they have sufficient medical coverage through another plan. (Alternately, you can prove that your visa does not require health insurance coverage.) Waivers must be submitted within a specific time frame, which is typically six weeks from the start of the semester. Then they must be approved by the school.

At some schools—such as the University of South Carolina—international students can select the campus health plan or choose to buy their own health insurance. If you need help choosing a plan, talk to the International Student Office. They often have health insurance specialists who can help you compare plans. You will want to weigh each plan’s costs against the overall breadth of coverage.

Related Reading

Tips for Staying Healthy and Safe While Studying Abroad

Common Health Insurance Terms

Before enrolling in a health insurance plan, you should familiarize yourself with some insurance vocabulary. If you have the option of choosing from a variety of health insurance plans, be sure you understand the terms below, so that you can effectively compare plans:

  • The premium is the amount you pay for an insurance policy each month.
  • The deductible is a fixed amount that you are required to pay before the insurance company begins to pay or contribute toward your medical expenses.
  • A claim is a medical expense or bill that your health care provider submits to the insurance company after a medical service is performed.
  • Coinsurance is your share of the cost left over once deductible is met. It is usually expressed as a percentage.  For example, you may have a 20 percent coinsurance, meaning you pay 20 percent of a medical expense and your insurance plan pays the other 80 percent.
  • Copays are fixed amounts you pay each time you receive health care services. You pay your copay at the time of care.

Some plans may have a high monthly premium but a low deductible; others may have a low monthly premium and a high deductible. When choosing a health insurance plan, think about:

  • how often you visit the doctor in a typical year
  • whether the medications you regularly take are covered
  • the extent of the coverage for certain medical conditions

Having health insurance means that you will be prepared and protected in the event of a medical emergency. Before enrolling in a plan, be sure you understand your coverage and the costs involved. Best of luck!

Next Steps: Prepare for Arrival

E-Guide: Arriving in the United States

WES Advisor is an initiative of World Education Services, a non-profit organization with over 40 years of experience in international education. We provide tools and advice for international students and skilled immigrants to help them make informed decisions about education, employment, immigration, and integration opportunities in the U.S. and Canada.