How to Get Health Insurance as an International Student

So, you’ve made the decision to come to study in the U.S. Now what? 

Many international students have a checklist of tasks to complete before they ship off to the states. Getting health insurance should be close to the top of that list. 

Universal healthcare has yet to reach the U.S and that means you need to prepare for the worst-case scenario when coming to the States as an international student. 

Healthcare In the U.S. vs. Abroad

Healthcare in the U.S is very different than in many places abroad. In the states, Healthcare is provided through public (Medicare and Medicaid) and private systems, however, there is no free public medical assistance like many international students may be used to. 

Many students, like those from China and India who represent over half of all international students in the U.S, will be used to a similar system where public and private systems converge. However, there are many differences in cost, treatment, and procedure which can confuse even these international students.

A student from a country like Japan, on the other hand, may have an even tougher time adjusting. They may be used to simply walking into a local hospital and receiving treatment. 

Of course, doing this in the U.S will be extremely costly. The average emergency room visit costs over $1,300. 

Knowing the differences and similarities between U.S healthcare and healthcare in your country of origin is crucial before you begin looking for insurance.  Here a few key points you may want to keep in mind:

    • Healthcare is expensive in the U.S.
    • Most people have some form of insurance to cover the costs.
    • You will get the majority of your care from a Primary Care Physician(PCP).
    • You will need to make an appointment, no walk-ins in the U.S.
    • Emergency Care will always be provided even without insurance, but you will be charged after and held accountable for your debts.

Know the Health Insurance Requirements For Your Visa Category

It is not only important to know how the U.S healthcare system works and differs from your country of origin, but also how your visa type functions within the system. For example, F and M class visas have no federal or state insurance requirements, although many universities have health insurance requirements for international students. 

On the other hand, students on J-1 visas and their dependents on J-2 visas are required by the federal government to have health insurance.  If you have the J class visa there are additional requirements for coverage that can be found at The State Department’s website as well. These include insurance coverage minimums and a requirement for the underwriter(insurance company) to be of a certain quality.

Know Your Coverage

On September 23, 2019, civil engineering graduate student Binod Nepal, of Nepal, was killed while crossing the street outside Louisiana State University. His insurance, which cost him around $200 a month, didn’t quite pay for the funeral services. That left his family and the Nepalese student’s association with a bill for over $4,000 after his death. 

Sadly, situations like this aren’t uncommon in the U.S. Without adequate health insurance your family can be stuck with the costs of your care after you die or get sick. That makes securing some form of health insurance and knowing what is covered an absolute necessity, especially as an international student.

University Backed Healthcare Plans

University backed healthcare plans are often the most affordable option for international students, although unfortunately, not every university offers them.

Even worse there are wildly different plans and requirements depending on the university. For example, at the University of Southern Carolina, all international students are required to have health insurance and it is offered through the school. 

The University of South Carolina uses the insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield, and their plans are affordable for most at $922.87 for fall 2019 and $1258.32 for spring and summer 2020.

Other schools, like Arizona State University, require insurance but allow you to waive the requirement to buy from the University if you have an approved form of insurance. Other universities don’t offer insurance at all, in which case it is up to the international students to find either public or private replacement insurance.

Federal Healthcare Marketplace

Securing insurance from healthcare.gov as an international student can be difficult. The plans are affordable and it is a solid last resort, however, in the U.S private insurance or University backed insurance is more than likely the easier way to go.

If you are looking to see if you qualify for federal insurance you can go here. The plans are located here. And remember, if you don’t apply by December 15th, 2019 you are out of luck for 2020.

Securing Private Health Insurance 

Securing private health insurance is probably the best bet for international students whose University does not provide it. Private insurance for students isn’t overly expensive however it’s important to know your coverage as we have discussed because many times private plans don’t cover everything.

At a minimum your coverage should include: Emergency Medical Evacuation, Funeral Cost Coverage, Hospitalization, and Doctor Visits.

Luckily, there are many great options out there for international students in the private insurance realm. Even if you require international student loans in order to afford your insurance there are resources out there to help. 

Some of the most popular private health insurance companies for international students are AETNA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and International Student Insurance (ISI).

Hopefully, these tips will help you find the right insurance plan for you. Peace of mind is priceless so remember, before coming to the U.S make sure you have health insurance and understand your coverage or you could be paying for your healthcare the old fashioned way, with cold hard cash.

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