Health coverage options for international students

Written By: Trudy Brunot

International students need more than a passport to study in the U.S.-they need health insurance coverage throughout their stay. Coverage is a legal requirement for exchange students on a J-1 visa, and most schools will not allow F-1 student visas holders to register without proof of insurance. Unless an international student is covered through a sponsor such the Fulbright Program, health insurance must be found through a school plan, their government or a U.S. insurance company.

School health plans

The U.S. State Department sets coverage requirements for all J-1 visa holders. As of publication, international students need a policy with:

  • A maximum $500 deductible per incident
  • Per illness or accident coverage of at least $100,000
  • Evacuation coverage to return home for a medical emergency of at least $50,000
  • Repatriation coverage of at least $25,000 in case of death

Universities typically offer an international student health insurance plan that meets State Department criteria. According to University Language Services, school plans may be less expensive than private health insurance. Any student unable to provide proof of insurance must take the plan offered by their school. The cost is included with the tuition bill.

Home-country policies

Some embassies offer comparable health insurance when the student’s home government guarantees payment of medical expenses, repatriation and medical emergency evacuation. Schools such as Southern Methodist University require international students who opt for such coverage to submit a waiver and supporting documentation. Sometimes the plan a student has at home also covers U.S. medical expenses. Students should confirm the school has approved the home-country policy/provider and that the coverage is comprehensive. Pacific School of Religion warns its international students that U.S. medical care may cost more than their home provider pays.

Health insurance from U.S. companies

International students whose spouse or parent has health insurance through a U.S. employer may be eligible for dependent coverage. Alternatively, foreign students can seek an international student medical policy issued by a private U.S. or global insurer. Institutions typically require students to choose a company from an approved list of providers available from their international student services office.

Shopping considerations

InternationalStudent.com recommends international students familiarize themselves with basic health insurance terms such as expenses, co-insurance and deductibles before shopping for a plan. Students should ask several questions when comparing policies, including:

  • Are illness and accidents covered?
  • Does the plan cover hospital expenses?
  • What services and expenses does the plan exclude?
  • What is the deductible?
  • Can policy holders go to any hospital, clinic or physician, or only those participating in the plan?
  • What does the policy cost?

After choosing medical insurance, international students should read and understand the plan’s
rules. The school infirmary will need a copy of the foreign student’s new medical card and medical history including a list of prescription drugs being taken.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle while in school can lower the odds a student will need medical treatment. If seeing a doctor is unavoidable, an international student should invite a friend along to avoid communication problems no matter how well the student speaks English.