How Students Should Choose Insurance for Studying Abroad

Estelle Liotard
March 16, 2020

More and more students around the world choose education options abroad.

As a result, today, the international student population has reached 5.3 million, compared to only 2 million in 2000.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and China are the top three countries with the biggest population of international students. The U.S. alone has over 1 million international students, who mostly come from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia:

Number of international students studying in the United States in 2018/2019, by country of origin. Image credit: Statista

To enroll in universities abroad, students have to go through a specific selection process and provide a set of documents, including:

  • passport
  • academic records
  • high school diploma (or any other education certificate)
  • student visa
  • tax forms

And, of course, one of the main requirements is to have medical insurance for studying abroad.

Can Colleges Provide You with an Insurance Plan?

Sometimes, this option is available. When it’s not, visit SmartFinancial to compare health insurance rates.

Colleges in the U.S. require all students to have medical insurance, and if no other option is available, a student can get on-campus health insurance. And some colleges require students to use insurance plans offered to them on campus.

For instance, Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey provides all international students with insurance through UnitedHealthcare. If a student has already acquired insurance through a different source that meets the school’s requirements, they have to apply for an insurance waiver.

Bentley University in Massachusetts also enrolls all international students in the on-campus health insurance plan. This university, however, doesn’t accept any insurance plans purchased through a third party.

On-campus insurance plans are possible at both of these universities because they have appropriate on-campus facilities to help students support their health.

Disclaimer: Insurance Requirements Depend on Your Visa Type

Unlike for J-1 visa holders, who come to the U.S. to participate in exchange programs and require health insurance, students, who come to study in the U.S. under the F-1 visa, aren’t required to have insurance, but rather encouraged.

Federal law doesn’t list any particular health insurance requirements for the F-1 visa, specifying only that students have to have enough finances to cover any additional living expenses.

But while health insurance isn’t required for the student visa in the U.S., it may be a requirement in other countries.

For instance, when applying for a student visa to study in Poland, all applicants need to provide health insurance at least for the shortest period of time before they become eligible for state insurance.

In China, it’s required by law that every international student has to have a private health insurance plan that covers the entire period of their stay in the country.

Students also can choose insurance plans provided by Chinese universities like group insurance plans. However, you should take into account that such options may not provide full coverage.

How to Choose Your Own International Student Insurance Plan?

If you have such an option, and your college doesn’t impose any specific health insurance requirements on you, you can purchase your own health insurance plan. Here are some tips to follow when selecting a secure health insurance plan.

1. Check the Health Insurance Coverage Requirements

Before selecting a health insurance plan, you need to check the adequate policy maximum for the country you’ll be studying at. Different countries have different policy maximum requirements for visitors.

In the U.S., for instance, the policy maximum for visitor health insurance is $100,000. In Russia, the insurance policy maximum for visitors is about $25,000.

How to choose an insurance plan based on policy maximum?

Check out the average requirements for health insurance in the country you’re going to. If you’re going to study in the U.S., the policy maximum is quite high, but it is necessary since healthcare in the U.S. is very expensive. If you have to stay in the hospital for a few days, you most likely will have to pay out of your pocket if you have health insurance with the minimum limit, which is $50,000.

In this case, you also need to purchase an insurance plan with a policy maximum of $100,000 right away. “In the U.S., there is no option to upgrade your insurance plan,” says Melanie Sovann, an analyst at WowGrade. Once you’ve purchased an insurance plan, you can only change it after it expires.

How else can you determine the policy maximum for your insurance plan?

We’ve already mentioned that the policy maximum will depend on the country you’re going to. But you can also do your research and check the average prices for medical procedures. In many countries, this information is available online, and many hospitals, both state and private, have this information on their websites.

In some countries, like in the U.S., this information is not publicly available, as every hospital is at liberty to set their own price range. You can, however, call the hospital near your future campus to find out the information about their prices for healthcare procedures.

2. Make Sure that the Insurance Plan Covers Everything You Need

When it comes to international student health insurance plans, you will have to choose between a limited benefit plan and a comprehensive coverage plan.

Limited Benefit Plan

These are basic visitor health insurance plans. They are not expensive, and usually include the following standard benefits:

Emergency medical expenses. These include unexpected injuries or illnesses that are life-threatening or a sudden injury or illness due to infection that requires immediate treatment.

Lab costs. Basic visitor health insurance plans also cover all expenses on injections, X-rays, and other lab procedures connected to an unexpected injury or illness.

Visits to doctors. All subsequent visits to doctors in the course of treatment are also covered by basic visitor health insurance plans.

This plan also often includes minimum coverage of dental services and reimbursement for prescription drugs.

Comprehensive Coverage Plan

This visitor health insurance plan includes all the benefits of the basic health insurance plan. However, this plan also covers acute onset of pre-existing conditions, which you should look for if you suffer from a chronic disease. You can cancel a plan if you have to return home by calling your insurance provider.

What else should you consider?

It is very unlikely that a health insurance plan will cover all your expenses. “Comprehensive coverage plans usually cover up to 80% of expenses”, says Helene Cue, a researcher at Studicus. So, even if you choose the plan that covers both emergency care, basic dental care, and acute onsets of pre-existing conditions, you may still have to pay for some procedures out of your pocket.

Here’s the list of the most common health insurance exclusions:

  • maternity care
  • childcare
  • preventative care (regular check-ups, immunizations, and other regular procedures)
  • eye exams and prescription glasses
  • the majority of dental care
  • cosmetic procedures

If you are going to study abroad for more than half a year, you will definitely need a comprehensive health insurance plan. Of course, you have to pay for quality, but you can rest assured that your insurance will cover most of your healthcare expenses.

3. Check the Communication Channels with Health Insurance Provider

When selecting the international student health insurance plan, check the channels of communication available through each insurance provider you’re interested in. Emergency situations can happen anywhere, and you need to make sure that you can reach your insurance provider through as many channels as possible.

Ideally, you should be able to contact your insurance provider’s customer support through the following means of communication:

  • through a call center with an international toll-free number
  • through messaging apps, such as Viber or WhatsApp
  • via social media channels, like Messenger
  • via platforms like Skype

You should also have your insurance provider’s email at hand if you need them to consult you on any questions regarding your insurance plan.

The more channels you have to contact your insurance provider, the more secure you’ll be. This is especially true if you travel as an international student and don’t have a cell-phone connection or access to the internet.

A good option is to get your Insurance ID Card from your insurance provider with the list of all available communication channels. This card will also have your policy number, which you can give to your insurance provider if you get into an emergency situation.

What Else Can You Do to Pick a Good Insurance Plan?

Read reviews. For every insurance provider, there are plenty of reviews online, both positive and negative. You can compare the percentage of positive and negative reviews and make your choice based on how many people are satisfied with an insurance provider.

Another good option is to contact your college and ask them for assistance. They will give their recommendations based on which insurance providers are the most credible in their country and which providers their international students have used.

You can also speak with a trustworthy health insurance agent, who can find you the right plan that fits your budget.

What Other Types of Insurance Can You Acquire as an International Student?

While studying abroad, you can protect not only your health but also travel and your property.

Travel Insurance

If you have a health insurance plan that covers only the country you’ll be studying in, but you also have an opportunity to visit other countries, you might need travel insurance.

Travel insurance mostly works as health insurance for visitors. “Travel insurance covers all expenses connected to the limited benefit plan, which mostly includes emergency care,” says Dorian Martin, a research specialist at IsAccurate. Also, if the country has a terrorist threat, you will also be reimbursed for all the expenses connected to this emergency situation.

Besides health, travel insurance plans cover the following:

  • flight delays and cancellations
  • luggage damage or loss
  • problems with accommodation

Depending on the coverage, these insurance plans vary in cost and policy maximum for health insurance.

Property Insurance

After arriving in the country, where you are going to study, you can also purchase property insurance to protect your valuable assets.

This works if you have expensive belongings, like gadgets or jewels. In case you own a car and will be using it in a different country, you also need to protect your vehicle from theft or damage.

The costs of property insurance will depend on the value of the asset you want to insure. But this insurance can be very useful if you want to protect your property.

Don’t Rely on a Bit of Luck

As a young student, you may be healthy and self-assured enough to think that nothing will happen to you while studying abroad. This is one of the most widespread myths about international student health insurance.

While you might be in good health, however, you still cannot protect yourself from emergency situations.

Look at the current situation with Coronavirus global pandemic. When such emergencies happen, and the situation is hard to be controlled, no matter how healthy you are if you are in the threat zone, you still can get sick.

Having a comprehensive insurance plan will protect you in emergency situations and will give you confidence that you’ll get medical help when you need it.

Get a Free Health Insurance Quote Online Now.

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