Student health insurance is a way for students to protect their savings so they can cover unexpected accidents and illnesses that occur without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Do I need health insurance?
Unlike many countries around the world, the United States does not have a nationalized healthcare system . Simply put, this means that people are responsible for either paying for their own treatment out of pocket or purchasing private health insurance to help cover the cost of their medical bills.
Many international students are caught off guard by healthcare costs in the US and do not fully understand the importance of purchasing a good insurance plan for the duration of their studies. International Student Health Insurance is designed to cover most medical expenses and often works with a network of doctors who are contracted to charge a discounted rate for medical services, making your overall visit more affordable.
Insurance requirements for student visas
- J-1 Visa
- As part of the J visa requirements , visiting students and scholars and their dependents are required to purchase and maintain an insurance plan that meets a list of government requirements.
- F-1 Visa
- Traditional international students on an F-1 visa do not have a set of government-imposed requirements and must instead purchase insurance that meets the school’s requirements . Depending on the university, you may be required to purchase their group insurance plan or have the opportunity to look elsewhere and choose your own insurance.
School-sponsored/mandatory insurance plans
As mentioned above, international students on F-1 visas have to follow the health insurance guidelines set by their school. Depending on the institution, students may be required to enroll in the school’s plan or may have the option to choose their own coverage.
These are the three most popular insurance situations you may encounter:
1. School-mandated plan
All international students are required to enroll in and pay for coverage in an insurance plan chosen by the school. Typically, the only way to waive a mandated plan is to prove that you already have adequate insurance coverage through your spouse’s employer or a sponsoring government.
2. School-sponsored plan
International students have the option of enrolling in the school’s plan, but they also have the option of choosing an insurance plan on their own – as long as it meets a list of requirements set by the school.
3. No established plan
Although not a popular option, some schools do not have insurance requirements in place for their international students and therefore can choose any insurance plan they want. Read our article “ Tips for Evaluating Student Insurance Plans ” to help compare coverage.
Evaluating the options
When evaluating student health insurance plans, it is important to find an option that fits your particular needs. Everyone has unique circumstances, so it’s important to consider your health, activities, and pocketbook to decide which policy is best for you. Listed below are some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when purchasing a student health insurance plan .
- A benefit cap limits the amount your health insurance will pay in a given situation. For example, an insurance policy may have mental health coverage, but only $50 a day. Some plans list these limits in the table of benefits while others only list these caps in the policy text. Be sure to read carefully, look for any limits on coverage, and contact your licensed insurance agent if you have any questions.
- There is a list of exclusions in all health insurance plans and it is very important to read each exclusion individually. This list will tell you what is NOT covered – which can be as important as the list of benefits in some situations. For more information, read our article “ Health Insurance Exclusions to Consider .”
- Simply put, a pre-existing condition is any illness or injury you had before your insurance plan began. Some insurance plans exclude all pre-existing conditions completely, others have a waiting period, and others may cover you immediately. If your pre-existing condition is not covered then neither are doctor visits, prescriptions or related treatments.
- Prenatal, childbirth and postnatal care do not come standard in all insurance plans. If you anticipate becoming pregnant, it is important to check if your insurance plan covers maternity and if there are any waiting periods that apply. Keep in mind that insurance plans are designed to help protect you financially in future events, so once you become pregnant there are few, if any, options available to cover the cost.
- If you are participating in a sports team as an international student (intercollegiate, intramural, or club) it is important to ensure that those injuries would be covered by your plan. Organized sports may be excluded from coverage entirely, or may be a capped benefit – meaning you will only be covered for up to an amount less than your plan’s policy maximum.
- It can be difficult to be away from home for so long for students, and many seek mental health assistance while in the U.S. Even if you don’t think you need it, it’s always a good idea to check ahead of time to see if mental health is included in its coverage.
If you have questions about student health insurance in the US, be sure to contact a licensed insurance agent and read all potential policies carefully before making a decision. Reading more articles in the Insurance Explained section will also help you educate yourself on common insurance terminology, exclusions, popular myths, and much more about health insurance.