How International Student Insurance Works in the USA
Updated: Jul 9
International student insurance can be complicated, but this blog will help you understand how it works and how it is different than health insurance in your home country.
Insurance can be difficult for parents to understand and manage from abroad, and knowing what services your American school offers is an important part of the onboarding process.
What's in this blog:
Tips to help understand international student insurance
A sample of an international student insurance plan and coverage
Resources for international insurance providers and more information about the cost of common medical procedures in the USA
I always say insurance is one of those things that you don't need until you need it, and then you really really need it. I highly recommend spending some time understanding the basics of insurance in the USA.
To be honest, medical insurance is a pain and quite difficult to manage, even for Americans. Whether you are a citizen, non citizen, resident, visa holder, etc. Insurance is complicated and hard to figure out in the USA, and I've found it's frequently more complicated than other countries around the world to understand on the front end or use when necessary for medical expenses.
So here’s the deal - it’s a requirement to have health insurance while studying in the USA on an F1 visa. Even if students have coverage in their home country, unless it's an international plan, it often won't fulfill the requirements by the American school for medical insurance.
TIP #1 – Check with current insurance providers in the home country to see if students already have international coverage.
How do students get insurance coverage? Depending on the school (secondary or university level), they may add the insurance cost into your mandatory student fees, and then they will enroll all students in the same insurance plan and provide them with an insurance card and additional information upon arrival.
Another way might be for schools to ask students if they need the insurance first, then charge a separate amount for one year (or one semester) of insurance. Either way, it’s worth asking the international office how they charge for the student insurance plan and if it's an option.
TIP #2 – Ask for a copy of the insurance coverage before arriving to school so parents and students understand the basics of the coverage and what kinds of things may or may not be included.
*Every insurance company will have a super long document that lists the insurance coverage and specifics. They should also have a one to three page summary of the insurance policies. Ask for this. It’s usually much simpler and easy to understand.
In the USA, there are a few terms families should know to understand insurance policies:
Deductible – what you have to pay out of pocket in addition to the cost of the insurance before the coverage will start
Example – the sample plan below has a $150 deductible, meaning students have to pay $150 for medical costs up front, and then the in-network coverage starts covering 80% of qualifying costs.
In/Out of network – a service provider can be “in” or “out” of network depending on the insurance plan. Just note that in-network services are usually cheaper than out of network because they have arrangements with that specific insurance provider.
Premium - what is paid for the insurance plan up front for coverage (may or may not be included in student fees)
Example – the sample plan below costs $39 per month.
Copay – what is paid for standard or routine visits.
Example – If you have to go to an urgent care, with the sample plan below you would pay only $40, whereas most urgent cares charge approximately $100 for a visit without any medical insurance
With those terms in mind, let's look at what is often covered with international insurance plans for students in the USA.
For most plans, they will have a benefits summary that looks something like this:
Lifetime maximum: No maximum
Annual maximum: No annual maximum
Per injury/sickness maximum: $250,000 USD
Annual maximum deductible: $150 USD in-network / $500 USD out-of-network
Co-pay SHC: $25 USD
Co-pay primary care and specialist: $40 USD
Co-pay urgent care: $40 USD
Emergency room co-pay: $300 USD
Co-insurance in-network: 80% of first $20,000 USD; 100% thereafter
Co-insurance out-of-network: 70% of Usual & Customary
Medical evacuation: $120,000 USD
Repatriation of remains: $60,000 USD
Pre-existing conditions: 6 months waiting period
Hospitalization co-pay: $350 USD
*Plans like this one offered by ISO will always include medical evacuation and repatriation of remains for international plans. This is important to note when searching for an international insurance plan.
Tip #3 - recommendations for using insurance:
File a claim if needed – this just means students document the injury or illness with paperwork. This may or may not be required before treatment is given. It's important to ask for the instructions to file an insurance claim when you arrive to start school. It may be required by the insurance company depending on the type of accident or occurrence.
Purchase insurance before you arrive to the USA or make sure the school has added it to the student account if needed.
Print your insurance identification (ID) cards and carry with you at all times.
Present your insurance card before you are treated at any hospital or office.
Tip #4 – international insurance plans do not always include coverage for things like dentists, optometrists, or orthodontists.
These can usually be added, or the provider will offer a separate plan for coverage on these services. I have had many students in the past who took care of these types of annual appointments during summer break because the cost was significantly cheaper in their home country. It’s worth checking the costs and having an annual plan for treatment in these areas.
There are several insurance companies that offer international student insurance, and I've linked them below.
*There is also another helpful blog about what common services cost in the USA. Check it out here.
**And here are some more examples of international insurance plans available.
Don't forget to check out the student resource page for more recommendations - https://www.thesavvyinternational.com/health-insurance-1.
Until next time!