UPDATED: Mar 19, 2020
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Choosing to study abroad is an exciting experience for many students. However, things may begin to feel overwhelming as you get everything into place before departure. Long before you pack your bags, you should take a good look at your health insurance to find out what coverage, if any, is available once you leave the United States. Many programs, such as Medicare, will not provide health coverage outside of the United States and its territories. If you find that your healthcare provider will not offer coverage while you are out of the country, have no fear. In fact, many students who choose to study abroad find themselves in the same situation. Luckily, there is a product available for these people to help provide coverage where their own policies will not.
Differentiating Between Travel and International Health Insurance
Because of the limitations of standard health insurance, the majority of informed students who study abroad choose to purchase travel or international health insurance. The two terms are not interchangeable; in fact, each policy covers an entirely different set of circumstances. Before you begin to shop for a policy, make sure you understand the differences between the two policies since you may find that one or neither completely suits your needs. For some travelers, it is necessary to purchase both types. First, let’s take a look at the features of each category. Travel insurance is designed for short trips out of the country and covers many major concerns of tourists and vacationers, including loss of luggage or personal belongings, trip cancellations, and short-term emergency medical treatment. However, the medical portion of this policy is very limited. Essentially, this policy will cover the necessary medical care to make you well enough to return home where additional treatment may continue if needed. On the other hand, international health insurance was created to suit the medical needs of persons traveling or living outside of their country for an extended period of time. Since your US-based health insurance will probably not provide coverage as you study abroad, international health insurance makes it possible to see a doctor for routine check-ups. This plan also covers extended hospital stays and multiple choices of healthcare providers. Additionally, some students who purchase international health insurance choose packages with optional maternity and dental care. If you need one of these coverages, check to see if it is available as an add-on to your base package. More About Travel and International Health Insurance:
- The Difference Between International Health Insurance and Travel Insurance
- Types of Study Abroad Insurance
- Travel Health Insurance Basics
- Overseas and Off-Campus Programs – Health Insurance FAQ
- International Travel and Insurance Information from MITMedical
- Marquette University Health Safety Resources
- Health and International Travel Insurance Considerations for Students with Disabilities
Which Policy Do You Need to Study Abroad?
So, how does one determine whether they need an international health or a travel insurance policy? While you are not limited to choosing one or the other, some students will find that one type suits their needs much more than the other. More than likely, students who plan on leaving the country for several months will need an international health insurance policy, but may choose to buy a travel policy as well. However, students who are planning very short trips out of the US may find that a travel insurance policy sufficiently suits their needs. When you make your decision, keep in mind that distance is also a factor to consider. Some health insurance providers offer their policyholders coverage in Mexico, Canada, and other US territories. For these policyholders, an extended stay out of the states does not warrant an international health insurance policy. If this scenario may apply to you, check with your current healthcare provider before your departure to ensure that you have all the coverage you need. It is better to find out you were wrong about your coverage before you leave rather than when it is too late. More Resources on Choosing Travel or International Health Insurance:
- International Student Health Insurance
- International Medical Insurance Providers
- Do You Really Need Travel Insurance?
- Choosing Travel or International Health
Types of Available Insurance Plans
Just as there are multiple types of international travelers, there are several types of available insurance plans for those studying abroad. Whether you opt for an international health insurance policy, travel insurance policy, or both, within each category, you have multiple options that provide different levels of coverage. Travel Insurance Plan Options
- Comprehensive Trip Insurance- This package is also known as vacation insurance. This is the only travel plan that offers trip cancellation.
- Travel Medical- Also known as travel health insurance, this plan has a focus on evacuation and medical coverage. With more comprehensive medical benefits than a basic travel insurance policy, this is a good choice for long term work or study abroad programs.
- Medevac- Sometimes known as Evacuation insurance, this type of plan offers coverage during emergency medical or international security evacuations. However, the service provided will only take you to the nearest hospital or help you return home.
- Travel Accident- For frequent travelers seeking international accident protection or term life benefits, this policy is a great fit. With a focus on accidental death and dismemberment and term life insurance benefits, this policy is a good choice for travelers who don’t have a life insurance or AD&D policy back home.
- Annual- Frequent travelers including business people, retirees, athletes, and students may find this type of policy useful if they often travel out of the country. Unlike other travel plans that may only last for a few months, an annual policy will provide 12 months of coverage.
International Health Insurance Plans The level of coverage for international health insurance policies will vary by provider. Currently, there are several different providers of international health insurance and each provider offers multiple plans. Available options include short and long-term plans, budget packages, and more comprehensive plans. To get started, you can get a quote from one of the following companies:
- HTH Travel Insurance
- International Student Insurance
- Compass Student Health Insurance
- CMI Insurance Worldwide
What to Look for When Buying Study Abroad Insurance
Most importantly, check eligibility requirements and policy limitations first. Some companies will only insure students or faculty members who already have been approved to study or teach abroad. Once you are sure that you qualify for the company you are interested in using, carefully review each of their packages to see which one best suits your needs. Keep in mind that price should not be your only consideration when choosing a health or travel insurance package. It is better to spend a little bit more to make sure that you have sufficient coverage for your needs rather than skimp on coverage to save a couple of dollars. There may also be limitations in regards to how long a policy will be in force. This is especially important to note in case you plan to be out of the country for an extended amount of time. For instance, if your study abroad program will last for more than a year, a short-term health plan that lasts for just six months would probably not suit your needs. If you need a longer policy period than your chosen company offers on their website, it may be necessary to call their toll-free number to find out if there are other less-advertised packages for long-term trips. More resources on choosing the right study abroad insurance:
- WSA Europe
- International Studies Abroad
- Cultural Insurance Services International
- 3 Ways to Get Health Coverage While Overseas
Limitations to Health and Travel Insurance Policies
Every policy has limitations and they should be thoroughly understood before the policy is purchased. Again, policies will vary by company, but there are a few common limitations to keep in mind when choosing the right policy.
- Medical Expenses- Each plan will have a limit on the amount of medical expenses that can be paid out during the policy period. This amount could be as much as $1 million, depending on your choice of package. Be aware that the amount shown on the policy is probably a total limit for the entire policy period, not a total for each incident.
- Physical Therapy- This benefit may not be available on all policies, and some offer only a small amount of coverage.
- Coverage Areas- The biggest concern is whether or not your primary destination is covered under your policy. Once you have determined that you have adequate coverage for your intended country, it is a good idea to see what limitations exist for other traveling. For instance, some policies do not offer coverage for personal travel. Others suspend coverage for trips back to the United States. If you plan on coming home during your time away or hope to do some personal vacationing during your downtime, this may be an important aspect to review.
- Insured Persons- Typically, the student him or herself will be the only person covered under an international health insurance policy for students. For married students, this could be problematic. If you plan to be accompanied while traveling out of the country, you will need to make sure that your companion has coverage as well, although it may mean taking out a separate policy.
Additional Resources for Students Studying Abroad
- Studying Abroad Tips from the CDC
- US Study Abroad Programs – ED.gov
- Selecting a Study Abroad Program
- Travel – Resources for Students
- A Parent’s Guide to Study Abroad (PDF)
- Yale Health – Frequently Asked Questions for Students Traveling Abroad
- Being an American Abroad (PDF)
- HealthCare.gov Health Coverage Options for College Students
- Student Health Insurance and Selected Resources: A Guide (PDF)
- How to pack your bags (and yourself) before you study abroad
- Tips on Packing and Traveling (PDF)
- Making Friends Abroad (PDF)
- Benefits of Study Abroad
- Study Abroad and Financial Aid
- Financial Aid and Scholarship Guide for Study Abroad Participants (PDF)