Few experiences are more simultaneously exciting and intimidating than preparing to study abroad. Making a travel bucket list is not enough. There are a lot of essential logistics to work out, including figuring out how insurance works when you study abroad.
Not only can health insurance save you from some unnecessary financial stress and struggle, but it’s also often not optional. Your school, study abroad provider, or host country may require you to be covered. Getting it squared away before you go overseas is essential, and while the process can be complicated, this guide is here to help. Here's everything you need to know to figure out insurance for studying abroad.
Where to Start Finding Insurance for Study Abroad
As you prepare for your time overseas, a great jumping-off point is reaching out to your program provider, whether that be your own school, a foreign institution, or a third-party provider. Staff members should be able to offer information about health insurance, including what coverage you need to meet any program or host country requirements. They can also tell you what, if anything, they offer.
You may find out that a) comprehensive coverage is included in your program fees or available as an add-on (yay!), or b) you are responsible for obtaining adequate coverage. In the latter case, staff can also likely lay out the best options for your particular program.
If You Already Have Insurance
Alas, just because you’re covered in your home country doesn’t mean your benefits will carry over to other parts of the world. You’ll have to find out if your plan covers medical emergencies that happen overseas. This will take some digging, so don’t hesitate to call your insurance company. A company representative can explain your policy to you.
Make sure to ask what limitations and exclusions there are in a specific country where you’ll be. Also find out how they handle pre-existing conditions, especially if you’ll be managing a chronic illness while traveling.
Should you find out the coverage abroad won’t be adequate, you can supplement your current plan with a short-term travel health insurance plan, an option we’ll discuss further below.
If You Don't Have Insurance
Don’t worry if you don’t have insurance at all, let alone a policy that will cover you overseas; there are still options. Ideally, you’d be covered both at home and in your host country, because if an injury happened during your travels and you needed to seek further treatment upon your return, you’d still be insured.
To get domestic coverage, find out what your school offers as well as investigate other plans. In the United States, those who are residents for tax purposes are eligible to enroll through the Health Insurance Marketplace, according to HealthCare.gov. Look for a plan that will fit both your domestic and study abroad needs.
Whether or not you choose to sign up for the domestic policy, we recommend you carry coverage while you’re studying abroad. Travel health insurance providers offer temporary and customizable options.
Finding Adequate Insurance Coverage for Study Abroad
“Adequate” coverage can have different meanings depending on an individual’s specific situation. For example, the definition will be influenced by your program and the host country’s coverage requirements. On top of that, your specific needs will factor in.
At a minimum, you’ll need to meet the requirements. This can be done with an existing plan, a supplemental plan, or some combination of the two. If you’re opting for travel insurance, the U.S. State Department notes that it “varies widely and one should carefully read the terms of an insurance policy to make sure it fits the needs of the traveler.”
First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure your coverage runs for the duration of your time overseas and includes all of the regions where you’ll be. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your insurance offers emergency medical care, including medical transport back to your home country and repatriation if needed.
Be sure to verify that any preexisting conditions you have will be covered and that none of the activities you’ll be engaging in during your study abroad are excluded. It also helps if there’s a 24-hour physician support center and if the policy will make payments to hospitals directly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Finally, you’ll want to be sure that the policy’s maximum coverage limit is high enough to cover any emergency situations that may arise. The U.S. State Department doesn’t specify a recommended amount, but experts told Reviews.com that it’s best to have a policy that covers at least $50,000 in emergency medical care and $100,000 in emergency medical transportation, given how quickly bills can add up.
Again, don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your program provider. They are experts and have experience with students in the same boat as you are.
Other Types of Insurance for Study Abroad
Getting health coverage can take a lot of legwork, and believe it or not, it’s not the only type of insurance you may want to consider. There is also trip cancellation insurance, which protects pre-paid non-refundable trip costs. If certain circumstances were to force you to cancel your trip entirely, you’d be able to submit a claim to get some or all of your money back on flights, hotels, and more.
Additionally, if you’ll be renting a house or apartment while you’re studying abroad, purchasing renter’s insurance is worth considering. The same goes for automobile insurance if you’ll be buying a car. In fact, these types of insurance may be required, depending on the country where you’ll be studying.
Dealing with the ins and outs of insurance for study abroad isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. While illness and injury are two things no one puts on those aforementioned bucket lists, they sometimes still happen. It’s important to be prepared, and once you have your insurance situation squared away, you’ll have peace of mind as you embark on the experience of a lifetime.