International Student’s Guide to the US Healthcare System

by Juliet Terrill | In Financial Empowerment, Guides and Tools | 15 June 2020 | Updated on: December 14th, 2020

The United States has a unique healthcare system that is unlike any other around the world. There is no nationalized or universal healthcare that many international students are used to back home. Instead, the United States relies on individuals to have their own private health insurance plan – otherwise, they will be responsible for paying their medical expenses out of pocket.

In this article we will explore the US healthcare system, why it’s important for international students to have health insurance, and highlight important considerations when evaluating a health insurance plan.


Most Expensive Country for Medical Treatment: The United States

Health insurance can be intimidating and expensive. It is important to understand, however, that it is essential when studying in the US to be protected against unexpected medical costs. International students should pay particular attention to this because a typical treatment in the US can cost 2 or 3 times – or even more – for that same treatment back home. The average emergency room visit can cost over $1,000 without insurance, and an ambulance ride in the US costs about the same.

In fact, many US citizens struggle to pay their medical bills, which is why getting a private insurance plan is so important for anyone coming to the United States.


Health Insurance in the United States

The good news is that while medical costs in the US are expensive, international students can often find a comprehensive health insurance plan at affordable costs – often, these costs are much lower than what a US citizen would pay for their own private health insurance plan.  

As an international student, it is important that your insurance plan covers you from the day you depart your home country to the day you return home. Insurance is designed to cover you in case the unexpected happens, and having an insurance plan in place will give you and your family piece of mind – not to mention help in case of a medical emergency!


Finding Your Insurance Plan

If you plan on studying in the United States, here are a few key tips on how to find, evaluate and enroll in a health insurance plan:

1. Find out your insurance requirements. If you are an international student, your school may have specific requirements that you must meet. Here are the most common:

Your school has a required group plan that you must enroll in, the cost is often collected by your school.

Your school has a group plan, but you may be able to choose a separate plan.

Your school has selected an insurance plan that you must purchase on your own.

Your school has a list of recommended options, or you may be able to choose your own insurance plan.

If you are not sure what your school requires, it is important to contact your Student Health Center or International Student Office for more information. You can also contact International Student Insurance who can help you navigate this process.


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2. Understand your needs and what the plan covers. Health insurance can be complicated, but the best way to start is by understanding what your needs are. Questions to ask yourself are:

What can I afford to pay if I need medical attention?

What is my budget for purchasing an insurance plan?

Do I have a condition right now that I will need medical care for?

Do I participate in a sports or other activity where I will need coverage?

By understanding what your needs are, you will be able to start evaluating your insurance options to see which plan will be best suited for you. You can also call the insurance company directly to make sure you understand how the plan works.


3. Know where you can go. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it is important to know where you can go for medical treatment and how much you will need to pay. There is usually a preferred list of doctors, hospitals and clinics, and if you go here, you will pay less out of pocket. Make sure these places are convenient and accessible!


4. Understand how your plan works. One of the many reasons to get a US-based insurance plan is that these insurance policies have a US network where the insurance company will pay directly to your doctor, hospital or clinic. Many internationally-based insurance companies will only reimburse costs that you pay out of pocket. This is especially important since medical bills in the US can be very expensive and you may not have the cash to pay first and submit for reimbursement. Also, some insurance companies will require that you complete a claim form and submit other relevant documents for a claim to be processed. Make sure you know what the process is so if you do need to seek medical treatment you are prepared.


Where to Find Insurance

Because there are thousands of schools across the United States, and because the needs of international students vary student by student, there is no one-size-fits-all insurance plan. That’s why we have partnered with International Student Insurance

As the leader in its field, International Student Insurance (or, ISI) specializes in understanding the needs of each student and helping them navigate the US healthcare system as well as their school’s insurance requirements. At International Student Insurance, they can:

  • Find a plan that will meet your needs – as well as any requirements you need to meet.
  • Offer online enrollment where you can start coverage as soon as the same day.
  • Provide flexibility including monthly payments and flexible start and end dates.
  • Offer online support including a digital ID card, online claims tracking, and a Student Zone where you can manage your plan.

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All of their plans provide 24-7 emergency assistance services with language support. If you need help finding an insurance plan, you can also contact their friendly, multi-language staff for help navigating the process. 

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For more information on insurance in the US, check out ISI’s Insurance Explained page which has additional resources on navigating insurance and the US healthcare system.

Author: View all post by Juliet Terrill

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