What You Should Know About Health Insurance as an International Student
Being accepted into a university abroad is exciting. You’re already picturing yourself attending classes, making new friends, and exploring the country of study. But amidst the excitement, don’t overlook the nitty-gritty details of studying abroad—such as health insurance for international students.
Most countries and universities require international students to have a minimum level of medical coverage for their enrolment period. Health insurance for international students is important for two main reasons—to avoid the financial challenges of unexpected medical expenses, and to ensure that you get proper medical care when you need it while studying abroad.
In countries such as the US, medical care can be very expensive. To avoid being left in dire financial straits in case of an illness, international students are required to purchase adequate health coverage.
Fortunately, there are plenty of health insurance providers that offer affordable covers for international students and scholars, exchange program participants, visiting faculty, and their accompanying spouses or dependents. Some universities offer plans in which international students must enroll.
In the sections below, we’ll explore what you need to know about health insurance when studying abroad in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany.
The U.S Department of State mandates international students on J-1 visas (and their J-2 dependents) to have health insurance before enrolling. However, the federal government doesn’t require F-1 visa holders to have health insurance—although many schools won’t enroll you without it.
Even if your school doesn’t require you to have health insurance, it’s still highly recommended to acquire adequate health coverage. As we’ve noted, medical care is especially expensive in the U.S.
The U.S medical care system can be confusing for many international students. Insurance jargon such as co-pay, deductible, claims, in-network, out-of network can be overwhelming.
Luckily, many colleges and universities in the U.S have their own health insurance plans. They require international students to be on these school-sponsored plans or waive the requirement if the student provides proof of their own coverage.
In such cases, you’ll be required to purchase an insurance plan that has:
- Adequate policy maximum (usually at least $50,000)
- Relatively low deductibles to enable low out-of-pocket costs for students
- Mental health coverage to ensure students are not only physically healthy but also mentally
- Maternity coverage for female students (with at least an 80%coverage in-network for prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care)
- Pre-existing condition coverage for students that may have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and so on.
- Repatriation of remains coverage to cover costs of repatriating your remains in case you pass away while studying abroad.
When you’re accepted into a university in the U.S, check whether they have a mandatory group health insurance plan. If so, ask if the cost is included in tuition bills or paid separately. Next, find out if you can qualify for a waiver.
If you will be on an F-1 visa, you can get health insurance any time after setting foot in the U.S or before you travel. Compare different international student health insurance plans using sites such as Insubuy.
Note: US travel insurance is not the same as international student health insurance. Travel insurance is typically short-term and is meant to protect you and your belongings for the duration of a trip.
The cost of health insurance for international students in the U.S varies depending on factors such as the firm, location, your age, pre-existing conditions, and the services you opt for. Costs usually range from $500 to over $1,000 a year.
While it’s tempting to go for the cheapest health insurance you can find, that isn’t advisable. In case you have a medical emergency, you’ll end up spending more out-of-pocket.
Unless their study duration is less than six months (for which a student visa isn’t required), international students don’t need private health insurance to study in the U.K. The public health system in the U.K provides healthcare coverage to all legal residents, including international students.
Generally, if your program requires you to have a student visa, as part of your application you will pay an Immigration Health Surcharge to gain access to the National Health System (NHS).
International students can still get additional private health insurance if they want to access medical treatment in private clinics or hospitals in the UK. However, this isn’t necessary—the NHS is ranked as the world’s best healthcare system.
International students in the U.K pay £470 per year for health insurance. That is the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). If your family or spouse will be accompanying you in the U.K, you’re required to pay separate IHS for each individual.
If your study program’s duration is less than six months, the IHS fee is only £235.
The Immigration Health Surcharge is paid along with your visa fees when you apply for a U.K Student Visa. If you apply for the visa online, you’ll be redirected to the site where you can make the IHS payment.
If you apply for your visa via post, you’re required to pay IHS online beforehand. When applying, provide information on the type of visa you are applying for, your email address, and your passport number. You’ll receive an IHS reference number to include in your visa application.
The NHS provides comprehensive coverage for British citizens and all legal residents. It pays for:
- Doctor consultations and walk-in-clinics
- Hospital treatment after an emergency
- Treatment for minor-injuries
- Consultation or treatment with a specialist when referred by your GP
However, the NHS doesn’t provide coverage for dental care, prescription medicine, eye care, and wigs or fabric supports. You’ll have to pay for such costs out-of-pocket.
Note: Upon your arrival to the UK, you’re supposed to register with a local General Practitioner (GP) clinic—which you can do online. To complete the registration, you’ll need your student residence card, your IHS reference number, as well as a GMS1 registration form.
The GP clinic is the first place you must head to seek medical treatment or consultation when needed.
In Canada, international students are required to obtain health insurance for the duration of their stay. Most schools in Canada won’t enroll you without proof of adequate health insurance.
As an international student, you need to be aware that Canada has a segregated health insurance system, individually governed by different provinces. In some provinces, international students might have access to provincial health coverage—either for free or for a premium.
If you obtain admission to a university in Canada, check whether you are eligible for provincial health insurance. If so, you’ll have to apply and pay for the insurance via the province’s website. If the province where your school is located doesn’t provide international students with health insurance, you’ll have to take a health cover from a private company.
You should take your health cover before leaving for Canada. Check and compare different plans from different firms to find one that best suits your needs. Private health insurance policies may cover costs such as doctors’ visits, prescription drugs, dental emergencies, air ambulance, and more.How Much Do International Students Pay for Health Insurance in Canada?
Costs of health policies targeting international vary from location to location and from firm to firm. That said, the average yearly premium for obtaining international student health insurance ranges from $480 to $900 CAD.
Some insurance firms that provide international student health covers in Canada include TuGo, Manulife Financial, Sun Life, Allianz Global, Ingle International, Greenshield, and Cowan Insurance Group.
To be granted a student visa for Germany, students must have the required health insurance. In Germany, the law requires everyone to have health insurance—and that includes international students.
The good news is that students enrolled in degree programs are eligible to take public health insurance. However, students over the age of 30, students in preparatory or language courses, Ph.D. students, and guest scientists, are required to obtain private health insurance plans.
International students from Morocco and Tunisia don’t need to have additional health insurance – the public health insurance plans from their home countries are valid in Germany.
Other countries whose public health insurance plans are valid in Germany include other EU countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia, and Turkey.
Students from the countries listed must check which medical services they’ll be entitled to while in Germany. Their plans may not cover all the essential medical costs.Students Who Don’t Qualify for Public Health Insurance in Germany
To recap, the following groups aren’t eligible for the public German health insurance scheme:
- Students who are 30+ years of age
- Students in preparatory or language courses
- Post-graduate students and scholarship holders (without a contract of employment
- Guest scientists and researchers
- Students who are working as freelancers or are self-employed
- Students who have health insurance in their home country that is valid in Germany
If you belong to the groups listed above, you have to obtain private health insurance. Fortunately, there are various companies that provide affordable health insurance for international students.
Most providers have health policies that cover the basics such as the cost of check-ups, treatment for illness or after an accident, certain medications, and hospital stays.
Before arriving in Germany, contact one of the public health insurance providers (Krankenkassen) to select an insurance plan. The company will advise you regarding their monthly contributions, the application procedure, and the documents you need to submit.
Many public insurance health insurance companies provide an online application process. Use this online tool to determine the kind of public health insurance cover you need.
To apply for private health insurance in Germany, check and compare plans offered by different companies. One of the most popular private insurance companies is Dr-Walter with their EDUCARE24 plan. You’ll be able to complete the purchasing process online.
Once you have a student health Insurance Certificate, you can submit it to your university to process your enrolment. You’ll also be required to submit another copy of the student health Insurance Certificate to the German Embassy when applying for your student visa.
International students in Germany pay from €103.94 – €111.75 per month with a public health insurance provider, and it covers basic healthcare as well as long-term care insurance.
For private health insurance, students pay anything from around €33 per month. The cost increases depending on extra services and whether your stay is going to be 18 months or longer.
One of the most popular public health insurance companies in Germany among international students is Techniker Krankenkasse (TK). The company charges relatively low monthly charges (about €105 per month) and has great customer service for international students who don’t speak German.
Note: Students under the age of 30 can opt out of statutory health insurance in Germany and get coverage under a private insurance company. To do so, you must ask for a certificate of exemption from the local public health insurance providers within the first three months of your arrival. Once you’ve opted out of public health insurance, you can’t re-enroll for the duration of your study period.
Yes. International students can get health insurance in their countries of study. In some countries, such as the UK and Germany, international students can qualify for public health insurance. In others, such as the U.S, international students have to pay for private health insurance.Is health insurance mandatory for international students?
Yes. Health insurance is a mandatory requirement for international students in most countries. In some countries, foreign students may qualify for public health insurance while in others they have to go for private policies.How much is health insurance for international students?
The cost of health insurance for international students varies from country to country. In the US, the costs of health insurance for international students range from $500 to over $1,000 a year. In Canada, the average yearly premiums cost anything from $480 to $900 CAD. In Germany, students on public health insurance pay anything from €103.94 to €111.75 per month, while those on private plans anything from around €33 per month. In the UK, international students pay £470 per year as the Immigration Health Surcharge.
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