Originally Posted: Oct 17, 2019
Last Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Whether you’re getting ready to take an international vacation or you’re preparing for a semester of study abroad, there are a lot of details that go into preparing for a trip: You need to make sure your passport is current. You may need to apply for a visa to visit a particular country. Depending on where you’re traveling, you might even need to get special vaccinations in advance.
There’s another detail that’s important to have ironed out before you leave the country and head out on your exciting international adventure: you need to make sure you have proper medical insurance coverage in case you get sick or injured abroad. Lining up the proper health insurance coverage while you’re abroad is more important than you may realize. In fact, ConsumerReports.org says that 15% of travelers are reported to experience some sort of medical issue during their journey.
Below you’ll find numerous details about how health insurance for international student travel works, plus information about what your standard health insurance may or may not cover and when it’s time to consider travel medical insurance.
Understanding health insurance abroad
To get started, let’s talk about standard health insurance. If you already have a health insurance policy, there’s a chance it might provide you some level of coverage if you need medical treatment while you’re out of the country.
However, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations. Just because you may have some level of overseas medical coverage doesn’t mean your private health insurance will pick up the tab for everything if you need medical treatment outside of the United States.
What your standard health insurance covers
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to the question, “What will your standard health insurance cover while you travel abroad?” Coverage can vary widely from provider to provider and even policy to policy.
With that being said, if you need medical coverage outside of an initial emergency, your domestic health care plan may not be super helpful. Medicare, per the US Department of State, generally won’t cover health care you get outside the United States either, with a few exceptions.
Lisa Zamosky, author of Healthcare, Insurance, and You: The Savvy Consumer’s Guide, tells Next Avenue, “In most cases, you’ll get some coverage for care needed to treat an emergency [from your existing health insurance policy], but you’ll have to pay out of pocket and then submit for reimbursement after you return home.”
Questions to ask your health insurance provider
Want to discover exactly what medical treatment might be covered while you’re traveling or studying abroad? Your best bet is to call your current health insurance provider and ask. Here are 10 helpful questions to help you get started:
- Does my health plan provide coverage for treatment outside the United States?
- Will my health plan cover emergency medical evacuation?
- Will my plan cover hospitalization and treatment for the full period I’m abroad or is coverage limited to a specific, shorter period of time?
- How much is my deductible?
- What is the maximum amount of coverage abroad?
- Are there exclusions I should be aware of (e.g., participating in high-risk activities, traveling in a war zone, natural disasters, etc.)?
- Do I need to be pre-authorized for treatments or surgeries to be eligible for medical coverage?
- Will I need to pay for medical services out of pocket and file a claim for reimbursement?
- Are pre-existing medical conditions covered?
- What do I use to provide proof of international health insurance (if needed) while traveling abroad?
In addition to asking these questions, there are many helpful resources online that can help you sort out what your health insurance may cover when you travel abroad.
When to consider travel medical insurance
According to the US Department of State, travel medical insurance is a policy that covers the cost of any medical treatment you may need while abroad. If you’re leaving the United States, the general rule of thumb is that you need to purchase additional travel medical insurance—especially if you’ll be studying abroad for an extended period of time.
It’s also worth noting that many universities require you to sign up for a student health insurance program to participate in a university-sponsored study abroad program. For example, Brown University makes students purchase “comprehensive health insurance that will cover them for the full duration of their stay while abroad.”
In extreme circumstances, the cost of international medical treatment and medical evacuation can be astronomical. The US Department of State reveals that it can cost more than $50,000 to be evacuated from a foreign country back to the United States if you run into serious medical problems abroad. Unfortunately, this high cost is one that most domestic health insurance policies won’t cover, as it’s not considered “customary and reasonable.”
Traveling abroad without a policy in place is a risk, plain and simple. However, if you purchase the right policy, you can rest easier knowing you have one less thing to worry about on your upcoming study abroad trip.
Studying abroad will cost more than just the price of health insurance. Find scholarships for your international study with our Scholarship Search tool.