Health Insurance for International Students in the US

Health Insurance for International Students in the US

Health insurance for international students in the US is a vital consideration when planning to or studying abroad.

The US is one of the prime study destinations for international students. For this reason, the number of international students pursuing degrees in the United States increases yearly.

In fact, according to Statista over 900 thousand international students studied in the US during the 2021-2022 academic year. This growing population faces a pressing challenge—obtaining adequate and affordable health insurance as international students in the US.

If you have no proper coverage, unexpected medical costs could derail your educational goals. Thus, utilizing health insurance options should be a top priority for incoming international students.

In this blog post, we will provide you with a guide to health insurance for international students in the US.

Our goal is to equip you with insights about health insurance for international students in the US so you can stay healthy and focused on your studies.


So, whether you are a new or returning international student, understanding health insurance for international students in the US is vital for your success and peace of mind.

Let’s begin the exploration.

Understanding the US Healthcare System

The US healthcare system includes both public and private insurance options. Public programs like Medicare and Medicaid serve specific groups, while most under 65 receive employer-sponsored or individual private coverage.

Healthcare costs in the US are high compared to other nations. Data shows the average 2020 premium for employer plans exceeded $7,500 for individuals and nearly $22,000 for families.

Deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses further increase costs. For instance, the average individual plan deductible totaled $1,644.

While the Affordable Care Act expanded access, paying for care remains challenging without insurance.

As an international student, understanding the complexities and expenses of the US system is key.

It is important to mention here that, international students studying in the US are not eligible for government-sponsored health insurance. However, many universities offer student insurance plans that are easy to enroll in. Some schools might also let you select your health insurance plan.

Understanding the health system and insurance in the US will help protect your finances and well-being while studying in America, where universal healthcare is not guaranteed.

The Need for Health Insurance

As an international student, health insurance is not just a recommendation – it is an absolute necessity. There are several important reasons why having adequate coverage is critical.

(a) Limited Coverage from Academic Institutions.

University health services offer limited care for enrolled students only. According to a 2019 study, over 90% of U.S. colleges charge for appointments, lab tests, and prescriptions through their student health centers. So relying solely on your academic institution for healthcare will likely be insufficient.

(b) High Cost of Healthcare in the US

As mentioned earlier, healthcare costs are exceptionally high in America. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the average cost of a 3-day hospital stay is around $30,000. And a broken arm can result in bills over $2,500. Without insurance, you would be responsible for covering these steep fees.

(c) Visa Requirements

Moreover, international student visa requirements mandate that you have health insurance coverage. F1 and J1 visa holders must follow strict guidelines to maintain legal status, including carrying adequate health insurance. Failure to comply could jeopardize your education.

(d) Peace of Mind

Maintaining insurance coverage gives peace of mind to both students and their families. You can focus on your studies rather than worrying about medical costs.

Types of Health Insurance Plans for International Students in the US.

As an international student in the U.S., you generally have two main options for health insurance coverage: university-sponsored plans or private health insurance. Understanding the pros and cons of each will help you determine the best choice.

  1. Student Health Insurance Plans (SHIPs) 

Student Health Insurance Plans (SHIPs) are group plans offered by many colleges and universities. According to a 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, over 500 schools required students to have health insurance and the majority participated in SHIPs.

SHIPs allow you to directly enroll through your academic institution. Coverage lasts for one academic year and can meet J-1 and F-1 visa requirements. However, SHIPs typically have more limited provider networks focused around campus and lack portability if you transfer schools. They may also have caps on benefits or coverage.

2. Private health insurance

Private health insurance includes individual and family plans purchased from insurance companies or the Health Insurance Marketplace. Based on data from IMG Academy, average monthly costs for international student health insurance plans in 2022 range from $63 for catastrophic coverage to $189 for comprehensive plans.

Private plans offer flexibility since you can keep the same coverage if transferring schools or traveling. Provider networks are also much broader nationally. However, private plans involve researching options, comparing benefits, and directly enrolling off-campus. Application timing and processes can also be strict.

Ultimately there are trade-offs between SHIPs and private insurance in terms of coverage continuity, flexibility, costs, and convenience. Carefully weighing your specific needs will help determine if university-based or private health insurance is the optimal choice.

Moreover, enrollment for university-sponsored health insurance usually coincides with academic calendars. You’ll need to sign up by set deadlines and pay premiums directly to your school, which acts as an intermediary with the insurance company. Be sure to follow your institution’s specific guidelines for applying.

Before selecting campus-based insurance, carefully compare costs and coverage to individual private plan options.

Understanding Health Insurance Terminology

Navigating health insurance requires familiarity with key healthcare terms. Here are some main concepts to understand:

  • Premiums – The upfront recurring cost paid monthly or yearly to have coverage. Premiums are set by the insurance company based on the plan type and level of coverage.
  • Deductibles – The amount you must pay out-of-pocket before insurance starts contributing towards costs. For example, a $1,000 deductible means you pay 100% of bills until you reach $1,000.
  • Copays/Coinsurance – The set fee per visit (copay) or percentage of costs (coinsurance) you owe for covered services after meeting your deductible. A $20 doctor visit copay means you pay $20 at the appointment.
  • Out-of-Pocket Maximum – The limit on total expenses you have to pay in a plan year before insurance covers 100% of additional costs. This caps your annual healthcare expenses.
  •  Network Providers – The doctors, hospitals, and facilities covered under your insurance plan. Seeing out-of-network providers results in higher out-of-pocket costs.


Reading your policy documents is essential to fully understanding covered services, associated costs, exclusions, and plan limitations. Reach out to providers to clarify any unclear healthcare or insurance jargon. Becoming an informed healthcare consumer will help you maximize benefits.

Health Insurance Regulations for International Students

There are specific health insurance requirements international students must meet related to visa status and federal regulations.

  • According to U.S. immigration laws, students on F-1 or J-1 visas must maintain adequate health insurance coverage for the duration of their studies. Government sites including provide official mandates around acceptable plan minimums to comply with visa terms. Violating these requirements could lead to legal consequences impacting your education.
  • Additionally, international students must follow Affordable Care Act standards just like domestic students when filing taxes. Under the ACA, individuals must have qualifying health coverage or face potential tax penalties. More details can be found in the IRS tax code and publications outlining exclusions and exemptions.
  • If you change your visa status during your studies, such as transitioning from F-1 to H-1B, ensure you understand how this impacts health insurance requirements. Immigration attorneys and government resources can provide guidance on maintaining compliance when visa standings change.

Adhering to current insurance regulations protects your legal status as an international student. Be sure to stay up to date on any changes and seek assistance from qualified experts if you have questions or concerns.

What to Do in Case of a Medical Emergency

Knowing how to respond to a medical crisis can reduce stress and ensure you get needed care without delay. Here are tips for medical emergency preparedness:

(a) According to reputable sources like the Mayo Clinic, your immediate priorities during any emergency should be to: assess the situation, call emergency services if needed, provide first aid and comfort to the injured, and gather relevant medical information. Remain focused on the emergency at hand until the person is under professional care.

(b) Contact your health insurance provider as soon as possible after seeking initial emergency treatment. You will need to supply information so they can process claims, authorize follow-up care, and apply benefits based on your policy. Refer to your insurance ID card for provider phone numbers and policy information they will request.

(c) Under the Affordable Care Act, all ACA-compliant health plans must cover essential emergency services regardless of provider network at the same cost shares. So, visit the nearest hospital or emergency room to get urgent care rapidly. Your insurer will cover out-of-network emergency care per federal law.

(d) Staying calm, getting emergency care immediately, and connecting with your provider for claims support will help you navigate any medical crisis. We wish you good health and safety during your educational journey.

Tips for Managing Health Insurance as an International Student

(I) Stay organized

Staying organized with your insurance documents is key for accessing care and managing claims. Experts like those at International Student Insurance recommend keeping physical or digital copies of your insurance card, policy, prescription info, and other records. Make sure documents are safely stored but easy to access if needed.

(ii) Review Your Coverage Regularly

Regularly review your coverage before enrollment periods end to evaluate if your current plan still meets your needs. Factors like school changes, visa status, or turning 26 impact coverage options. Government resources like outline qualifying life events that allow for special enrollment in ACA marketplace plans if your situation changes.

(iii) Explore Free Preventive Services

Take advantage of free preventive services like annual checkups, screenings, and immunizations which are fully covered under the ACA. The CDC provides schedules outlining recommended preventive care based on factors like age, gender, and medical history. Staying up to date helps you maintain health and prevent issues before they start.

(iv) Utilize Campus Health Services

Making use of campus health services for minor concerns can also save money compared to private clinics. And establish care with a local provider for a go-to contact for non-emergency concerns.

Final Thoughts

In closing, obtaining adequate health insurance is an essential consideration for international students studying in America.

The complex US healthcare system means coverage is critical for your well-being and financial security.

Thoroughly understand visa requirements, compare university and private plan options, and evaluate your specific needs when selecting coverage.

Also, become familiar with healthcare terms and emergency protocols.

Staying organized with documents, reviewing policies annually, using preventive services, and tapping campus health resources will further help you manage insurance wisely during your time stateside.

With proper planning, you can secure health insurance as an international student that meets legal obligations and provides robust protection.

This allows peace of mind so you can focus fully on academic excellence. America offers world-class education but lacks universal healthcare, so plan proactively.

With these insights in hand, you can make informed choices and obtain coverage that safeguards your goals for educational advancement.



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