After you’ve been accepted by a study program or a university overseas, there’s one rather boring but mandatory detail you need to take care of before you set off for foreign shores – health insurance. It’s quite a downer after the euphoria of waiting to be accepted by a university of your choice but it’s something you, quite literally, cannot afford to ignore.
The most obvious question you’re confronting is: as an international student, will you need to purchase health insurance? There is no clear-cut answer because it all depends on the government of the foreign country, its healthcare system and the university you are enrolled with. The systems and policies vary from one country to another, so take some time to study them carefully.
For instance, Sweden allows foreign students staying in the country for a year or more to avail its public health benefits by simply registering with the relevant authorities. However, most other countries mandate that foreign students take insurance cover.
European students can use the health insurance card issued in their home country in other European Union countries, and thus avail the same health benefits there. The US, on the other hand, requires foreign students to pay for their own healthcare, which means the student needs insurance cover, one way or another.
How do you go about navigating this confusing issue, where the rules are complex, choices varied and where missteps could be costly? The most-obvious go-to authority is the university you are enrolling with. It is one of the best sources of information, so go ahead and ask. Often, there may be choices to make, in which case, contact alumni of the same university and seek their advice.
A large chunk of international students head for the United States every year, so let’s explore health insurance requirements in USA in a little more detail. Be warned – healthcare in USA is as super as it is super-expensive, so buying insurance cover is a must.
A majority of American universities have their own health insurance plans for the students they admit and this is usually the best way to go. Here’s a tip: larger colleges tend to have better international student insurance policies than smaller institutions. Often, non-American students have to sign up for these plans but there is some room to manoeuvre.
If you are, say a Fulbright scholar or sponsored by an organisation such as USAID, the organisation sponsoring you may have its own health insurance cover for you. In the event that your US university does not provide you with health insurance – and some don’t – the International Student Office at the college can help you find a plan that suits your needs.
There are many private companies that offer insurance policies specifically designed for international students. If you prefer to go down this route, seek the advice of the on-campus International Student Office as well as other international students, especially those who have taken private policies before.
Here’s another variable that influences your health insurance cover while studying in the US. The American government requires universities to make sure that international students on J-1 visas as well as their J-2 dependents have health insurance before allowing them to enrol. Alternatively, the government does not require students on F-1 visas to have health insurance although, as discussed earlier, your university or college will demand that you take insurance cover.
Your college will probably have a mandatory group health insurance plan and will automatically enrol you in it. In this case, you cannot choose the details of your plan, and premiums will be covered by your tuition fee. While these plans are expensive, they are also very comprehensive.
Colleges that offer group insurance sometimes allow their students to opt out on condition that the student purchases comparable, alternative coverage. They will, however, guide you on the details, if necessary.
Insurance cover is not the only base you have to cover. You also need to find out what vaccines, if any, you need to take. This is especially important if you’re travelling to a country in South America or Africa, in which case it is mandatory to take the yellow fever vaccine.
American students headed overseas should make sure their routine immunisations are up to date. These include vaccines for hepatitis B, measles and the flu. However, you may want to also get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid, especially if you are enrolled in a country where health and hygiene is poor.
You might also consider getting a full physical before leaving home. If there are any health issues you need to address, they are best tackled before you leave home, not after.
It is usually something we pay scant attention to but be aware that medications prescribed in one country may be illegal in another. To find out if you can carry your medications, if any, overseas, contact the country’s embassy or consulate.
In the event that they are legal, get your doctor to also write and sign a formal prescription for them. The prescription should include both the medication’s generic and brand names. Also get a letter from your physician, explaining the need for you to take that medication including the dosage.
If you suffer from any chronic health conditions, ask your physician for a letter detailing past diagnoses and treatments. This will be extremely useful should you need medical attention while overseas.
Image source: US News