In this section, you will find information on how to obtain medical assistance while in the country of your choice. As insurance is critical to obtaining medical assistance while in the country of your choice, we will then review different types of insurance that are available. For international study and travel, there are various types of insurance that you should consider purchasing prior to leaving the United States. These include major medical, emergency evacuation, repatriation of remains, 24–hour emergency help line, legal assistance, baggage, accidental death and dismemberment/life, motor vehicle, and kidnapping and terrorism insurance.
1. Medical Care
- Reviewing Your Medical History and Needs Before Going Abroad: It is a good idea to have a checkup to know your current medical condition. Your doctor or nurse can also advise you on what special precautions to take based on your medical history and where you are studying abroad in the country of your choice. You may need to go to a special travel health clinic to get clear advice on medical care abroad and what challenges you may face.
- Special Needs: If you have any special needs, check with a study abroad administrator and ask how he or she can best help you. Regulations for accessibility in the country of your choice may not be as updated as they are in the United States. Check to determine if accommodations like wheelchair ramps are provided for all modes of transportation.
- Availability of Medical Care: The type of medical care available will vary from country to country. In some areas of the country of your choice, medical care will seem similar to the type of care you find in the United States. In others, finding an English–speaking doctor or appropriate medical facility might be difficult. You should ask your program sponsor whether he or she can provide advice on available medical care and support in the country of your choice. It is also important to find out about medical care during group or independent travel.
- Support Services for Medical Care: Ask your program staff about their capability to provide you with medical care assistance. Does this staff speak the local dialects, the language of the country of your choice and English? Do they have a list of the best available local medical facilities? Also, find out if someone in the staff or administration is trained to handle emergency situations.
- What Insurance Covers: Know exactly what is and is not covered by your insurance plan. For example, high–risk sports injuries, dental care, and optical care are sometimes not covered by basic medical insurance. Also, if certain pre–existing conditions are excluded, check on the exact definition of "pre–existing."
- Insurance Provided By Program Sponsor: Some programs include insurance as part of their program fee and have pre–planned insurance arrangements for their participants. Purchasing their insurance may make it easier for the program staff to assist you while in the country of your choice. However, you should still look closely at the limitations in its coverage. If the program does not offer insurance, and/or you think the program insurance is not sufficient you should consider purchasing additional travel/study abroad insurance.
- Other Aspects to Consider: Other aspects to consider include the financial limits of coverage, whether your insurance applies during independent travel or vacation, what countries it includes, whether evacuation and repatriation is included, the policy's start and end dates, and whether you will have to pay first for treatment and be reimbursed later by your insurance company.
3. Types of Insurance
- Major Medical: This type of insurance assures that all or part of your medical expenses for illness and injury will be paid. As costs vary from country to country, it is important to have sufficient coverage for any healthcare needs you may have while in the country of your choice.
- Emergency Evacuation: This type of insurance provides support for transportation from the scene of an accident to the closest appropriate medical care facility. This could be by ambulance, helicopter, air rescue, or other form of special transportation. The insurance provider, in conjunction with an emergency assistance company should work with a local doctor in deciding where the appropriate medical care can be provided. It may not cover your return to the United States if the company does not believe it is necessary.
- Legal Assistance/Liability Insurance: If you encounter legal difficulties in the country of your choice, you may need the assistance of a local attorney. If you are found responsible for damages, liability insurance may cover those costs. The U.S. Department of State may assist you in finding an attorney, but it can neither pay attorney costs nor damages.
- Lost Baggage/Property Insurance: Insurance can be purchased to cover lost baggage and loss or theft of your baggage during travel or in the country of your choice.
- Motor Vehicle Coverage: Whether you rent a car, motorcycle, moped, or accompany someone in a personal vehicle, you should insure that you, the vehicle, and any passengers would be covered in case of accident or injury. You may need to pay for damage to someone else's vehicle or the injury of others if you are found responsible in the case of an accident.
- Kidnapping and Terrorism Insurance: Insurance is available to provide for response to kidnapping or terrorism.
- Repatriation of Remains: In the event of your death, this type of insurance will provide means for the return of your remains to the United States.
- Accidental Death and Dismemberment/Life Insurance: In the case of loss of limbs or death, this coverage provides funding to compensate you or your beneficiary. Students with a spouse or dependents may want to consider purchasing a comprehensive life insurance policy.
4. Insurance Policy Components
- Pre–Existing Conditions: Some insurance will specifically limit coverage for medical conditions existing prior to the beginning of coverage.
- High Risk Activities: Some insurance will specifically exclude coverage for high–risk activities like contact sports, skiing, mountain climbing, etc.
- Continuing Coverage in the United States: Many international insurance plans do not cover continued care in the United States, or if they do, the amount of coverage is limited. You may want to continue your Major Medical coverage in the United States while in the country of your choice in case you need to come home for medical care.
- Special Areas: Some insurance will limit coverage for accidents involving alcohol and drug related activities.
- Advance Payment vs. Reimbursement: It is important to know whether your insurance company will pay when services are provided. Many travel insurance policies require you to obtain approval before treatment, pay in advance and then submit a claim for later reimbursement of medical expenses.
- 24–hour Emergency Assistance/Help Line: This type of service can be limited to a simple phone response system, or provide you with comprehensive emergency assistance for evacuation, legal aid, translation services, and other support around the world.
- Family Emergencies: Some policies may offer coverage for family emergencies, illness or death. The costs of emergency bereavement flights back home may be covered, as well as a refund in the event you cannot complete your program.
- Airline/Program Bankruptcy: Find out if your policy covers the possibility of airline or program bankruptcy, and if you are entitled to a refund if such an event occurs.
5. Relevant Questions
- Does the program you are considering include insurance as part of its program fee? If so, what kind of insurance does it provide you?
- Are sports accidents covered?
- What does the plan consider to be "high risk activities"?
- Is dental and/or optical care included?
- Are pre–existing conditions excluded or covered?
- Are sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS) covered?
- Is emergency evacuation for medical and psychological problems covered?
- Should you consider purchasing your own insurance? If you do, will you not have to pay for the "package deal" insurance provided by the program?
- What are the insurance policy's start and end dates? How long after the program ends are you covered?
- What are the financial limits of coverage?
- Does your insurance policy provider have a 24–hour assistance phone number/hotline?
- Will you have to pay for medical care as you receive it, and then be reimbursed by your insurance company?
- If your illness requires long–term care, for how long will you be covered?
- In case of death, will the insurance company pay for repatriation– the return of your body to the United States?
- If you have to return to the United States because of evacuation or medical emergency, will you be refunded for the program fee?
- I am familiar with the health care system of the country where I will be studying, including the quality of facilities and the cost of services.
- I know the location of the nearest hospital to my abroad residence.
- I know what my insurance policy does and does not cover.
- I will be provided with a translator if needed during a doctor visit or hospital stay.
- I have an emergency contact in the U.S. and abroad.
- I have a first aid kit.
- I know how to refill needed prescriptions abroad.