Is health insurance mandatory for international students in the US?

Insurance plans protect international students from unexpected medical bills in the US while they focus on their academic goals.

By Chiranth Natraj

The US is home to top eminent schools, colleges, and universities. Students from all over the world come to the US to pursue education, receive training, hone their skills, get hands-on experience in their respective academic fields, and so on. Nevertheless, there can be some challenges during their period of courses, i.e., unforeseen medical emergencies.

International students can temporarily live in the US depending on their chosen academic programs. They can come to the US on J1 and F1 visas. Students on J1 visas are exchange students who have come to participate in cultural exchange programs. Whereas students on F1 visas come to the US to pursue a degree or certificate through the course.

Read: What does Visitor insurance cover? (November 8, 2021)

 International students on J1 visas

Foreign students or scholars on J1 visas must enroll in accredited post-secondary academic institutions or participate in student internship programs that can fulfill their educational objectives in their home country. Students can enroll in full-time non-degree programs, engage in part-time employment under certain conditions, or take part in academic training with or without wages.

 J1 visa health insurance

J1 students must carry health insurance. The US Department of State has a set of minimum insurance requirements for the J1 and J2 visa holders.

  • $100,000 medical benefits per accident or illness
  • $25,000 for repatriation of remains
  • $50,000 for medical evacuation of the visitor to their home country
  • $500 deductible per illness or injury
  • Plan to be underwritten by an insurance corporation with an A.M. Best rating of A-, or above, or an Insurance Solvency International Ltd. (ISI) rating of A-I or above, or a Standard and Poor’s Claims Paying Ability rating of A- or above, or a Weiss Research Inc. rating of B+ or above.

As per law, J visa holders are required to maintain appropriate health insurance for the duration of their programs. Failure to carry insurance is considered a legal status violation and can result in termination of the program.

Students can opt for school, college, or university-sponsored insurance programs. Moreover, they can choose individual or group programs during their stay. The J visa students/scholars can  choose to buy a J visa insurance plans from a private US insurance company if the sponsor organization allows it.

Read: Why is visitor health insurance recommended for travel to USA? (October 7, 2021)

 International students on F1 visa

Foreign students on F1 visas come to the US to obtain degrees from schools, colleges, or universities approved by SEVP Immigration & Customs Enforcement. F1 students must enroll in a full-time course and can stay in the US till the completion of the program. However, they must plan to return to their home country after the course is completed. If students work under OPT (Optional Practical Training) program after completing their academic session, they can extend their visas.

 F1 visa health insurance

Health insurance is not mandatory to maintain F1 visa status, but F1 international students may not be able to enroll in academic classes in the US without medical insurance. Once the students get accepted by a SEVP institution, they receive an I-20 form. This form documents everything, including the start and end of the program, funding sources, health insurance, personal information, etc.

The US State Department lays down no specific insurance requirement for F1 students. In most cases, institutions decide what level of coverage students will need to enroll in the classes. Since it will vary, students can get insurance in many ways. For example, they can get insurance from a mandatory school-sponsored group program with no option to waive coverage, or a school-sponsored program with the opportunity to waive,  or  choose coverage from outside school as there is no school-sponsored program.

Read: Do International Students Need U.S. Health Insurance? (December 22, 2020)

 Why is health insurance essential for international students?

Insurance plans protect international students from unexpected medical bills in the US while they focus on their academic goals. A health insurance policy covers eligible medical expenses, hospitalization charges, surgeries, doctor visits, urgent care, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation, maternity, mental health, sports coverage, and more. Each plan has distinct coverage as per a student’s needs.

As the US has one of the most expensive healthcare systems globally, it may not be easy and comfortable for everyone to spend thousands of dollars for a treatment. Therefore, it becomes challenging for international students to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.

While J1 students must buy an insurance plan that meets the US Department of State’s insurance requirements, F1 students must buy a plan that meets their school’s requirements. International students also get the waive-off option to buy insurance from outside. Hence, no matter which visa  gets you to the US, carrying medical insurance will always be helpful during the stay

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