I know, what a boring topic. But let me put it this way: “No travel insurance, no going abroad”. There is just no getting around it. And just as in the famous Martini commercial, you should go for the right product. Otherwise, there might be no party at all. Or it ends up in a nightmare. Because finding the right insurance plan and company can be complicated and confusing, here are 7 things to consider about your next study abroad insurance.
First things first: the plan you are going for has to cover all requirements set by the university or company abroad. I’m sure there are a lot of fantastic insurance policies out there. But do they meet the criteria? Usually, the university’s international coordinator should provide you with a checklist stating the minimum required coverage amounts for all categories (like dental treatments, hospital visits, emergency backhauls, medication, etc.) If not, your best choice is to ask for a checklist or further advice from the partner university. That’s the first and most important thing you should do before looking into the market. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even know what to search for.
It doesn’t matter if you manage to stay entirely uninjured or need medical treatments every other week. In any case, customer service is the most critical part of your insurance. After purchasing your insurance policy, you need a proper confirmation stating all coverage amounts and limits, the period of validity, and your personal details. You often need these documents in English or the local language of the country you are going for, too. Some universities or companies also want the insurance providers to fill out their own “confirmation templates”. But not many insurance companies are willing to do that and solely stick to their own templates.
Before closing the deal, you should always ask if they can provide you with two things: First, a standard confirmation in multiple languages, including the one you need, of course. Second, if they are willing to fill out paperwork that is not their own. This goes especially for documents required for visa purposes, like the J1 visa for the USA. Giving your potential insurance provider a quick call is the fastest way to get this information and an easy way to get a first impression of the customer service: is it easy to find a phone number on the website, or is it hidden somewhere? How hard is it to get someone on the phone? Is it complicated? Finally, are the customer support agents willing to help? If you are the first person to ask for a confirmation in a foreign language, you should definitely go for a different company.
Last but not least, customer service is essential in the event of an injury. Most likely, dealing with insurance companies isn’t something you are very familiar with. That’s why you need a company that is always there for you and easy to reach. Ideally, they should also have a 24/7 emergency contact you can call day and night.
God forbid you are getting hurt or just need some medication; medical bills can quickly go into the thousands. Some basic tests in the USA come with a $7000 price tag. It would be best to check how the insurance company handles the reimbursement process. Do you have to cover the bills first and get the money back later? Or is everything sorted out between the insurance company and the hospital/doctor’s office directly? Some companies expect you to pay for all expenses yourself upfront and then reimburse you later on. While this might work in some countries, it was definitely impossible for an average student in the USA (including me).
Most universities don’t allow study abroad insurance policies with a high own contribution/risk amounts anyway. However, what this means is that you have to cover all bills by yourself which don’t exceed a specific limit. These plans are usually cheaper because you take the “risk” of paying for quite a few things yourself. If such policies are not prohibited by your partner university, and you are willing to take the risk, always check the own contribution amounts for ALL categories. There might be differences. An average should be around $500. Personally, I would not recommend insurance plans with any form of own contribution amounts. The small price advantage doesn’t really justify the risk you are taking.
Suppose you know a great company, you could literally wait until the last day before departure to purchase your study abroad insurance plan online. It’s an easy process that takes less than 5min. Just make sure the plan covers all countries you might want to visit during your stay abroad. Also, be aware that policies that include the USA and Canada are usually more expensive. In general, I’d recommend purchasing the insurance as early as possible, but not before booking your flights.
Last but not least: it is always best (sometimes required) to purchase insurance that lasts longer than your program or internship. This gives you the freedom to stay longer if you want. Extending an insurance plan while being abroad might become a problem, depending on the company. Some additional days or weeks won’t increase the total costs significantly, assuming you’ll pay for around 150 to 180 days anyway. Here, the “freedom” is definitely worth the extra price.
Many universities offer their own policies or have deals with insurance companies. Needless to say, these plans cover all the requirements. However, such policies are usually not your cheapest option. On the contrary, it’s the most convenient way to tick off the insurance from your to-do list. At this point, it is a tradeoff between convenience and your financial situation. I’d recommend checking out at least two insurance plans other than the one offered by the university (or company). Just like with any other purchase, you want to compare first.
Many of your standard health insurance plans from back home allow a specific period of travel at a time (e.g., max. 8 weeks). This means that you’d be covered by your current insurance for all individual trips shorter than 8 weeks (in this example). In some cases, this would already cover the whole or a significant part of your travel anyway (especially for short term programs or short internships). In this case, you would not be required to purchase any additional plans. Your insurance company only has to provide you with a proper confirmation – and you are done. So make sure to check with your current health insurance company for their allowances (ask for max. travel period at a time or per trip). If your planned stay exceeds this maximum period, it would be best if you could only pay for the remaining days or weeks. However, many companies require you to purchase additional travel insurance for all travels exceeding their maximum allowance anyway.
For both your study abroad program or internship, the right travel insurance can be a blessing and relief. In contrast, choosing the wrong company can turn into a nightmare. Follow the tips above and go for a company with an excellent reputation. It is the only way to really enjoy your time abroad without hesitations.