Health Care

Unlike other countries, the United States does not provide socialized medicine. Because medical care can be very expensive, it is important to have health insurance, even if the school does not require it.

General Conditions

International visitors do not have to worry about any unusual health hazards in the United States. Tap water is safe to drink nationwide.

AIDS is as much a problem in the US as in other countries. College students are a particularly high risk group because of unsafe sex practices and unrealistic beliefs about HIV transmission. It is not possible to tell whether someone is HIV-positive just by looking at them. If you have unprotected sex with a HIV-positive individual, you will almost certainly become infected. The condom is the only contraceptive that has been proven to block the transmission of AIDS. But even condoms sometimes fail; they break about 2% of the time.

Medical Emergencies

If you need an ambulance or emergency medical care, dial 911 on any phone 24 hours a day. You can also dial 0 to reach the operator. They will send an ambulance to transport you to a hospital emergency room. The hospital will need the name of your health insurance company and policy number, so you should always carry your health insurance card with you.

Your school may have a health center on campus for minor health issues. Most such health centers are staffed by a nurse practitioner, with a doctor on campus only one or two days a week. For genuine emergencies, however, you should go directly to a hospital emergency room.

Medical Records

Bring a copy of your medical records with you to the US, including immunization and vaccination records and prescriptions. It is generally a good idea to visit your doctor before you leave for the US. Some schools will require you to complete a physical upon arrival. (This is often required of all students, not just international students, so that the school’s medical center has a recent medical history on file.)

Health Insurance

International students should note that in addition to tuition, fees, room and board, and living expenses, they will have to pay for health insurance. US law requires universities to verify that international students on a J-1 visa (and their J-2 dependents) have health insurance before allowing them to enroll. The federal government does not require students on an F-1 visa to have health insurance, but the school may set its own requirements. Many schools require all international students to have health insurance, regardless of the type of visa.

If health insurance is required, it must meet certain minimum standards set by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State. These standards include:

  • Maximum deductible of $500 per accident or illness.
  • Medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness.
  • Repatriation benefits of at least $7,500.
  • Medical evacuation benefits of at least $10,000.
  • Co-insurance not to exceed 25% of the covered medical expenses.

Your school will probably offer a group health insurance program to students who do not have their own health insurance. Typically the insurance will cover hospital care and doctor fees with a deductible and 20% co-payment. A $250 deductible means that you pay the first $250 in medical expenses. A 20% co-payment means that the insurance pays 80% of the expenses above the deductible, and you pay 20%. Prescription drugs might not be included, and there may be a small fee for doctor visits. Details, of course, vary from school to school. Contact the school for information about their health insurance programs and requirements.

There are a variety of student health insurance programs that are available to international students:

Although it is possible to purchase dental insurance coverage, most schools do not include dental coverage as part of the school’s health insurance program. So you will probably have to pay for any dentist bills yourself. If your school is located near a dental school, the school may offer a low cost dental clinic where dental students treat patients under close supervision of dental professors. If you want to know the locations of nearby dentists, call 1-800-DENTIST (1-800-336-8478).

Finding a Doctor

If you need help finding a doctor, call the campus health center. You should receive a list of local doctors that participate in your health insurance program when you enrolled. But the health center can help you narrow the list. For example, ask them if they know which doctors speak foreign languages. You can also ask friends and fellow students for recommendations.

Culture Shock

One consequence of traveling to another country is culture shock. The stress of a new situation, confusion due to language difficulties, and a myriad of small cultural differences add up to culture shock. You might feel depressed, be homesick for your country and family, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and avoid contact with others.

If you experience these symptoms, try talking to someone. Talk to the international student advisor, a friend, the staff at the campus counseling center, or your neighbor. It also helps to participate in activities you enjoy. Write a letter to your family back home. Take a walk in the park. Read a book. Watch a movie. Eat a good meal at a fancy restaurant. Visit the museum or an art gallery. Play a game with some friends.