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What insurance do international students need?

If you’re planning to study in the US, UK, Australia or Canada, insurance to cover the costs of healthcare, travel, your belongings or vehicles may be required

  • Study abroad
  • insurance
  • health insurance
  • car insurance
  • travel insurance
  • content insurance
February 23 2023
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The prospect of travelling abroad to study is exciting. However, as well as contemplating the new world of opportunities that could potentially open up to you, you’ll need to have a think about the admin too. One of the most important preparations you can make is to get the right insurance.

There’s a big student insurance market out there with various levels of coverage, so you’ll need to look at the variables, length of stay, country-specific rules and what activities you might need coverage for - for example if you are into extreme sports. 

The most common insurance types that you will need to factor in are:

-Health insurance
Travel insurance
Vehicle insurance
Contents insurance

Below, we take a look at what to expect if you are setting out to study in the UK, the US, Canada or Australia.

Health insurance for international students 

When signing up for for health insurance it is important to declare any pre-existing conditions to avoid your insurance being voided, and to check if dental work is included. If dental work is not included, you should take out separate dental insurance. Health insurance fees will depend on age, of course, and there will be a lot of variation between providers. If you already have health insurance in your home country, check whether you can extend it to cover your stay abroad and what it covers.

Health insurance is mandatory for all non-US citizens studying in the US and students cannot register for classes without showing proof of it. Some US universities may have their own health insurance plans that students are required to sign up for. Sometimes the premiums will be too high or the coverage too limited, or no coverage offered at all, so students will need to take out a private insurance policy that meets the minimum requirements of where they are studying.

Students studying in Australia will need to have Overseas Student Health Insurance (OHSC) for their stay. OHSC coverage level varies between providers but generally covers things such as visits to the doctor, some hospital treatment, ambulance cover and some medicines. Again, it’s suggested that students take out private health insurance for anything not covered.

The UK Council for International Affairs (UKCISA) recommends that even if students studying in the UK are entitled to free NHS treatment, they should consider taking out insurance that covers other medical-related costs and instances, such as: being unable to complete their course because of illness; returning home if a relative is ill; having a relative visit the UK if the policyholder falls ill; returning to the home country for treatment or, in the absolute worst possible case scenario, returning a body to the home country.

UKCISA underlines the advice about dental insurance above, noting that “two of our student ambassadors recently mentioned that they calculated it would be cheaper to fly home for dental work they needed than to pay the UK prices”.

In Canada, some provinces cover international students under provincial health insurance plans, but the majority require students to register for private health insurance plans. Some of these policies will be offered by the educational institutions themselves and these can be mandatory, while other institutions allow students to shop around.

International students at the University of British Colombia (UBC), for example, are required to have provincial medical insurance as well as interim insurance for the waiting period for provincial medical insurance. UBC also has a mandatory extended health benefits plan.

Because of the typical age range of international students, the coronavirus pandemic has not made as much impact on health insurance as you might imagine. Recovery rates among younger people are high and testing is not an issue affecting insurance. Hospitalisation due to Covid-19 is still regarded, for example in the UK, as emergency treatment. Meanwhile, the NHS cash benefit payment (for days spent in hospital) is still in operation, but varies between insurers. Nevertheless, checking your cover is arguably more important than ever.

Travel insurance for international students

Travel insurance should cover any issues with your journey over to your host country. These might include:

- Lost luggage
Flight delays
Medical emergencies
- Personal injury
- Missed transport or connections
- Accidental damage or injury caused by you

It is like you will avoid these situations but you should plan for them anyway. Your policy may also cover medical insurance for the first few weeks of your stay, which will help bridge the gap until your health insurance starts. You may also be covered for internal trips that you make during your stay. It’s certainly worth checking the small print. The cheapest policies normally incur the highest excess payments (the amount you need to pay to make a claim).

Inevitably, travel insurance has been a fluid area since the coronavirus pandemic. Some providers have restricted cancellation and travel disruption cover. However, the bottom line for students is that if they travel to regions they are advised not to by the relevant authorities then they may find their policy invalid. Again, it’s more important than ever to check the small print.

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What is contents insurance and do international students need it?

Whether studying at home or abroad, having some kind of contents insurance makes sense. You may find you are covered by a policy your parents already have, but if not, you should take out a policy that will protect your belongings while you are abroad.

As with any contents insurance policy, the cost will vary according to the area you are in and what items you’ll need to insure, but peace of mind is important. If the worst happens, the ability to replace important items – such as your mobile phone, laptop/desktop, etc - and focus on your studies will be invaluable.

Vehicle insurance for international students

To make the most of your time studying abroad, you’ll want to take any opportunity to travel. If you’re not using public transport (and, therefore, hopefully covered by your overall travel insurance or a goods in transit cover in your contents policy), and travelling by car or by motorbike, you’ll need vehicle insurance.

Vehicle insurance will cover your car for things like:

- Accidental damage
Malicious damage
Coverage levels will vary considerably. For example, in the UK you can choose between comprehensive (the fullest cover); third party, fire and theft; or the minimum option, third party only, covering you and your passengers if you damage someone else’s property or injure them while driving.

Most countries require all motorists to have valid insurance that provides them, or anyone they allow to drive their car, with insurance cover for that vehicle. It’s no defence to say you thought you were covered. Penalties for having no valid insurance are severe, including fines and even imprisonment.

Shopping around is crucial. Vehicle insurance is fairly complex and the cost varies according to your age, driving experience, where you live, the age, type and value of your car, where you park and, in some cases, how often you will need to drive. It may be tempting to choose an insurance policy with high excess charges (or deductibles as they call them in the US) because of the low premium but you could find yourself out of pocket if you are unlucky enough to have an accident.

As well as the variations between policies, you’ll find some national variations. In Canada international students with no driving history are classed as new drivers even if they have driving experience from their home country. Meanwhile, some Australian states and territories require you to buy third party insurance that covers you for injuries caused to someone else in an accident.

In the US, different states have different insurance coverage limits. It may be wise to play it safe and buy an insurance policy that is higher than the minimum state liability insurance. If you’re going to be in the US for more than a year, you will need to apply for a full American driving licence, and this will be cheaper in the long run. If you’re only going to be in the US for six months or less, you can pay a little extra and rent a vehicle that is pre-insured.

Researching the insurance policies relevant to your study trip is probably going to be the least glamorous part of the experience. However, doing your homework on this will be worthwhile if you find yourself in a spot. It’s much better to have backup in place than to spoil your study experience by scrabbling around to cover for a mishap.

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