In fact, according to the Institute of International Education, enrollment in American study abroad programs has tripled over the past two decades. In more recent years, students have also begun heading to less traditional destinations – into countries where English is not the primary language.
Many universities include a pre-negotiated, one-size-fits-all insurance package with their programs, and for many healthy students, that’s enough. But consider the fact that in 2011, study abroad programs and their insurance providers had to scramble to gather, protect, and evacuate thousands of students out of Egypt – and many parents had to pay those costs because the standard plans offered by the universities didn’t provide coverage for that event.
The standard programs offered by universities may not cover:
- overseas medical treatment for students with pre-existing conditions
- trip interruptions if the student has to return home due to an emergency
- theft of a student’s passport, identification, and ultimately their identity
- emergency evacuations for medical and non-medical reasons
Not all universities have an overseas insurance plan for their students. In some cases, universities are cautious about making recommendations to students out of concern they will be held liable for the decisions made, so the decision is left to the student and their parents.
The following are 6 steps to be sure you, or your student, is covered before they travel abroad.
1. Get the university’s insurance policy – and check the limits
If the university has an international insurance plan, get a copy of it and read it. Typically, this will be in your study abroad packet, but it’s critical to verify the coverage and policy limits. In some cases, the policy limits for international medical care are too low for a student who encounters a serious illness or is badly injured. In some cases, medical evacuation is not included in the plan – and that can make a big difference if the student has to be flown home for treatment.
Just as you would need to do with any insurance plan, it’s important to get the details and read it carefully so you understand the coverage.
2. Determine where you will travel during your time abroad
Lots of countries are smaller in size than America, and as a result, they’re closer to other interesting places to visit. If you’re studying in India, will you have the opportunity to visit Nepal or Bangladesh? If you’re studying in France, will you take a train into Switzerland, Spain, Italy, or Germany?
Determine the places you will travel to during your time abroad and make sure the coverage you have extends to those areas as well.
3. Consider the activities you will be doing while abroad
Every place in the world offers unique experiences: hiking in the outback of Australia, diving in Bali, skiing in Switzerland. If you have the opportunity to do some of these things, will your insurance coverage still deliver?
It’s important to think about those activities you’ll have the opportunity to do and look for exclusions in the university plan to be sure you’ll still have coverage. Even travel insurance plans have exclusions, so your overseas plan from the university is likely to as well. And you don’t want to get caught by an unexpected exclusion just when you need your coverage the most.
4. Research the unique risks for the region
Student travelers are exposed to new germs, viruses, and diseases – some native and some transported in by other travelers. Knowing what those risks are ahead of time is essential. Students are also exposed to the local crime, political and environmental conditions, and other threats to their safety and security.
If the university’s study abroad program hasn’t informed you of necessary vaccinations and cautioned you on other risks, it’s a good idea to find those out for yourself. Two websites can offer insights into the unique region-specific risks:
- CDC Traveler’s Health – for health-related information that is destination specific
- International Travel from the U.S. Department of State – for country-specific safety and security risks
Knowing the unique risks means you can ensure that the insurance protection you choose will have the coverage you need for the area you’re visiting.
5. Think about special circumstances
Are there any special circumstances to consider? If the traveler or someone back home has a pre-existing medical condition, will they have coverage? Will your student be participating in sports while studying abroad? Many special circumstances are excluded from standard international insurance plans, so it’s important to review the university plan and be sure it fits your trip and your student.
6. Get supplementary travel insurance if necessary
If you’ve reviewed the university plan and the risks you’ll face and everything is covered, great! Have a good year abroad. If you’ve found a few gaps in their plan that you want to cover, or if the plan is your responsibility instead, then click to compare plans that deliver just the coverage you need for the area where you’ll be traveling.
Not sure exactly what you’ll need? See our Student Travel Insurance tutorial for details.
Before you go, see the Students Abroad site from travel.state.gov for information on handling emergencies, finding the embassy, and preparing your travel documents.