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I will be soon joining a PhD program in US on an F-1 student visa. I will be entering US about 20 days before the university academic session starts. The university will be providing health insurance to me, and coverage will start with the academic session itself. So I will not be covered by university insurance for my first 20 days in US. I would like to know if it is a good idea to buy a short term health insurance policy for these first 20 days in US ? Is it very risky to not buy this short-term insurance ? FYI, I do not have any chronic diseases or other things.

Since US healthcare system is very different from everywhere I have been to (some European and Asian countries), I am in utter confusion regarding this whole health insurance stuff. Any answers would be really appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

  • Just checking back: you have an F1 visa and not a J1 visa, right? The answer to your question depends on this difference. – DCTLib Jul 5 '15 at 11:07
  • Yes, I will be entering US on an F-1 student visa. Thanks – singularity Jul 5 '15 at 11:07
  • How is your financial situation? Can you afford to buy the short term health issurance, say in a few hundred US$ range? – scaaahu Jul 5 '15 at 11:19
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    The question is definitely a better fit at expats.se, but the readers of this SE are more likely to be able to answer it. – DCTLib Jul 5 '15 at 11:40
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    Yes, it is worth it. But it is sufficient to restrict yourself to emergency coverage. The most likely scenario in which you will need a large sum of money during that time span is an accident, but a sudden illness is also likely. And an initial entry to a foreign country you are unfamiliar with is a high risk period. Try to have some local (at least within the US) contacts in case of an emergency, in any case. – Faheem Mitha Jul 5 '15 at 20:27
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Travel insurance is generally pretty cheap, especially if you exclude high risk activities like skiing and parasailing. My UK bank provides travel insurance for free and some credit cards provide travel insurance for free if you book your flights with them. If you were taking a three week vacation to the US, you should be able get insured for well under $100.

The issue is that you are not taking a vacation. You are entering the US on a F-1 student visa and possibly do not have a return ticket. While many travel insurance providers will happily sell you insurance and tell you you are covered, they will also direct you to pages and pages of terms and conditions. The key to insurance is making sure you meet all the terms and conditions, otherwise they will not pay out when you need them.

Assuming you can find reasonably priced insurance, the question becomes do you need it. Travel insurance generally only reimburses you for expenses and does not pay the bill up front. This means the benefits are often limited by how much you can afford to pay up front. There also things you can do to reduce the need to see a doctor (e.g., getting a round of general antibiotics from your doctor before you leave). Overall the answer is highly personal and depends on how you would pay a huge medical bill.

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    I thought since the OP is moving residence, and not traveling, that travel insurance does not apply. Hence 'repatriation' in the event of a major illness may not apply either. Check the fine print. – smci Jul 6 '15 at 0:51
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I would say yes. You can likely get fairly cheap insurance from your (or your parents') home insurance, or the credit card company that you bought your ticket from. Although, like StrongBad pointed out in his answer, you need to make sure they are willing to cover you even though you don't have a return ticket. A fellow grad stdent tripped and broke her arm before term started and ended up with an emergency room bill of roughly $5000. That's considerably more of a financial burden on you or your parents than $100-200 worth of insurance. And you could end up with similar bills for a bout of food poisoning, or the flu, or a car accident, or any number of accidents. The insurance is even more important if you (like most of us) don't have a lot of money lying around. The cost of insurance is a slight inconvenience, but the cost of an actual medical emergency in the US is a disaster in that case.

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  • Thanks for the response !....One thing I got to know recently is that you can have retrospective referrals or something like that from the long-term insurance company (the one university will provide me). Is that really possible in case of emergency ? – singularity Jul 5 '15 at 20:23
  • @stringcosmologyapplicant I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with US insurance regulations to know if that is the case. I do however think it would depend on exactly with insurance company your university uses. I would contact them and ask if that is possible. – Johanna Jul 6 '15 at 10:42
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You are asking if it is risky not to buy the insurance. In absolute numbers, it is not risky. There is only a small probability that you need it. Also, doctors will offer also their services for a fee in case you need it.

However, there are two things to consider. First of all, if you need medical attention, it is very expensive. For example, if you get a cold and need a prescription for medication, expect to pay more than 300 US-Dollars. Treatment is a bit cheaper if your insurance has a contract with the doctor, but if you don't health insurance, then you can't take advantage of such contracts.

Also, there is always a low risk that some kind of emergency situtation can arise (traffic accidents come into my mind), and the insurance would give you support here. Such cases can easily cost a five-digit amount of money. And this is where an insurance would help you: by allowing you to make a relatively small payment that does not burst your budget, it allows you to have the (relative) certainty that your budget will be fine even in extreme cases.

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