A semester spent studying abroad can be a lot of things. It can be a wonderful opportunity to expand your cultural and intellectual horizons. It can be a great way to connect with students in the host country and see what they do for fun—and it might well be the last time you spend traveling the world on your parents’ dime.
One thing it shouldn’t be: An abject (and expensive) lesson in the perils of working and playing abroad without having the protection of international travel insurance.
What it is
Like all insurance, international travel insurance provides a financial protection from the unexpected. Travel insurance policies can provide protection from a wide range of potentially expensive incidents—from mere mishaps (delayed or missed flights, trip cancellation or interruption, lost or delayed luggage, loss of other personal property) to the kind of worst-case disaster that requires extensive medical treatment or evacuation from your destination.
Depending on the policy you choose for study abroad, you can receive the kinds of helpful benefits you don’t think of until you need them, from 24/7 emergency assistance and reimbursement in foreign currencies to round trip tickets for parents if their student is hospitalized. And, though it will cost more, you can ensure sufficient coverage for laptops, cell phones and other expensive equipment, and get additional protection against identity theft and ATM assault or robbery.
Why you need international travel insurance
If you’ve done any investigating of study abroad programs at your school, you may have already noticed that many schools positively require travel authorization, enrollment in an international travel insurance plan and, sometimes, the student’s registration for The U.S. Department of State’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).
But even if your school’s requirements are less rigid, it’s vitally important to have robust travel insurance during a semester abroad:
- One of the biggest mistakes people make is that their health care coverage will cover them abroad. An insurer may cover “customary and reasonable” hospital costs. You should check in advance, and also note that while immediate emergencies may be covered, post-emergency treatment and medicines may not be.
- While some of a student’s personal items may be covered by homeowner’s insurance, it’s advisable to check first and ensure that replacement costs will be covered.
- While Mom or Dad may be the first call a student in trouble might make at home, a parent living stateside can’t be immediately available to provide help, information, directions and more. That makes the 24/7 emergency assistance that many travel insurance companies offer priceless.
Who’s responsible for getting it?
Short answer: You—the parents and student.
Longer answer: Some college and university study-abroad programs are well staffed and offer advice and information regarding international travel insurance; others simply don’t have the bandwidth and leave the research and procurement to the students/families.
Experts say that now, more than ever, researching the host country and its health systems is a must: “With increasing numbers of students choosing study in regions where health and safety concerns differ from those in the United States, students and their families must plan for and understand the risks of such travel,” say the experts at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the travel advice column “Study Abroad & Other International Student Travel.” The CDC advises checking with the study abroad program admin staff, researching the health systems and security status of the destination and checking in with your primary care physician before you go.
Before you go: a checklist
A student looking forward to a semester abroad will research a lot of things before visiting another country—from what to wear to what kind of nightlife can be expected. Make sure at least some of that online research includes a visit to Students Abroad on the U.S. Department of State/ Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
- Students: Be sure to enroll in STEP, always have the contact info for your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate (both in English and host language) and have a check-in schedule with the folks back home. —Travel.state.gov
- Students: “Always have your insurance card on you and be prepared to pay hospital fees up front. To that end, it’s always important that you keep a credit or debit card with you at all times.” —StudyAbroad.com
- Parents: Be sure that the insurance you buy covers all potential needs to your satisfaction. Reading the fine print to see what is and isn’t covered can help save stress and hassles down the line.
Do you have any personal anecdotes about studying abroad and needing international travel insurance—either from a parent’s or a student’s point of view? Feel free to share your tips and insights in the comments section below.
For all things travel-related, go to AAA.com/Travel.