US Healthcare System

The girls' soccer team is also a group of friendsDo I Need Health Insurance? - Finding Healthcare Providers - Key Differences UK-US - Overview of Health Insurance - Medical Jargon Buster

The US does not have a government medical plan or health care service that covers the whole population, like the NHS. Instead, obtaining health insurance is the individual’s responsibility. Most people receive care from private doctors and hospitals and have private health insurance to help cover the cost of doctor and hospital visits.

However, some public clinics are available for low-income residents. As a university student, you will most likely also have access to an on-campus health clinic, which is often cheaper than visiting a private doctor.

It’s important to make sure all your medical records and immunizations are up-to-date. Most colleges require international students to provide an immunization record, so plan ahead and get this early. Some schools may also recommend additional immunizations, so make sure you check with your international student advisor.

Do I Need Health Insurance?

If a health premium seems too high for your budget, or if, as a healthy young person, you think that health insurance is an unnecessary expense, consider the costs that could be incurred. If you are seriously injured or become ill while in the US, hospitals, doctors and other medical costs vary throughout the country, but emergency room care averages a minimum of about $200 per visit not including any charges or services. The cost of hospital rooms vary as well, but currently one overnight stay in a hospital room can cost around $1,000, again not including charges for doctors and other medical services.

In other words, think twice about not taking out health insurance.

Finding Healthcare Providers

There are a countless number of private health insurance companies. Many international students find it cheaper and more convenient to purchase insurance through their universities. If you must buy from a private company, you may wish to look at the websites of some major National Health Insurance providers*:

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, be sure to fully investigate the insurance plan that your university offers.  If you have any specific enquiries about the coverage of pre-existing conditions, contact your university.

Discuss health insurance plans with your international student advisor before arriving on campus. They should be able to give advice for reputable alternatives or supplements to university-based insurance.

*Please note that the US-UK Fulbright Commission does not recommend or endorse any product or company. These are merely starting points for research.

A Few Key Differences Between the US and UK Healthcare Systems

Unlike in the UK, you do not have to register with a GP. You can simply call a doctor's office or call a specialist directly to make an appointment. Often, universities have an on-campus health centre offering discounted services to students. As an enrolled student you will have access to care at the centre. The medical professionals at the on-campus centre will be able to recommend or refer you to the appropriate doctor if you need follow-up or specialised treatment.

As US insurance is private, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may find that you are charged more for insurance or in some cases have trouble getting insurance, so be sure to enquire with your university.

You will be charged for every test, visit to the doctor, prescription, etc., so make sure you know what is covered by your insurance plan in advance. Also, ensure that you take all prescriptions with you in your hand luggage.

Dental and vision care may not be included in your insurance. They are often available as extras to standard insurance plans.

Overview of US Health Insurance

The US Department of State requires students on J-1 exchange visitor visas to have insurance coverage that includes health and accident, medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. The US government currently has no specific health insurance requirements for F-1 student visa holders. However, most universities set their own mandatory health insurance requirements.

International students are usually required to prove they have a certain amount of health insurance (determined by the university) before they will be allowed to enrol in classes. Here are some basic insurance terms that will get you started as you investigate health insurance options:

If you have an emergency, call 911.

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US-UK Medical Jargon Buster




GP (General Practitioner)


Doctor's Surgery



Operating Room (O.R.)


Emergency Room (E.R.)

Accident and Emergency (A&E)






Anadin Extra



This Does Not Exist in the US!

National Health Service (NHS)

*The Fulbright Commission provides this information as a helpful guide. We cannot take responsibility for any inaccuracies. Before taking a new medication you may wish to consult with a pharmacist or doctor.