No matter where you are, health concerns can surface when you least expect them. That’s why it's important to get coverage before traveling abroad. In fact, if you plan to complete an Exchange Visitor program in the U.S., J-1 visa health insurance is required. 

It may seem like a lot to set up on top of applying for internships and a visa, but insurance is more than worth it. Without health insurance, medical costs in the U.S. can be astronomical, especially if you have to make a hospital visit. However, with coverage, you can ensure your bills are a reasonable price. 

If you are planning to complete an internship or training program abroad in the coming months, this article is for you. We’ll cover:

  • The health insurance requirements for the J-1 visa
  • How to get health insurance for J-1 visa holders
  • How to connect with J-1 visa insurance providers
  • The details of healthcare in the U.S.

Read on for information you’ll need before boarding your plane.

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What Are J-1 Visa Health Insurance Requirements?

The minimum is that all government-appointed visa sponsors must check that interns and other Exchange Visitors they send abroad have J-1 visa medical insurance for the duration of their program. Spouses or children that travel abroad with them must also have coverage. This is true for individuals completing any J-1 trainee visa program.

But what are the specifics of this requirement? Can Exchange Visitors simply choose whichever of the J-1 visa health insurance plans they find most affordable?

Not exactly.

J-1 visa holders and their families must receive health insurance that, at minimum, does the following:

  • Covers for both sickness and accidents
  • Has deductibles that are under $500 USD per accident or illness 
  • Provides (at minimum) medical benefits of $100,000 USD per illness or accident
  • Allocates $50,000 USD to evacuate individuals to their home country for medical reasons
  • Allocates $25,000 USD to return remains to the individual’s home country in the unlikely event of death

Essentially, sponsors can’t send Exchange Visitors off to the U.S. unless they are absolutely sure that they will have the support they need to pay any medical bills that arise during their stay.

However, this does not mean that health insurance for J-1 visa holders is zero cost. Exchange Visitors will still need to pay deductibles and copays. 

Deductibles are the amount that patients pay before insurance kicks in and covers your medical bills. This amount varies by plan. Copayments are the amount patients pay, while insurance covers the rest of the payment. Individuals do not begin paying copayments until they finish paying their deductible.

For example, let’s say your J-1 visa health insurance plan has a $200 USD deductible. This means that the first time you go to a doctor’s visit, you will be required to pay the full $200 USD price. However, the next time you visit the doctor, you will only need to cover the copayment, which will be much lower.

Because of all the above requirements, many Exchange Visitors find it easiest to use their sponsor’s recommended J-1 visa health insurance program. This can be much simpler than looking through other insurance pricing options. 

What is a J-1 Visa Sponsor?

Before we dive into how sponsors connect Exchange Visitors to J-1 visa insurance providers, let’s cover exactly who these sponsors are and what they do.

First, government-approved J-1 visa sponsors are a required component of the Exchange Visitor program. Generally, they are organizations who help individuals study and work abroad through various programs.  In most cases, sponsors are separate from companies that host interns and trainees. However, a handful of J-1 employers that host interns are also government-appointed sponsors. Regardless of your sponsor’s specific role and expertise, they are all required to complete many of the same functions.

One big responsibility of J-1 visa sponsors is to screen applicants. The goal of this screening is to ensure that prospective interns are fully prepared to complete a program in the U.S. Sponsors then select applicants to work with. They also walk applicants through the visa process and provide them with important J-1 visa documents, like the DS-2019 and DS-7002. While interns are in the U.S., sponsors will periodically check up on them to ensure they are completing their program and not violating any rules or regulations 

At Global Internships, we are an official J-1 visa sponsor with decades of experience and expertise. In addition to walking interns through the visa application process and ensuring they’re ready to go abroad, we also provide:

  • Internship placement services (for business and hospitality positions)
  • Pre-departure training 
  • 24/7 emergency support 
  • J-1 visa health insurance 

How to Get J-1 Visa Health Insurance

While it is not possible to skip out on insurance as a J-1 visa holder, there are a couple of ways to get coverage. One option is to do some research and find a plan that:

  • You can afford
  • Meets the criteria for J-1 visa health insurance
  • Has fine print that you clearly understand

It’s important to know the details of your health coverage before you go abroad. If you decide to find insurance on your own, have a family member or mentor look over the plan with you to ensure it meets all the necessary criteria.

However, the easiest option for getting healthcare abroad is to purchase the insurance your visa sponsor recommends. This option is great, because many other Exchange Visitors will have tried it before you. If you have any doubts about the insurance policy, consider reaching out to someone in your network who has traveled as an Exchange Visitor before. Chances are high that they used the same provider, and can fill you in on its pros and cons.

If you work with us as your sponsor, you will most likely receive coverage from our partner, Envisage Global Insurance. Only applicants working with our Germany office are able to use other insurance plans.

With Envisage, participants will pay a $100 USD copay for most medical visits. For emergency room visits, participants will pay a $250 USD copay.

We understand that these J-1 visa costs may sound steep without some context. But before you head off to find different healthcare coverage, let’s discuss what healthcare looks like in the U.S., and why it's critical that you have quality insurance before traveling there.

Healthcare in the U.S.

The U.S. is home to many amazing doctors, surgeons, and hospitals. However, this does not mean that every U.S. citizen receives (or can afford) this top-notch care.

Instead, the quality of healthcare that individuals receive depends on factors, including where they live and their insurance coverage. Unfortunately, many who live in the U.S. do not have health insurance. Census numbers showed that 28 million people living in the U.S. did not have health insurance at any time during the year. 

Lack of health insurance can lead to medical debt. Data from the 2017 census showed that medical debt only affected 16.2% of U.S. households with full health insurance coverage, but also 30.8% of U.S. households without full insurance coverage.

The good news is that J-1 visa holders are guaranteed to have quality health insurance. Otherwise, you can’t go abroad. 

Below, we’ll walk you through what to do in the event of a wide range of medical problems–from a mild cold to a serious injury. 

Curing Mild Ailments

First, plan to pack some first aid essentials to bring with you to the U.S. Items can include:

  • Thermometer
  • Bandaids
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Cough drops
  • Cold medicine
  • Tea
  • Prescriptions (which we’ll cover more later) 

You’ll be thankful to have these items on hand when problems arise.

However, if you forget to pack a first aid kit and then experience a minor ailment during your stay, there are easy ways to get help. In most cases, sicknesses like the common cold are unlikely to warrant a trip to the doctor.

Instead, you can find plenty of cold remedies (teas, medicines, you name it) at your local grocery store or pharmacy. CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are some of the most common places people go to for medicine in the U.S., but if those aren’t convenient to you, almost all big-box stores have a pharmacy section that can help you in a pinch.

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Bringing Prescriptions to the U.S. 

If you have prescription medications that you take regularly, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that you have enough for your stay abroad.

The FDA shares that to take prescription medications into the U.S., you’ll need a prescription or doctor’s note. These must be written in English. Additionally, you must transport the medication in its original bottle with the instructions printed on the front. They recommend taking no more than 90 days worth of medication with you.

But what if your stay will be over 90 days?

In that case, you can receive refills through the mail, so long as there is documentation that explains the medication is for your personal use while you reside in the U.S. You can also visit a doctor in the U.S. to discuss getting a refill from them. However, U.S. physicians are often unable to connect visitors with the exact foreign prescription they need.

Mental Health Concerns

While living and working in a new country can return all sorts of benefits, it is also normal to experience mental health problems while away. Whether or not you have a history of mental health challenges, it’s important to create a plan for taking care of yourself in a completely new environment.

You can start by making a list of activities that help you feel grounded and connected. This might include:

  • Exercise
  • Regular sleep schedule
  • Healthy eating
  • Journaling
  • Walking
  • Talking with friends and family
  • Meditating

Whatever your tools are, pack accordingly. For example, if running helps your mental health, pack running shoes and clothes that you will need to go for jogs while abroad.

However, remember that your current routine may not be enough. It’s possible that you will benefit from professional support while abroad. If this is the case, you have a couple options. 

First, you can connect with a counselor or therapist who provides telehealth appointments. This can be helpful if you find it easiest to talk about your emotions in a language besides English, since you will be able to connect with a provider anywhere in the world. However, keep in mind that your insurance plan may not cover an international provider.

Your second option is to get a referral to a J-1 visa health insurance provider within the U.S. Try contacting a human resources representative or your insurance company for recommendations of quality, in-network providers. Friends and co-workers are also great sources for mental health recommendations.

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Serious Issues and Emergencies

If you experience a medical concern that you cannot solve on your own, then make a doctor’s appointment. You can search online for reputable providers, ask a friend or coworker for recommendations, or contact past exchange visitors you know who sought medical care in the city where you are currently located.

 If you deal with a severe illness that needs immediate attention, but is not life-threatening, you can also go to an urgent care center. The wait times may be lower at these centers, because there are no patients with severe injuries that doctors must treat first.

In the event of a medical emergency, dial 911. EMTs (emergency medical technicians) will arrive quickly and transport you to the hospital. 

In some cases, EMTs may let you know that the problem is not as severe as you thought. They may advise you to skip the ambulance ride and instead get a ride to a local urgent care center. EMTs are medical professionals and will give you sound advice. 

Be aware that the cost of an ambulance ride is high. It is a good idea to check how much ambulance rides cost with your insurance, and what the requirements are for this transport to be deemed “medically necessary.”

Medical Bills

No matter your insurance coverage, medical bills can be difficult to navigate. In fact, these bills can be so confusing that the U.S. created a “Hospital Price Transparency”' rule, as well as the “No Surprises Act.” These went into effect as of January 2021 and January 2022, respectively.

The goal of both these guidelines is to make it easier for individuals to understand how much medical procedures will cost before they receive a bill. The hospital price transparency rule requires institutions to:

  • Post the price for (at least!) 300 common medical procedures so that patients can see them beforehand
  • Share what those prices will look like when negotiated with insurance companies
  • Bill self-paying patients for the lowest accepted price
  • Share information about the details of bills in a way that is easy for patients to understand

Similarly, the No Surprises Act works to create more transparency around prices of “in-network” and “out-of-network” care. Essentially, U.S. insurance companies often only cover specific medical providers. This means individuals need to be careful to select in-network providers to avoid paying the full for a doctor’s visit or procedure.

However, even when people carefully choose their providers, they may be billed for out-of-network care if their provider works with out-of-network individuals (for example, an anesthesiologist). This could lead to higher bills. 

For this reason, the No Surprises Act requires hospitals to bill all emergency care as in-network. Additionally, care that you receive at an in-network facility will be billed that way, even if an out-of-network physician provided the care. 

We share this information so that you will know your healthcare rights as a newcomer to the U.S. It’s always good practice to ask for an itemized bill, whether you visit a doctor’s office or the emergency room. This way, you can verify that:

  1. You are not being overcharged
  2. Your provider followed the hospital transparency rule and/or the no surprises act
  3. You have documentation if you ever need to contest an insurance claim

In all likelihood, you will not encounter many maladies while abroad. But, on the off chance that you do, we hope the above information was helpful and can ensure you don’t get overcharged.

Peace of Mind with J-1 Visa Travel Insurance

After reading this article, we hope that the importance of insurance for J-1 visa holders is clear. Not only can this coverage help you in the event of mental health concerns, small injuries or ailments, serious maladies, emergencies and accidents, but it can also help provide you peace of mind.

We understand that there are tons of things to sort about before traveling abroad as an intern–from your visa, to housing, to a budget. Our goal at Global Internships is to check “medical concerns” off your list by connecting you with the affordable health care you’ll need in case of any emergency situations you encounter while abroad.

For more information about J-1 visa insurance plans and policy exclusions, you can contact us.

Check out the following articles for more helpful tips on getting organized before you head abroad: 

Jan 25, 2022
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