When I was a junior in college, I had the great fortune to spend a semester studying in London. Not only did I learn an enormous amount about the world and myself, I made friendships that endure even four years later, strengthened my resume and had the time of my life. I was fortunate enough to have a happy, healthy semester, however, the risks associated with studying abroad were all around me.
My eyes were opened to the danger of being in a different culture, of being far from home, and to the unexpected. Accidents do happen. Despite being in a wealthy, English-speaking country for four months, I saw situations unfold that reminded me that I was not home, and the risks of studying abroad became quite real during my time there. When a group of us traveled to meet some American friends in an unfamiliar part of London, my girlfriends and I were quickly shuttled into a cab when our guy friends were jumped by locals. Luckily, the worst injury was a broken nose, but the fear we all felt was a reminder that we were still in fact strangers to the city. My roommate slipped and fell on the rainy streets of London, hitting her brow bone and woke up the next day with her eye swollen shut, forcing her to wear an eye patch through our Easter dinner, and then waiting hours for medical attention in the backed up waiting rooms at the closest English hospital. Another friend got up during the night from her bunk bed (yes, we slept in oh-so glamorous bunk beds) and hit her head in the dark, which required stitches.
There were other stories and rumors of missed flights, pick pocketing, getting lost, even riots, that traveled throughout my program that spring. At 21 years old, of course I never felt truly unsafe or scared, feeling the world was at my fingertips during the most exciting semester of my college career. But risk was indeed all around, and I can only imagine how many more risks exist in further, less Americanized parts of the world. While insurance cannot eliminate risk, it can help mitigate and help protect students. What coverages do you need when you study abroad?
As evidenced by my semester abroad, health insurance is necessary when studying abroad. When traveling to a different part of the world, you’ll be exposed to different risks and threats to your health – be it crossing a roadway with opposite traffic patterns or exposure to different illnesses than those at home. You’ll want health insurance. Before you leave, you’ll want to be covered in case you’ll need extra vaccinations for the locale you’re traveling to, and make sure to check with your health insurance provider to ensure you’ll be covered abroad. If not, seek out an international health plan.
Is insurance enough? Depending on where you choose to study, you may want to consider a plan that provides you with emergency medical evacuation back home. Some travel plans as well as other student-focused insurance plans provide this added benefit, to keep you safe in the even of an emergency.
If you’re heading to Europe, you’ve undoubtedly heard about pick-pockets. As a student you’ll be bringing far more than just some pocket change with you however – from your laptop to an international cell phone to enough clothes to last a whole semester. Theft and damage can happen anywhere, including abroad. Once you’re settled, many of those items can be replaced if you have a renter’s insurance policy. Most renter’s insurance from home will follow you abroad, though be sure to check with your provider for the details. Before you go, research the crime rates of the area where you’ll be living, and don’t forget to consider damage when weighing whether or not to purchase a renter’s policy. Rainy London ruined many a pair of shoes while I was there!
Wherever you go, you’ll probably be doing a lot of traveling and exploring. Moving from place to place, your luggage could pretty easily be lost. Travel insurance can help protect your belongings by covering replacement costs. Travel insurance also helps cover your flights and itineraries if your plans happen to go awry – like the time I almost slept through making my flight home from London and made it through the gate with just 10 minutes to spare… oh, memories! I’m pretty type-A so now I firmly believe that this could happen to anyone. Had I had travel insurance to cover my flight, I wouldn’t have been freaking out quite as much (getting home on the remaining $300 I had to my name probably wouldn’t have been easy!). Depending on the type of travel insurance you purchase, you’ll get different benefits, so be sure to do your research (some plans even include emergency medical evactuation, not too shabby!). Weigh your risks to determine if travel insurance is a good fit for you.
Driving abroad is a pretty complicated issue, especially since the laws from country to country vary widely. According to the U.S. Department of State, many countries do not accept American driver’s licenses, so you’d need to get an International Driving Permit if want to drive abroad. In general, your auto insurance plan here at home does not cover you overseas (see here for more info from the U.S. Department of State). Auto insurance may be included with a car rental abroad, make sure to do your research when choosing to drive abroad and be mindful of what’s included under the coverage – the Department of State says it best, “If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial hardship.”
Consider whether it is really necessary to drive somewhere unfamiliar with different rules of the road. Can you get there via public transportation? The risk may not be worth driving yourself.
Like any semester in college, studying abroad is expensive, if not more expensive. College is a huge investment for any family, you may want to consider tuition insurance to protect that investment. Weigh your risks to see if tuition refund insurance is a good fit for you.
Studying abroad will be the time of your life, but it does present risks. Make sure to survey those risks and protect yourself so you too can have a wonderful, carefree and enriching study abroad experience!