Health Insurance for Foreigners in the USA
Foreigners and immigrants moving to the US have to face many new challenges living outside of their home countries. Securing medical coverage can be one of those challenges — but with everything else on your plate, you might not even be thinking about it! While the US usually doesn't require that you have a health policy in order to immigrate, we strongly recommend it, whether you're a single young person with no medical issues, a parent of a large family, or a retiree.
Travel to and life in a new country comes with new stressors, new risks and many unexpected developments. You don't want to be left paying huge hospital bills if the worst happens. From basic coverage to comprehensive support, you have options to protect yourself and your family in the United States. Let this guide help you find the best health insurance for foreigners in the USA.
What Type of Health Insurance Should I Get?
If you are an expat moving to the USA, there are three providers that we recommend the most:
Cigna Global is a provider with worldwide coverage. It offers excellent service and benefits to clients, with people on the ground in major countries to give you immediate response when needed.
Cigna also offers a flexible plan that lets you choose which modules and benefits to include in the policy. Being able to tailor-fit your US health policy is an advantage that will help you budget expenses.
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- Access to Cigna Global’s trusted network of hospitals and doctors
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
GeoBlue Xplorer is a very popular health insurance provider in the USA. It offers more comprehesive benefits than Cigna Global in its base plan alongside a premium level of customer service.
GeoBlue Xplorer is a partner of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of America (BCBS), a leading insurer in the USA. This gives GeoBlue a wider network of high-quality doctors and hospitals included in its policies.
- Premium Benefits, Coverage and Service
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- For Foreigners in the US or US citizens abroad
International Medical Group (IMG)
IMG offers several affordable medical insurance plans in the United States. It is the best provider for foreigners on a tight budget who do not want to sacrifice basic coverage.
IMG's Bronze and Silver plans provide basic level coverage for medical care. Their Gold and Platinum plans offer additional benefits to clients. We recommend the Gold and Platinum plans if you’re staying for more than a year because these policies provide comprehensive benefits.
Health Insurance Coverage for Expatriates in the USA
The United States government does not require most expatriates or even US citizens to obtain health insurance in America. However, the cost of medical services in the US is so high that you risk spending all your savings to pay the bills. So, while it is generally not required, it is highly recommended that you get US medical coverage to save on hospital bills and gain access to appropriate care.
The requirement for getting medical coverage in the USA also varies depending on your country of origin and visa type. Some visa types will require you to obtain at least basic coverage.
Because medical costs in the US are higher than the average of most countries, living without health insurance isn’t a great idea. The US has a relatively higher rate of medical inflation and doctors tend to provide more tests and scans before treating a patient. Some of the higher costs are due to medical facilities in the US often using the latest equipment and providing above-average service to clients.
Also read: Life Insurance for Foreigners in the US
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Health Insurance for Non-US Citizens, Foreigners, and Immigrants
Healthcare in the United States is largely privatized, and public healthcare is provided only to a small portion of the population. This is why most people, including the locals, have private health plans.
The federal Medicare program is available only to retirees. The Medicaid program, on the other hand, is reserved for the poorest citizens in the country. If you’re looking for new immigrant health insurance, you won’t qualify for either of these programs.
If you’re coming to work in the States, your employer will usually offer a policy that extends coverage to immediate family members. However, this is often not enough to shoulder the high average cost of doctor visits, medications, emergency room trips and hospital stays. Most of the time, the best health insurance for non-US citizens is an international health plan, which will provide access to a wide range of medical treatments worldwide.
Health Insurance for New Immigrants: For most foreigners seeking an immigration visa, health coverage is not required. However, this rule changed recently and can change again. Some visas, like the J-1, do require proof that you are covered by an approved provider. Check the J1 Visa Insurance Requirements for the most up-to-date information on the requirements for your particular visa type.
Health Insurance for Foreigners in the USA and the ACA Penalty
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, details the shared responsibility provision — sometimes called the individual mandate. Its goal is to make sure all US citizens and permanent residents have access to quality and affordable health coverage. To pay for it, the government needs most individuals to buy a minimum level of coverage.
All US citizens living in the country are subject to individual shared responsibility provisions. Permanent residents and foreign nationals who have been in the United States long enough during a calendar year to qualify as resident aliens for tax purposes are also covered by the provision. The category includes non-resident aliens who meet certain presence requirements and elect to be treated as resident aliens.
Non-residents, including international students on the F, J, M, and Q visa categories, are not subject to the individual mandate during the first 5 years of their stay in the country.
For individuals in the J category, including teachers, trainees, au pairs, students, and travelers, the ACA states that they are not subject to the individual mandate for 2 years.
Beginning with the 2019 plan year (for taxes filed in April 2020), the ACA or Shared Responsibility Payment no longer applies. This means that if you don’t meet the requirements of the individual mandate, you won’t have to pay a fine moving forward.
Exemptions From the Individual Mandate
Foreign nationals who live in the US for a short enough period that they do not become resident aliens for federal income tax purposes are exempted from the individual mandate. See the IRS website for more details on when a foreigner becomes a resident alien for federal income tax purposes.
Individuals who are exempt under this rule are:
- Non-resident aliens;
- Dual-status aliens who are in their first year of residency in the US;
- Non-resident aliens or dual-status aliens who chose to file a joint return with a US spouse;
- Individuals who file a Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ, including a dual-status tax return for their last year of stay in the US as a resident; and
- Individuals who qualify for personal exemption on Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ.
Also Read: ACA and International Health Plans
Health Insurance for Visitors to the USA
If you plan to stay in the US for less than a year, a travel medical plan may be enough to cover your needs. This is also a great option for younger travelers who need basic emergency coverage.
Make time to research whether you will need travel insurance for the USA before entering the country. You should also check if the policy needs to come from your home country, the US, or both.
Most travel plans provide coverage for accidents and illnesses, saving you from the large medical expenses associated with doctor check-ups and hospital visits. At the same time, this type of policy will give you access to pharmaceutical care and translation services, should you need them.
For more information on short-term travel plans, see:
If you are a non-citizen, immigrant, or international citizen, we recommend getting a global medical plan. We have guides to help you choose the best US health insurance plan for your needs.
Cost of Health Insurance in the USA
Global medical plans offer many different options. The more affordable catastrophic coverage that only covers worst-case scenarios is good for travelers on a budget. On the other end of the spectrum, comprehensive medical plans may include physician visits, hospitalization, prescription drugs, lab services, and chronic disease management.
The most affordable global medical plan we offer ranges from $400 to $500 a year, while the most expensive but comprehensive ones can go as high as $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
Short-term travel medical plans start at about $1.50 per day, and can cost more than $10 per day for older clients or more comprehensive coverage.
Also Read: Cost of International Health Insurance
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How Much Coverage Do I Need For Health Insurance in the USA?
Every day, we get asked these questions about our products:
How to Determine the Amount of International Health Coverage in the United States You Need
Every day, we get asked these questions about insurance products:
The trouble with answering this question is that healthcare costs in the US aren't typical. One thing is clear, though: they're some of the highest in the world. Paying out of pocket for healthcare in the United States is a recipe for draining your bank account very quickly.
With medical coverage, depending on the plan, you can expect to pay between $15 and $25 for a copay when visiting a doctor in your plan network. Specialists run a bit more, and many plans also have copays for urgent care, emergency visits (around $250) and prescription drugs. Without a health plan, these costs can be 10 or even 100 times as expensive.
Healthcare costs also vary by illness, procedure, and facility. It’s easy to compare the different costs of different procedures with one another in the same facility. But something like getting your appendix out will cost you a lot more if you go to a hospital that doesn’t accept your insurance plan. Be careful when choosing your plan that you also research the hospitals you will be living near, to be sure you’ll be covered.
For example, if you are a young, healthy single person with no dependents and no preexisting conditions, you might opt for minimum coverage — just enough so that you don't get buried under medical bills if you are in a car accident or come down with a severe illness.
If you are older, have family members that need coverage, have a health condition that needs managing, or all three, you still don't have to get completely comprehensive coverage to be safe. You can work with us to put together a plan that covers what you need and doesn't charge you extra for what you don't.
There’s a lot to think about when choosing a US health policy. Here are some of the most important things to remember:
- How long will you be staying in the country?
- What is the nature of your work as an expatriate?
- Do you have any underlying medical conditions?
- How comfortable are you in paying above the maximum coverage amount when needed?
- How much can you allocate per month for coverage?
You should also consider how easy it will be for you to return home if you need additional services. This could be necessary if you have a serious medical condition that means you need to be repatriated — or sent back to your home country — in an emergency.
If you will not be staying for a long time in the US, say only for a few months to a year, and you have free insurance in your home country, you may be able to get a lower maximum coverage amount.
Sometimes, your job will require you to stay for a minimum number of years, depending on the contract. In this case, you will probably be required to stay in the US for medical treatment whenever you seek a healthcare service. This will impact your US health insurance cost, as you might pay a higher maximum coverage amount.
You have to consider the distance, availability, and doctors in the medical institutes near you before you choose to take your chances with medical bills. Some facilities will charge much more for the same procedure than the hospital down the street. Remember that healthcare costs are extremely high — US citizens are routinely bankrupted by them.
While you may live a healthy lifestyle, that doesn’t stop accidents from happening or diseases from developing. Especially if you are young and healthy, it may feel unfair to have to purchase protection against something that's unlikely to happen. But when disaster strikes — as it sometimes unexpectedly does — you'll be glad to have spent a little extra every month to avoid spending many thousands later. For your peace of mind and for your physical and financial health, we always recommend health insurance for non-residents in the USA.
What Are the Costs for Acute or Emergency Care in the USA
People who call us often ask how much an emergency room visit will cost them. We always quote them the current average and they are often surprised at the numbers.
According to a study by the National Institute for Health, the average cost of an ER visit is $1,900 to $2,100. But this depends on the kind of medical emergency you’re in, so you may end up paying a lot more or less than this range.
The charts here show some of the variations in pricing you will see in different hospitals and clinics. The minimum and maximum charges vary by illness. This kind of price range can catch you off-guard if you’re diagnosed with any medical problem.
One of the biggest benefits of having an international health plan is that it can also be the cheapest health cover — you will often receive the best healthcare service at the lowest prices. You can receive treatment from your doctor at their office or clinic, and in most cases, the cost will be 3 to 4 times less expensive than getting it at a hospital from the same doctor without any medical coverage.
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How Much Insurance Coverage Should Foreigners Purchase?
For foreign nationals, buying a US health policy is a personal decision. It is up to you how much you are willing to pay based on your current health, the nature of your work, and the length of stay. Consider these and the other factors outlined in this article to identify the most affordable medical insurance for you.
Policy maximums typically start at as little as $50,000 per period and can reach as high as $5 million. Maximums are typically per person. With certain plans, like GeoBlue Xplorer and Cigna Platinum, you can even get unlimited coverage.
To make it simpler for you to choose the type of health coverage to get, here is a guideline:
- For a 5-day to 1-month stay, we recommend getting $50,000 to $100,000 in medical coverage.
- For a 1 month to 3 months stay, we suggest getting coverage of $100,000 to $500,000.
- For longer than 3 months but less than a year, look for a policy with at least $250,000 worth of coverage.
- For a year or a longer stay, we recommend getting at least $1 million in coverage per year. Get more if you have a family that will be living with you, especially if you all want to be treated in the USA. If you or any of your family members have a critical illness, or if you will be staying in the US for several years, get a plan with unlimited coverage.
If you are older or are traveling with more people to the US, the risk of making a claim becomes significantly higher. In this case, you will want to get full coverage health insurance plans with higher limits and more comprehensive coverage.
Choosing the Right International Plan
Make sure you get the right type of policy. We recommend getting a travel medical plan for short-term travels spanning a year or two. For long-term stays that will last for multiple years, a global medical plan is a more viable option.
Here are links that will help you generate some quick, no-obligation quotes from us:
- Short-term travel medical free quote (covers emergency medical issues plus other travel benefits)
- Long-term global medical free quote (comprehensive medical coverage with annual renewal)
Group Options: If you have multiple employees abroad, consider a group international plan to save time and money managing their coverage.
Final Thoughts on Getting Medical Insurance in the USA
Medical benefits provide comfort, knowing your expenses will be covered should you become ill or need emergency medical treatment. The peace of mind from having medical insurance in the USA comes at a price, but the cost of a health policy is almost always lower than paying hospital bills out-of-pocket.
To help you make a better decision on which policy to get, view our list of the top international health insurance companies and look at the benefits and exclusions of each provider.
If you need assistance, we have licensed advisors who are always available to walk you through the process and explain the differences of each provider. We will make the application process easier and more seamless for you, so you can worry less about getting the right US health policy.
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- Check out the Global Medical Insurance Plans
- Health Insurance for US Citizens Living Abroad
- Insurance for Visitors to a Foreign Country
- Top International Health Insurance Companies
- Travel Insurance for US Visitors
Author: Joe Cronin, Founder and President of International Citizens Insurance. Mr. Cronin, a former expat, is an authority in the areas of international travel, and global health, life, and travel insurance, with expertise in advising individuals and groups on benefits for today's global workforce. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.