US Healthcare System: What Do I Need to Know as an International Student


Being far away from home and experience an accident can be scary and difficult. There are so many questions going on in your head when entering the emergency room, and the nurses will ask even more.

The healthcare system in the United States is one of the best and also most expensive. It’s very different compared to Sweden, so for an international student it can be challenging to visit the hospital. Receiving several bills from different health services after the visit doesn’t make it less confusing. There are some ways to make the hospital visit easier. Here are some things I wish I knew as an international student before I experienced my first accident here in Santa Barbara.

UCSF Study of emergency room chargesDon’t be afraid to go to the hospital. Americans will tell you how expensive it is to go to the Emergency room, and it is. The least expensive choice is to seek health care on campus. If you seek help off-campus a private doctor where you set up an appointment would be the best choice. If there is an emergency you go to the emergency room, and this will also be the most expensive choice. It’s almost impossible to figure out how much it will cost for a patient in the emergency room. UCSF did a study to show how much emergency room charges for the most common conditions. With that said, if you don’t have insurance you will most likely get a chock when receiving your medical bill.

Make sure that you know exactly what your insurance cover. The cost varies a lot. In Europe they use a common fee schedule, which means that hospitals, doctors, and health services are paid similar rates. It’s not the same in the United States. How much health care services get paid depends on the insurance a patient has. In the United States you can have several doctors and other health services taking care of you, and each one of them are going to charge you for their time. Therefore it is important to make sure that you as an international student have insurance that will cover all of the different bills.

Have your insurance information in your phone. Most of us have smartphones where we can put notes in our phone, and I would suggest putting your insurance number in there. You never know when an accident can happen, and from my own experience it makes it a lot easier at the hospital. If I had all the information with me when I got to the hospital I wouldn’t have to call my insurance company after.

Get in touch with the insurance company as soon as possible. If you don’t have the insurance information with you make sure to get in touch with them as soon as possible. The hospital will give you a couple of days to get in touch with your insurance company. If you do not success to get in touch with the insurance company within those days you will receive several different bills in your mail.

Bring a friend with you. When English is your second language it can be hard to understand the medical terms, and after an accident you might be in shock. When you arrive to the emergency room there are a lot of questions that are being asked and a lot going on in your head, which makes it difficult to answer all the questions. I was in a chock for a while and realized that my roommate had to correct some of my answers. I found it very helpful to have her with me.

I strongly recommend all international students to look at this video. It’s made by International Student Insurance, and they give you an overview of the US healthcare system.


About Author

Angelica Cramer

Angelica Cramér is 22 years old, and originally from Gothenburg, Sweden. She has lived in Santa Barbara for over two years, and right now she is focusing on finishing her bachelors degree with a concentration in marketing at AUSB. Angelica always seeks for new opportunities and challenges that will help her grow as a person. She loves traveling, and has had the opportunity to travel a lot with her family as well as on her own. Angelica has a huge interest in soccer and likes art; therefore, Barcelona, Spain is one of her favorite places. One day Angelica hopes to get the opportunity to experience and travel all over the world.

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