This section is divided into two sections: navigating the US Healthcare system & obtaining adequate Medical Insurance

Healthcare and health insurance are important aspects of your life here and require careful thought and planning. US government regulations require you to maintain adequate health insurance for yourself and your dependents. 

  • In the case of F-1 students, this is part of your general obligation to demonstrate financial ability to meet all of the costs of your stay at Penn.
  • In the case of J-1 Students, Scholars and Exchange Visitors, this obligation is a mandatory part of maintaining your status. For more details see below.
  • The cost of health care in the US is extremely high, often over $2,500 per day in some hospitals (covering room and board only).
  • International students and scholars are not eligible for financial assistance from Penn or the US government to pay medical bills.
  • In Philadelphia, you can feel confident about the quality of care you will receive. It is one of the top cities in the US for medical care. There are many excellent hospitals and teaching institutions here, among them the hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS).
  • The policies of Penn require that all students and scholars and accompanying family members have adequate health insurance coverage. 
  • Prior to departure, new students and scholars should also purchase travel insurance that will cover any medical expenses that may be incurred en route or in the early days of their stay in the US. 
  • Individuals who are Resident Aliens for tax purposes are subject to the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act..   For more information please see: www.nafsa.org/aca.


  • Things you should know about the US Healthcare system
    • The system is privately funded, not government sponsored.
    • Payment is the responsibility of the individual, with or without health insurance.
    • Some doctors providing services at a hospital may bill the patient separately.
    • Payment is usually expected at the time the care is given, therefore you should always check that your insurance will cover the treatment before it is given.
    • You are responsible for seeing that bills are submitted and that claims forms (used to request payment from the insurance company) are properly completed.
    • The reimbursement process takes time and incomplete forms can cause further delays.
    • Copies of all bills and papers should be kept for at least one year.
    • It is appropriate to seek an opinion about your case from a second doctor before deciding on a course of treatment.
    • Be aware of your own health needs and background. Keep copies of your past medical records with you. It is very helpful, for example, to tell the doctor which medications you have taken in the past.
    • It is appropriate to ask questions about your condition and your treatment. Take a friend to the doctor's office with you to translate or help with forms if you feel that will help.
  • Where to Go for Medical Care
  • If you feel sick do not hesitate to get help - even if you are nervous and have never seen a doctor outside your own country. The longer you wait, the greater risk you run for developing a serious problem from what may have been minor and easy to treat. Unless you have a real emergency, such as uncontrolled bleeding or a broken bone, do not go to a hospital emergency room for treatment. Emergency rooms are very expensive and, if your condition is not life threatening, you may have to wait a long time for care.

    All full-time students at Penn may use the Student Health Services (SHS) for minor medical problems or for minor emergencies and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) for other emergencies. If you are taking a minimum of three courses per semester (or are on dissertation status), the services provided at SHS are covered by the mandatory Clinical Fee of approximately $75 per semester. Only part-time students, students abroad, and students on a leave of absence are exempt from the Clinical Fee. Spouses of students can use the service on a fee-per-visit basis with guest ID. Children, however, cannot use SHS but care is available at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia located beside the HUP.

    For emergencies call 911 for assistance. For minor emergencies outside regular office hours, go to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Emergency Room.

    Scholars and families of scholars are not eligible to use SHS. You can call the University of Pennsylvania Health System at 1-800-789-PENN to obtain a directory of Penn primary care physicians or you may want to get references from friends and colleagues.

    When choosing a doctor, consider whether you would prefer to see a man or a woman, an older practitioner or a younger one, etc. Even if you are not asked, you should make your preferences known. For the best medical care, it is valuable to choose one clinic and use it throughout your stay. In this way, all those who see you will know you and your medical history and will be better able to treat you.

  • What to Expect When Seeing a Doctor
  • Most clinics in the US are staffed by physicians, nurse practitioners (registered nurses qualified to evaluate, diagnose, and treat many common conditions), midwives (registered nurses specializing in prenatal and childbirth practice), registered nurses, and a variety of health care workers. You may not see a physician when you first seek medical care. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may receive care immediately, later the same day, or the next day. You may be offered a choice of doctors or health-care providers.

    The time you spend with health care providers may seem very brief, with little opportunity for conversation. The doctor or nurse will ask you many questions; some may appear unnecessary or intrusive, but you should try to answer them as completely as possible. You may think the approach abrupt and impersonal; however, the workers are only trying to be efficient and thorough. It is expected that patients will ask questions about their health, diagnosis, treatment, and costs.

    American-trained physicians generally expect their patients to participate actively in making decisions about medications and treatment choices. If you ever have difficulty understanding anything about your medical status or treatment, ask for clarification. You can ask workers to talk more slowly, to repeat, or to write something down. If you think you will need a translator, ask when you make your appointment if someone can assist you, or ask a friend to accompany you.

  • Mental Health
  • International students and scholars often hesitate to consult a professional about mental health problems. You may never have had the need to talk to a psychologist, psychiatric social worker, or psychiatrist at home, and you may think only "crazy" people with severe mental problems are treated by such professionals.

    It is not uncommon in the US, however, for people with emotional problems to seek professional help. As you are far from home and lacking the usual support system of family and friends, you may find it helpful to consult a mental health professional when dealing with issues of adjustment, depression, strain or stress. The process will be completely confidential.

    • As a student, you may wish to contact the Reach-a-Peer Helpline. It is a peer support telephone service, 215-573-2RAP, established by and for Penn students to provide information, peer support and referrals. The Line is open (M-F 9pm-1am, during the academic year) to all students who wish to share a problem, need information or just want someone to talk to. It is a confidential, anonymous, and free phone service. Student active listeners can provide callers with their objective, undivided attention. However, RAP-Line is not a professional crisis hotline. Their website can be used to write an anonymous and confidential letter:
    • Students may also consult a professional at the Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS): 133 S. 36th St. 2nd Floor, Tel: 215-898-7021, Email
    • Visiting scholars and their families can contact the Employee Assistance Program for short-term professional assistance, 888-321-4433
  • Dental Care
  • You can obtain quality dental care at a reasonable price from Penn's Dental School. You will be treated by advanced dental students working under the supervision of professors. You can also visit the Dental Care Center, 215-898-8965, which is the practice of Penn faculty members.

Medical Insurance

  • Student Healthcare and Insurance Requirements
  • Penn's Student Health Services (SHS) provides outpatient care for all students on campus. All full-time students are required to carry coverage at the Student Health Service.  Even those who do not subscribe to the Penn Student Insurance Plan will be automatically charged a SHS clinical fee each semester. Emergency and specialty care is provided by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Spouses and partners of students may use the services of Student Health on a fee-for-service basis. Young children are not treated at Student Health, however, care is available at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, located beside HUP.

    Penn requires that all full-time students obtain comprehensive health insurance coverage that meets certain standards. This will ensure that they are also covered for emergency care, hospitalization, or special services not covered by Student Health Services. Penn sponsors a student plan which is strongly recommended. However, if an individual already has a plan that meets the requirements, he/she may submit a waiver. Please visit the Student Health Services Office of Student Insurance for details and review the list of considerations in choosing a health care policy. Basic dental care is also very expensive and is not covered by the sponsored plan. It is important to obtain coverage prior to arriving or contact Student Health Services for details on how to purchase Penn's student dental plan.

  • Immunization
  • All new students at Penn are required to show that they have been fully immunized against several diseases. Students are required to submit their immunization records on a secure website and then verify this information by mailing or faxing SHS a copy of their immunization records. It is suggested that all new students bring copies of immunization records to Penn in case they fail to reach SHS by mail or fax. In order to access the website the student will need to have a PennKey. For more information on immunization requirements, click here.

  • Scholar Healthcare and Insurance Requirements
  • Scholars with salaried appointments at Penn should contact their academic departments to determine what arrangements, if any, have been made for health insurance. Scholars who do not receive a salary from Penn can obtain information on medical insurance provided by companies that specialize in protecting international visitors on educational exchange programs from ISSS. We cannot advise about health insurance policies but can provide brochures and contact information. Scholars who purchase insurance policies in the home country to cover a stay in the US, or those are sponsored by an organization that is providing health insurance, should make certain that their coverage meets the minimum requirements described below. All scholars with health insurance not covered by Penn should bring documents describing their coverage and claims procedures.

  • J-1 Mandatory Coverage Requirement
  • J-1 Exchange Visitors are required to have health insurance during the entirety of their stay.

    Willful failure to comply with these insurance requirements will result in termination of the Exchange Visitor's program.

    Insurance coverage must meet the following criteria:

    • Medical coverage of at least $100,000 per accident or illness.
    • Medical evacuation must be covered in the amount of at least $50,000.
    • Repatriation must be covered in the amount of at least $25,000.
    • The deductible must not exceed $500 per accident or illness.
    • Any coinsurance requirement cannot exceed 25%
    • The carrier must be at least A- rated or backed by the full faith and credit of the Exchange Visitor’s home government.
    • For J-1 Visiting Scholars who will be in the US for longer than 12 months, pre-existing conditions must be a covered benefit, with the waiting period for coverage no longer than 12 months.  If the insurance policy has the pre-existing conditions benefit as a set amount, benefit coverage must be the same as illness coverage.  

    Many, but not all, University student, postdoctoral researcher, and employee health insurance policies meet or exceed these requirements. The J-1 Exchange Visitor should check his/her plan for the specific coverage it offers - particularly with regard to medical evacuation and repatriation - and purchase supplementary insurance if necessary.

  • Choosing a Medical Insurance Policy
  • The costs of medical insurance vary according to the type of coverage provided and whether coverage for dependents is requested. Dental care is generally not included in a medical insurance plan, nor are prescriptions, eye examinations or eyeglasses. Individuals may choose to purchase additional coverage for dental care and vision.
    When choosing health insurance, it is important to understand the insurance policy on the following points:

    • Does it cover medical expenses incurred in the US?
    • Does it pay all or nearly all medical costs? Many plans will require the policy holder to pay a percentage of the costs, referred to as "co-payment."
    • Does it have a "cap," meaning a limit to total payments or payments per day or per year?
    • Does it have a "deductible," meaning the amount that the policy holder must pay before the insurance starts paying?
    • Does it exclude "pre-existing conditions"? Some insurance policies will not cover medical care expenses for medical conditions that you had before getting the insurance. Pregnancy is often viewed as a pre-existing condition.
    • Does it have maternity coverage? If so, what kind?
    • Does it cover accompanying family members?
    • Does it remain in effect during the individual’s entire stay in the United States?
    • Does the company provide a policy identification card that one can carry as proof of insurance?
    • How does the insurance company's payment system work?

    Information on health insurance companies and policy options can be found below.

    Compass Benefits Group
    Medical insurance for International Student and Scholars
    Telephone: 1-800-683-1468
    HTH Students
    Medical insurance for International Students and Scholars
    Telephone: 1-800-767-016

    T.W. Lord & Associates
    Medical insurance for International Students and Scholars
    25 Dodd St. P.O. Box 1185
    Marietta, GA 30061
    Telephone: 1-800-633-2360 or 1-770-427-2461
    Fax: 770-429-0638

    The Harbour Group
    International Student and Scholar Medical Insurance      
    Telephone: 800-252-8160

    ISO Student Health Insurance