How to Select Study Abroad & Travel Insurance

So Many Types of Coverage! What to Get?

A guide to study abroad and travel insurance to help students select and purchase a plan.

Do I Need Insurance for Study Abroad?

Studying abroad is a life-changing experience, but along with the journey come many speed bumps and headaches. You can never anticipate the issues that may arise while studying abroad and traveling, which is why travel insurance is a great thing to consider because there’s always that chance…

… you get sick and require treatment
… you break a leg skiing in the Alps
… your flight is cancelled and your entire weekend trip gets derailed due to a transportation strike
… your phone or laptop gets stolen from your hostel
… you break your camera
… a family member dies and you need to fly home immediately

These can set you back thousands upon thousands of dollars and without the proper coverage you might be paying for them out of pocket. Try explaining that one to mom and dad back home!

Even the most experienced travelers have the occasional setback and it’s smart to be prepared for the worst. Having insurance that provides you with medical, logistical, and financial support is important.

School-Sponsored Group Policies

Some colleges and universities in the United States suggest students enroll in their program’s group policy before they even set foot on the plane to Europe. These policies can usually be purchased in supplement to your upfront pre-departure expenses and coverage is often limited to international health insurance.

While some United States domestic health plans offer overseas coverage, a good number do not, so before you opt-in for a group policy, first double check your existing coverage to see if it offers you any benefit. If you don’t have domestic health insurance, a sponsored group policy might serve as your only insurance while studying abroad.

If your domestic provider doesn’t offer overseas coverage and your school doesn’t have a group policy, you’re on your own for insurance.

Individual Insurance

There are dozens of insurance providers and coverage options and you’ll need to cut through the clutter to make the most of your money.

At the bare bones level, it’s a good idea to have basic medical coverage to protect yourself against illness and injury. More comprehensive policies also exist and include insurance for thing like medical emergencies and evacuations, trip cancellations, and tuition reimbursements in the instance something goes awry. What does that mean?

  • Medical emergencies and evacuations: covers immediate emergency care and evacuations to medical centers with better treatment options or specialized physicians (e.g. you suffer a terrible snowboard accident in a remote part of Switzerland and need to take a helicopter to a major hospital in Geneva for treatment)
  • Trip cancellation: protects you against the costs of travel and expenses when trips or programs are cancelled, modified, or delayed through no fault of your own
  • Tuition reimbursments: reimburses your tuition if you’re involuntarily withdrawn from your studies for reasons outside of your control

Comprehensive policies are generally the easiest way to get the most coverage for a packaged price, saving travelers the hassle of picking and choosing individual coverage items and paying more as a result.


As a rule of thumb, a decent policy will provide the following essentials:

* $100,000 or more in medical coverage for illnesses and sudden injuries
* Coverage for lost, damaged, or stolen personal possessions
* Zero deductibles (aka you don’t need to reach an out-of-pocket spending threshold before the insurance kicks in)
* 24 hour emergency services and help

If you’re prone to illness or bad luck simply follows your footsteps, a higher coverage limit is recommended. The maximum coverage limit you can find out there is around $1,000,000, however that’s a bit excessive and you can probably get by for much less.

If you’re trying to save money, keep in mind that while some policies might be cheaper per month, they’ll also provide lower coverage limits. For example, if you suffer a major medical complication that costs $80,000 in expenses but your maximum coverage limit is $50,000, you’ll need to figure out how to foot an extra $30,000.

Different Providers

A number of companies like CISI, CMI, and HTH offer a wide variety of protections geared towards study abroad. A personal favorite at WSA Europe for travel insurance is World Nomads, which offers worldwide coverage, support, and allows you to purchase while you’re already abroad.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

To help prevent medical emergencies abroad, be sure to visit your primary care physician prior to your departure. Schedule a physical, get up to speed on any immunizations, and secure an extra stash of your prescription medications. It’s also recommended you see your dentist, gynecologist, optometrist, and any other specialists. Although these visits won’t prevent illnesses and emergencies abroad, they will help you detect any existing problems in advance.


At the end of the day, the insurance decision is up to you. Should you elect to get insurance, it’s reassuring knowing it’ll pay for itself easily should you experience any setbacks on your travels. Although there’s a good chance you may never (and hopefully don’t) need to use your policy, accidents happen and it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health and wellness.


Jamie Jekel, Swansea University

Happy Backpackers

Kevi was AWESOME! I would've been so incredibly lost without his guidance and knowledge of the city! I loved getting to see Paris with other students studying abroad, too(:

Jamie Jekel, Swansea University ~ Swansea University, Spring 2016

Read more Reviews

Spots are limited!

We keep our groups small, so save your spot now! Check out our Tripadvisor, App Store & Facebook travel love below.

Multi-City Adventures:

Andy Steves' Europe

Check out Andy Steves' Europe: City Hopping on a Budget!

Pick a city and go! All new budget guidebook from Andy Steves, Founder and Chief Backpacker of WSA.