The J (exchange) visa application requires that "health insurance" be purchased.

I've bought UK travel insurance (including medical claims etc) for the 6 month period. Is this different from "health insurance" and if so will I have to buy that too?

  • 3
    Questions relating to J visas are generally more appropriate to Expatriates.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 16:41
  • Apologies I may have worded my question poorly, specifically I am interested in whether the medical cover within travel insurance matches US definitions of health insurance.
    – bobmcpop
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


Travel insurance usually covers a range of problems that might happen while traveling including lost luggage, rental car towing, and tour cancellation fees, not just health insurance.

As to whether any type of insurance meets requirements, that can vary as there are hosting agency requirements and there are government requirements:

University or hosting agency requirements vary, but for example my university requires that J visa holders (Postdocs, visiting scholars, etc) have insurance plans that meet ACA (Obamacare) requirements. Like other forms of health insurance, this would cover you you if you became sick or injured and needed longer term medical care. Note that with some plans the deductible might be quite high and might not cover regular doctors office visits, so it might not be suitable for things such as the flu or maintenance of diabetes or high blood pressure and that sort.

Many travel plans in contrast only cover emergency health care (enough to get you stable enough to travel back home) and don’t meet ACA requirements. The insurance plan itself will tell you if it qualifies under the ACA. If there’s no mention, then it doesn’t. Still check to see if they cover routine health care needs, prescription medications, and minor injuries.

As to what the US government requires for the J visa, this site notes:

Either way, the US Department of State has minimum J1 health insurance requirements that your insurance plan must meet (which applies to J2 visa holders as well).

Medical Benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness Repatriation of Remains in the amount of $25,000 Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000 A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness A policy underwritten by an insurance carrier with: an A.M. Best rating of ‘‘A-’’ or above; a McGraw Hill Financial/Standard & Poor’s Claims paying Ability rating of ‘‘A-’’ or above; a Weiss Research, Inc. rating of ‘‘B+’’ or above; a Fitch Ratings, Inc. rating of ‘‘A-’’ or above; a Moody’s Investor Services rating of ‘‘A3’’ or above;

The same site notes that government requirements change and its best to always double check you have the latest information.

A side note: get as much health insurance as you can, even if you’re young. One of our post docs had a medical emergency and is being billed $150,000+ for a cardiovascular incident. The insurance plan this person chose was a minimal plan with a $100,000 per incident cap so they are potentially liable for $50,000+ out of pocket.

American health care costs lack any rationality.

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    I would add that my mother-in-law similarly had medical costs that exceeded her (travel) insurance coverage. We told the hospital that she couldn't pay and they agreed to accept a lower payment. After we made that payment, they continued to bill her. At some point we just started ignoring them, and the problem went away.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 16:43
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    Yes, it’s possible to escape medical debt especially if you’re a visiting foreigner. However, if you have plans to ever visit to USA again longer term (e.g. to work) it’s best not to. They can’t arrest you but they can try to seize any assets and generally make life not fun.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 16:46
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    "American health care costs lack any rationality." + 10,000 for that line alone.
    – coteyr
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 8:33
  • It might be worth adding that (in theory) in addition to compliant healthcare, J1 visa holders are supposed to hold Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Insurance – OPs travel insurance policy may cover this, but they should check that it's valid for a single trip of 6 months.
    – user13190
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 9:06
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    I think UK insurers will repatriate you as soon as they medically can. They are not in the business of running up large bills for something they could get free in the UK.
    – mdewey
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 17:16

@RoboKaren has a good answer but I want to expand on it a bit.

Common uses of "Travelers Insurance" in the USA consist of many factors. A lot of times having nothing to do with health care.

  • Lost items - If you loose your luggage while traveling, you may get money to replace items. This can be especially important if your items are hard to come by in the US.
  • Car accidents - If your in a car accident here in the US, state laws usually dictate who needs to pay what part of what. Depending on where you are when the accident happens (and of course what happened) you could end up needing to pay thousands for being hit by a car.
  • Ability to return home. Lost your passport/visa. Well if you have travelers insurance you may have a much easier time while you sort out that paperwork nightmare then if you don't. Most embassies will help you get home, but make no gaurente about speed. Specially if your funds are running low, you can't work, and your paperwork is gonna take another 6 weeks to go through.
  • Canceled Trips - This is by far the most common. A flight gets canceled and the next one doesn't leave for 3 days (let say due to poor weather). The insurance can help with a hotel and the cost of other travel arrangements.
  • Missed trips - Most travel insurance plans can help if you want to cancel or miss a trip that you scheduled, but the "vendor" doesn't offer that as an option. I have many friends that come here to Florida and want to travel to California, until they realize just how tar away that is. Or want to visit other areas until they recognize weather, traffic, or surrounding area just isn't what they thought it was.
  • Currency issues - A bit of an odd one, but they usually provide some kind of isolation for currency exchange issues.
  • Theft or other crimes - If your stuff is stolen, they can usually help get you back on your feet. In the US if your stuff is stolen your not going to be getting it back quickly. Even if the cops catch the crooks, they need to need the items in question for evidence, perhaps even for years. Insurance can help with replacement.

I will try to add more as I think of them.

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    Thank you. I appreciate travel insurance covers many aspects, but am specifically interested in whether the health component matches US definitions of health insurance. I guess I worded my question poorly. Sorry. It seems to me to come down to whether the insurance covers you for emergencies only or not. Saying that I can't imagine I'd want to seek medical attention unless it was an emergency
    – bobmcpop
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 9:48
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    @RoboKaren - is more for you then. BUT in the US "medical coverage" is very vast, and you could find your self needing it for something that your wouldn't have back home. For example, a simple cold, allergies, or stomach ache could have you needing meds that require a doctors visit. (I don'h know why but it's true).
    – coteyr
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 9:58

The medical component of travel insurance is designed to deal with the immediate aftermath of an accident or medical emergency and get you home. Once you get home, the travel insurance's job is done. Any further treatment would then be under the normal arrangements in your home country (in th UK that would mean the NHS).

Regular health insurance is designed to cover not only the immediate aftermath of an accident or medical emergency, but also the more long term impacts. There is also an element of socialism in it where, since the "affordable care act", insurers are required to provide cover for people with pre-existing conditions, even if individually those people would be a bad deal for the insurer.

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