Destination Wednesday: Study Abroad, Done Smartly And Safely

Be sure to include some adventure time in your study abroad -- though most students don't need to be told twice.
Be sure to include some adventure time in your study abroad — though most students don’t need to be told twice. (Photo credit: Lacey Raper via Unsplash.)

By Jesper Tejsen Lykke

Study abroad – for a semester, a summer, or a full year – is one of the greatest experiences a student can have. A study-abroad session offers a multitude of life-changing experiences, and the mere fact that a growing number of U.S. universities and colleges have incorporated a study-abroad component into the curriculum for all undergraduates says it all!

Students study abroad for different reasons, but the one benefit for everyone is the unique and often life-changing experience of immersing oneself into a new and different culture, dealing with and trying to master a different language, understanding the academic curriculum, eating different foods, and getting accustomed to new customs.

After visiting more than 80 countries and living and working in several, I believe that people everywhere share the same important values. We look after our families, help our neighbors, raise and protect our children, and treat each other with dignity and respect.

When you understand the values of other cultures, you gain a better understanding of yourself and your own values. The moment you remove yourself from your familiar way of life, your eyes will be more open to new impressions and you’ll be able to appreciate – and maybe question – some of your ingrained ideas and values. Simply said, you’ll see things in a new light!

I challenge every college student to travel the world and get to know people from other cultures, different political systems and unfamiliar religions. If you do, I’ll all but guarantee that you and your newfound friends will have a lot more in common than not.

Although globetrotting is so much easier in the 21st century than it was when our ancestors explored the world, you still have to be prepared.

If your study-abroad trip is coordinated through an organization, the organization will likely be available to guide you through the process. However, you ultimately have to take responsibility for yourself and your safety.

How are you going to get there? Will you or the program arrange your transportation? Is the airline ticket available through the program as cheap as what you can find on your own, and are the savings from arranging your own ticket worth more than the benefits of traveling in a group? And how about safety and insurance?

Almost all study-abroad programs mandate that participants have valid travel/medical insurance coverage with certain minimum limits, and many include a plan with the program they offer. A great number of institutions offer highly appropriate insurance plans; others don’t. Likewise, some minimum requirements are appropriate, and others most certainly are not. And the plans themselves can be optional or mandatory.

If you or someone close to you is about to study abroad, you must find out whether the plans that they’re offered provide appropriate coverage.

There are two main types of insurance available for study-abroad stays.

Short-term insurance is also known as “travel insurance.” A travel insurance policy is specifically designed to cover emergency medical expenses on a trip, along with situations like trip cancellation, baggage loss and delay, travel delay, and missed connections.

The medical-expense benefit of a traditional travel-insurance plan reimburses you for your out-of-pocket expenses (up to a stated maximum) in case you get sick or are in an accident. On the other hand, travel insurance doesn’t cover maintenance treatments and won’t refill your prescriptions. It also won’t cover expenses for pre-existing conditions – injuries or ailments you had before you left on your trip.

Travel insurance is a great choice for trips up to six to nine months, unless you need maintenance expense reimbursement that isn’t covered by your health insurance back home.

Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection offers two types of travel insurance: A product called AirCare that just covers your flights, and a product called ExactCare that is more traditional in terms of what it covers and how it pays out. If your study-abroad program includes traditional travel insurance, AirCare makes a very nice complement. And it has the added bonus of being very inexpensive — $46 for flights abroad – meaning you don’t have to spend all your café money on travel insurance.

Long-term insurance is generally referred to as “major medical insurance” and is comparable to the health insurance often available from your school or through your parents, if you’re under 25. Major-medical plans cost much more than traditional travel insurance, but provide benefits that travel-insurance plans don’t, most importantly pre-existing-condition coverage and preventive care.

Many study-abroad programs offer an annual insurance plan structured like a travel-insurance plan. These plans are generally quite affordable, but you must always compare the coverage with your actual needs. Some of the least expensive plans offer medical-expense benefits for accidents but don’t cover expenses in case of sickness! Although it’s good to have medical expense insurance in case you’re in an accident, chances are that you will need medical treatment for an illness more often than for an accident.

My advice is that you always read the small print of the policy and ask relevant questions of the relevant people before you decide on insurance coverage for your study abroad. Settling for a plan that might be inappropriate for your actual needs could be a serious mistake – and not just financially.

Jesper Tejsen Lykke, who is originally from Denmark, has been a U.S. resident since 1986 and has actively worked with student travel and travel insurance for more than 30 years. Jesper serves as the Vice President of Sales and Product Development at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.